19 Nov 2012

A new model


This short, but very much to the point entry at Reluctant Scooper reminded me of something that has been going around my head ever since the first and second rants about beer tastings, which back then even made me doubt if there was such thing as "Beer Culture".

Now I'm convinced that beer culture does exist, and that it is basically what described last year. But beer culture is not something self sufficient, it is part of a wider thing. It is also true that beer being a consumer's good, its culture, i.e. the relationship the consumers have with it, is to some extent shaped by marketing, i.e. the way beer producers would like the consumer to see, relate to, and consume their product. But beer marketing itself it's also often shaped by the local customs, habits and culture (now that I think about it, much of the marketing of the macro brands have a more realistic relationship with beer culture than that of the micro brands, but that is another thing).

But back to the topic of tastings. I insist that they add little, if anything, to beer culture. In the best case, they are excellent and very legitimate marketing tools, in the worst case, they are excellent and very clever tools to part fools from their money. Either way, their contribution to beer culture is a bit more than zero. The main reason for that is the way they are mostly put together, or rather, the measures in which the samples are served.

10 or 15 cl might be enough to determine whether there is a flaw in a beer or how well it technically fits into a given category, but it's not enough to appreciate it and really get to know it.

There are beers that at first appear dull, bland, flavourless, but after a couple of sips they start to open up and turn out to be tasty, moreish and even complex. There are beers that at first impress, surprise, amaze, but after a couple of sips they become cloying, noisy and even boring. 10 or 15 cl are not enough to really be able to appreciate those details (not to mention the changes that take place as the beer warms up, etc.).

So if the intention of a tasting is not just to present a series of products in order to motivate a purchase later (or to get rid of a few old bottles), but to help the consumer appreciate different beers, what is needed is a new model for tastings. A model that is more in tune with the natural environment of beer. A model that will encourage drinking one beer instead of tasting several over a given period of time. What I propose is the following:
  • A maximum of 4 samples, all served in their usual measures of consumption.
  • The host will present each sample without giving more information than the labels give
  • At first, the attendants will have a sip of the beer and will reach their own conclusions about it. If they want to take notes, they are welcome to it. 
  • Once everyone has had their first or second sip, the host will ask what they think about the beer, what flavours and aromas it reminded them of. Here the host should make very clear that there are no wrong answers, the perception of flavours and aromas is very personal and depend on a number of factors (if someone has never tasted licorice or papaya, they will hardly find those things in a beer).
  • It's only after all this that more information will be given about the beer; where it comes from, how makes it, how, what with, etc. (the history of a given style should be avoided as it is, by and large, superfluous information). Ideally, the host would be someone also able to explain what each of the ingredients contribute to each of the samples. 
  • The tasting shouldn't be a lecture. It should be more like a chat among friends. Everyone should feel free and comfortable to give their opinion, to talk about similar beers they may have had, ask questions, or add any information they may have.
  • At the end, and maybe after offering to repeat one of the samples, the host will ask the attendants what beer they liked bes and why and will encourage them to stay and drink on, as an encore.
Yeah, yeah, it's very possible that more than one of the attendants (and maybe even the host) ends up a bit merry, that the volume of the voices goes up a couple of decibels. So what? That is also an important part of the experience of drinking beer, or isn't it?

Na Zdraví!

4 comments:

  1. Now that I've slugged back a few beers with you, I know that this isn't just lip service! I more or less agree, too. It's like judging a person after exchanging a round of pleasantries. Better you should spend a day or two with them. (But it's murder on the liver of traveling beer writers.)

    As to this: "now that I think about it, much of the marketing of the macro brands have a more realistic relationship with beer culture than that of the micro brands, but that is another thing" I think you should totally run with the idea. there's a lot there.

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  2. I agree with this.
    Some beers, such as APAs, have an "interesting" taste at first. But by the bottom of the glass, I wish I'd spent my money on tank PU.

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  3. As someone who does at least 20 annual "wrong" kind of beer tastings, I think this is a very interesting idea. In most of the settings, it's people who want to try a variety of beers and find out what they want to explore more of (I'm the lexture kind of guy, though, not salesman), but at one point, it would be fun to try a tasting of half litres. For Central European and British types of beers it makes a lot of sense.

    I still like to talk about the history of beer styles though. I try to stick to historical history and explain that there was something in England in the 19th century called india pale ale, but what they have in their glass now is an American beer style from the 1980s and one that definitely doesn't get better if you mature it on a ship for half a year. Such stories. It can get a little complicated, but hopefully people go home in this case, knowing to drink their IPA fresh

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