9 Dec 2012

Evolucionary explanation


I will try to shed light on a semantic conflict that has arisen from the other day's topic.

There are people who claim that "evolution" is the same as "chage", period. A comment in the Spanish version, for example, said that "to evolve is to change, but not necessarily for the better, it can also be for the worse".


I believe that, at least in this context, this interpretation is wrong. The filtrophobe discourse implies that only unfiltered and unpasteurised beers will "evolve" because they are "alive" and that beers that have been filtered and pasteurised can not evolve because they are "dead".

However, the quality of "dead" beers is also affected by (among other things) time. A Pilsner Urquell, a Guinness, a Paulaner, a Corona, a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale consumed in Prague, Madrid, London, Moscow or Toronto will not be the same beer that left the factory God knows how long ago. It will have changed, but filtrophobes are likely to deny that this change has been an evolution.

According to this premise, and assuming the filtrophobe discourse is consistent, the only possible interpretation for "evolution", at least in this context, is "improvement".

Of course, "improvement" can also be a very subjective thing, as shown by the "Westmalle Trippel experience" and the resulting divergent evaluations of me and my wife. In other words, what is "better" for someone, might not be so for someone else, and there is no lab analysis that can ever reconcile both views.

The best way to sort this out, in my opinion, would be to ask the brewer. If they are a proper professional, they would be able to tell us with a lot of certainty what is the moment when their product is at its best and, since they are most likely the person that knows the beer better than anyone, their opinion will be the one to carry the most weight and should be the one used as a foundation to bring some objectivity to the debate.

Maybe I'm generalising, but I'd say that if we did a poll among producers of moderate to low ABV %, most of them would tell us that the best moment to drink those beers is as fresh as possible.

As for the other beers, those that could be said will improve with time, just as I said the other day, they will also reach a peak in their development and after that, their quality will begin to wane. You can see a great example in this interview Evan Rail did a few years ago with Jean-Pierre Van der Roy.

Na Zdraví!

4 comments:

  1. John Keeling of Fullers did exactly that: explain when Vintage Ale and Golden Pride (basically the same beer) were at their best. Golden Pride, filtered and carbonated, starts to deteriorate from the moment it's bottled. After about 12 months, it starts to have a seriously negative impact on the beer.

    Vintage Ale, which is bottle conditioned, continues to develop for at least 20 years. Wheter or not it improves is a matter of taste. But it doesn't deteriorate the way Golden Pride does.

    I agree with John. I wouldn't argue with him. He knows more about the effects aging, and his own beers, than just about anyone.

    I was at the vertical tasting of the whole set of Vintage Ale last year. All of the beers were good and just about every one, in my opinion, was better than the most recent. Evidently it's not just as simple of reaching a peak and then going downhill. Over 10 or 15 years there will be several peaks and troughs.

    It's a fascinating process about which almost nothing sensible has been written.

    Next time you're in London you should drop by Fullers and have a word with John.

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    Replies
    1. I confess to have simplified the peak thing a bit. But you are right when it comes to how little research has been done in beer aging.

      Much, if not most, of what you hear seems to have been assumed from what has been said and written about wine ageing, but given the considerable differences in the nature of both products, I doubt a whole lot of it is correct.

      PS: I wonder how long it would take for unfiltered Golden Pride to start deteriorating...

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  2. Vintage Ale is basically unfiltered Golden Pride. Well, sort of. Doubtless the yeast is removed and then it's reseeded for bottle conditioning.

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  3. From 2009 edition the Vintage Ale is more similar to the now a day Golden Pride

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