The recent release of the latest Style Guidines by the Brewers Association reminded me of something that had been bouncing around my mind since the beginning of the year, after reading this this surpisingly good article in the Argentinean magazine Brando.
It speaks about a new trend in the local market, the big brewers are betting more on variety with beers to a more or lesser extent drift away from the paradigm of farty pale lager. Unlike other similar pieces, the author refrains from writing just a list with tasting notes lifted from marketing materials and does some decent journalist work. He looked for the opinion of representatives of local micro breweries, who, by the most part, don't see these new beers as a threat, but as an opportunity, since they will show to a wider audience that "beer" is not only the above mentioned paradigm (notice the contrast between that and the "Craft vs Crafty" PR stunt by the BA a while ago*).
The only problem that there seems to be with this beer is that they sometimes do not "respect" the style they claim to be. Clearly referring to Quilmes Stout, which the author points as the one that started the trend, a small brewer complains that "Many people, when speaking about stout, say 'I like it/don't like it because is sweet'. Actually, Stouts are hardly ever sweet, but the industrials have made people understand that they are."
I can understand a bit why this person is bothered by this. He must make one of those nicely roasty and bitter stouts, and if someone drinks it after having tasted and liked Quilmes's, chances are that they will be surprised (either way); while another person who does not like Quilmes Stout because it's sweet, might be reluctant to try the one this good man makes because it has the same word written on the label, or not, it all depends on how good this brewer is at selling his beers.
But regardless of that, I got stuck with the word "respect" a style. Respect it in what sense, in accordance with what? Many will answer this question with the "BJCP/BA style guidelines", which doesn't make much sense for three reasons: 1) it isn't and has never been accepted anywhere as an ISO-like standard of quality, 2) it can't be used as a brewing manual (neither it intends to be), 3) it's not even a guidelike of styles proper, it's a list of categories for competitions that has little if any consideration for history or traditions, and the inclusion of new styles, at least when it comes to the BA, seems to depend to a great extent on how good were certain brewers lobbying to open a new category.
The only real purpose of these style guidelines are competitions. Participants can use them to know in which category they can present their beers (I remember a few years go that, at the World Beer Awards, Primátor English Pale Ale won a medal in the Brown Ale category) and they tell judges what are the evaluation parameters and criteria for a given category.
It is already well known how beers are evaluated at competitions like the World Beer Cup (blind tasting of small samples provided by the brewers themselves, all in very controlled conditions). What is not so well known is how the winners are determined. Each judge's evaluation must naturally be as objective as possible, the criteria is 100% technical and the winning beer will be the one that best fit into the technical parameters of its category, which, at WBC and other competitions, is not decided by a score, but by consensus, all members of the jury agree, regardless of their personal taste, that this or that beer is technically the best of the lot.
That is why, among the loose thoughts, I said this: "Someone who uses the BJCP style guidelines as a parameter to evaluate a beer, shows they understand little about the BJCP, styles and beer." Anyone who uses a list of competition categories when reviewing a beer, is doing it wrong. In real life, a beer must be evaluated on the basis of how much we like it, the price/quality ratio and how it compares to other similar beers we've had. On the other hand, in order to make a correct technical evaluation of a beer, it is necessary first to know the intention of the brewer, which is what determines a well made beer.
Unfortunately, there are way too many people on both sides of the counter who have anointed these lists of competition categories with an almost legal (if not religious) authority and that is why I understand, and share, Ron Pattinson's strong discontent with the specifications for Grätzer (Grodziskie), one of two new
* You didn't really thing that the issue of the Craft vs Crafty thing had anything to do with transparency, did you?