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A good intention isn't enough

The other day, on the beer blog Apuntes Sobre Cerveza I found an entry titled "Tasting Method". The author, Pedro Biehrman, refered to a pdf he had found in a Spanish beer website.

The paper is called "Método de Catado de Cervezas" (pdf, SP) and was written by Carlos Inaraja González, brew master at Heineken (Spain, I presume) and Francisco Javier Soriano Perdigón, Gastronomy Professor at the "Gambrinus School of Hospitality" (that also belongs to Heineken) in Sevilla. According to them, it's aimed at Somelliers, Hospitality school teachers and professionals in the restaurant business.

I thought the idea was great and worth of being promoted. The "handbook" has nine pages full of information. Much of which is very good and useful. Some of the rest can seem rather obvious to anyone with a bit of experience tasting whatever, but it is still worth reminding. There is some stuff in there, though, that seem a bit too "strict": 22°C and 60% humidity as a must to taste beers? It might be for a competition, but I think that any place where you feel comfortable and relaxed is perfectly fine to sit down for some beer tasting.

Everything would be really great anyway, if it wasn't for the two rather important mistakes that can be found pretty much at the beginning of the document and that kind of invalidate all the rest: The "freshness" of the beers and the temperatures they should be served.

The moment I read them I wanted to write a post, but I thought it would be better to ask first someone who knows more than me. I was planning to call a friend who happens to be an international judge, but a Czech beer related e-mail from Kristen England couldn't have been more timely.

And who is Kristen England some of you might be asking. Well, his e-mail signature says: "BJCP Continuing Education Director, Grand Master Judge" and, for those who follow Ron Pattison's blog, he's also the person who puts together the historical recipes for the "Let's Brew" series. I can't think of much better credentials than that.

And, just as I'd expected, his answer confirmed what I had thought from the beginning.

According to the document "beers with freshness lower than three months must always be used". It's true that there are many beers out there that should be drunk the freshest possible, Cask Ales and Kvasnicové come to mind. However, there are many more that could be drunk a bit "older" or even after some maturing in the bottle. I've seen many labels on which the maker recommends their beers to be drunk after a few months or even a year in the bottle. The authors of the document either don't know about these beers, or they are telling us to drink them before they are "ready". I just don't understand it.

But this could be considered a minor detail if we compare it with the temperatures they say beers should be tasted.

Pilsen: 3-4°C
Lager and Stout (without specifying which kind): 5-6°C
Ale, Abbey, Trappist and Bock: 7-8°C
Wheat Ales: 7-8°C (I'm sure they speak about German Weizenbieren, which ARE NOT ALES!)

Here I will qoute Kriten's comment on the subject:
"those (temperatures) are massively low. I would say pils and most other lagers at 7-8C. The rest of the ales should be around 9-10C. The higher in alcohol, darker and more complex the warmer they need to be to appreciate. Imagine drinking an 18deg (Baltic) porter at 4C. It would taste like bitter alcoholic crap."

Of course that if we are speaking about beers of the kind of Heineken, the colder you can drink them, the better. But Heineken isn't precisely a good example for Pils, or a beer you want to sit down and "taste", for that matter.

There are other things I don't quite agree with, but they aren't worth mentioning. These two mistakes are really basic. When to open a bottle ("freshness"-wise) and what temperature should the beer be drunk are two pices of fundamental information for a somellier or for someone with a bit of beer tasting experience. Not knowing them at all, or not well enough, could result in the experience not being as pleasant as it should, or ruin it altogether.

The worst of this is that the authors aren't just "a couple of bloggers writing in the free time". They are professionals in the field. And what's even more worrying, their target audience aren't just the average consumer, but mostly other professionals. No wonder then that so much rubbish is written about beer in the Spanish speaking media and that renown professionals like Ferrán Adriá can get away with the bollocks they say.

My advice to somelliers, hospitality professionals and general public: Ignor this "Beer tasting Method". If you are interested, get of people with real experience in real beer tasting.

Na Zdraví!

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  1. Well, Americans make american wheat ale, hoppy version of this of beer. And weizen is a top fermented beer, so it is basicall an ale..


  2. I know Americans make wheat ales, and there were wheat ales in Britain as well. But wheat beers refered in the document I'm sure are the German ones and no, they aren't ales, sorry.

    They are top fermented, the yeasts used are grouped among the "ale yeasts", but that is just a commercial simplification. Germans won't call their weizen ales, because, culturally speaking, they aren't.

  3. My German isn't as good as it used to be, but does German actually have an equivalent linguistic separation between ale and lager in English? Aren't most styles in Germany variations on the theme of beer, for example I have seen many times words like weissbier, lagerbier, schankbier, altbier and so on - whether it is top or bottom fermented it is still beer in the German mind.

    Obviously my Spanish is fairly useless, but it does look as though the author has taken a couple of "English" words and applied them indiscriminately to top and bottom fermented beer without a full understanding of the linguistic and cultural baggage that the terms convey, thus not so much willful misinformation but rather a problem of translation.

  4. I don't think it was willful misinformation, either.

    I think this comes from the misconception that everything that is top fermented is Ale, which is so widespread now that it has become a fact to many.

    But it's not much of an issue, actually. More so coming from someone who tells us we should taste a Stout at 5°C

  5. Anyone who says that stout should be served at that temperature is a twerp, having said that, PK could do with not having the Primator stout in the fridge!

  6. So is the distinction between ales and lagers just commerical & cultural, you can lager any ale that you want and it will clear it up and some polyphenols will fall out and be a cleaner beer, and you can ferment a lager at warmer temperatures bringing forward more ale-like characteristics (think california common) If weizens aren't ales then what would you classify Alts as? :-)

  7. I would classify them as the Germans do: Obergäriges Lagerbier.

    But this is quite a pointless discussion, really. How a beer was fermented is of very little relevance to most people. If they like what they drink, they will say it's good, if they don't, they might say it's bad. No matter how much you explain them how the beer was made, they won't change their minds. It's only freaks like us who pay that much attention to those things.

    And also, it's not the point of this post. I am speaking about a document that is telling somelliers to drink Stout at 5°C!!!! That is what is really wrong!! A Stout might or might not be an ale, same as a Weizen, but it certainly shouldn't be drunk at that temperature!

  8. I agree 100%, I listened to BOC give a presentation at a homebrew meeting, in their presentation it stated that all beer should be served between 2-5 Degrees C. Its a common misconception because of soo much bad beer which the colder you serve it the less noticeable flaws there are.

    Here is a question though, if there are good resources available on tasting, serving beer (BJCP amoung others) why don't other organizations translate and use this information instead? Or better still build on it when referencing the local beers and beer culture (if one exists)

  9. That is a really good question!

    I am sure the brew master at Heieneken is aware of the existence of organisations like BCJP and similar, so why didn't he consult with them? Beats me.

    If I was a (fourth rathe) conspiracy theorist I would say that it was because Heineken wants us to drink beer very cold so they can keep on getting away with brewing the rubbish they brew....


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