Beer styles seems to the topic de jour in the blogosphere, "do they matter?" asks Mark Dredge, Pete Brown tells us that his post is the last he will ever write on the topic and Adrian Tierney-Jones gives us more thoughts about beer styles.
My take on beer styles is this, if you are going to insist on them, then don't do it half-arsed and make sure you have your bloody facts right. Take for example a thread I started recently on RateBeer about Czech style dark lager, known either as "Tmavé" or "Černé" in the Czech Republic - that's "dark" and "black" respectively. The crux of my argument is that Czech Dark Lager is neither a Dunkles nor yet a Schwarzbier and as such, should not be lumbered in those categories but should stand alone. Of course you then have the problem of putting a fairly pale dark lager such as Kozel Černý in the same category as Kout na Šumavě's almost black 14º Koutský tmavé - two beers which very nicely show the inconsistency of naming protocols.
Of course, beer styles have their uses in helping people decide what they what to drink, or at least that is the argument you hear quite often from defenders of styles. I am not convinced by that argument to be honest. I would argue that most people choose their beer primarily on the basis of colour - I well remember speaking with my friend Rob, back in Prague, about his idea that beer lists should have a little box showing the colour of the beer and I still think it is a good idea. Rightly or wrongly, we generally expect darker beers to be sweeter and less bitter than pale beers, hence one of my problems with Black IPA/CDA/Insert Name of the Week. I don't want beer that messes with my head - but then I don't believe beer to be an existential experience to chase, which is an entirely different post.
I wonder though sometimes if the ever increasing number of styles and sub styles isn't a product of the proliferation of competitions and awards? I am sure this is something of a chicken and egg situation, but it seems at times as though some brewers decide to make something different, or at least change the hops and claim it is an innovation, and so the competitions in order to remain relevant add another style, another gong and so the cycle goes.
As I said earlier, if you are going to insist on beer styles, then do it thoroughly and properly - otherwise, what is the point?