Monday, February 7, 2011

Beer is not about Style

Beer styles piss me off at times. There we go, I've said it, and I feel pretty much the same as I did before saying it. Styles don't piss me off because they are stupid, or irrelevant or even just an excuse to create a new gong at a beer festival for egomaniacs to lay claim to creating something. Styles piss me off when people from outside a tradition try to explain that tradition and categorise it, and often get it wrong.

Take for example Czech dark lager, tmavé pivo or černé pivo as you will see it called. Unfortunately the fact that this type of beer is dark and a lager immediately, in the minds of some, means it must be a dunkel or schwarzbier, often with tmavé being equated with dunkel and černé with schwarzbier. The problem with such a simplistic view is that by Czech law, there is no such beer as a černé, only a tmavé. The deciding factor must always be how the brewers and drinkers in a style's area of origin understand the beer they are drinking.

Of course beer styles and how they are understood change with time, none more so perhaps than India Pale Ale and possibly Mild as well (though my inner cynic actually thinks it is more of a case of Mild being thoroughly misunderstood for too long). That fact in itself should remind us that styles need to be taken with a pinch of salt, and perhaps explains why tasting notes have been something of a hen's tooth on Fuggled. Not to mention that I haven't taken tasting notes at all in quite some time, simply put, it can become a chore when all I want to do is have a few pints with mates.

I wonder then if styles, while useful when starting out trying beers from around the world, actually take some of the joy out of drinking? Likewise with homebrewing. Trying to get a style right is useful when you are first making beer, but after a while all you want to do is brew beer to drink.

At the end of the day, if a beer isn't for drinking, then what's the bloody point?


  1. It's something to do.

    I think you should stop being cross at people for having hobbies that are very slightly different from your hobbies.

    By all means correct the idiots when they get their facts wrong, but being interested in the classes and categories of beer is not a bad thing in and of itself.

  2. Perhaps I should have put a disclaimer in there along the lines of "Warning, grumbly git having a grumble."?

  3. Not at the top of the overall blog? :P

  4. When you say style - by what set of guidelines? Some, if not all, seem to be lagging and in need of revision (BJCP and Golden Ale/Bitter) or just don't capture entire regions like the Czech beers you reference.

    I think _some_ of the style guidelines help from a labeling and expectation point of view. If you've never had Beer X from Brewery ABC, if it says 'Dunkel', you have a fair chance of knowing what to expect. But I don't think they should be the only guide for if a beer is "good" or "well made" - most of that comes from actually drinking the dang thing.

  5. From a labelling and expectation point of view, I think Pete Brown put this very well: you only need about 7 or 8 different styles to give the buyer a sense of what the beer, any beer, will be like.

  6. Pete Brown is pretty much on the ball there I think. I think the factors in that would be:

    1. is it an ale or a lager?
    2. what colour is it?
    3. how much booze does it have?

    Perhaps the cognoscenti worry about hop varieties and IBU ratings, but I seriously doubt the average person really cares one way or the other.


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