Friday, October 21, 2011

Enough with the Oxymoronic Beer

One of the things that is guaranteed to set me off in an apoplexy of rage, or at least a muttered "oh god, not again", is fannying about beer style descriptors in an attempt to describe a beer. There is one word which is pretty much the source of all this annoyance, the word "black", as in "black" IPA, "black" Pils, "black" Kölsch and so on and so forth, and I say this as a devoted drinker of black beers.

Let's get this straight, a black ale can in no way, shape or form be an India Pale Ale - there is a hint in the name there, perhaps you can spot it? Now of course it can be an Export India Porter, as it would have been during the era of the British Raj. I have no problem with it being a Cascadian Dark Ale or even an American Black Ale, but Black IPA? Please.

Then there is the notion of the Black Pils. Could someone please explain to me how a "black" pils differs from a schwarzbier or a dunkel? Perhaps it falls somewhere between the two and would qualify as a tmavé (that really would mess up the stylistas at certain advocating rating sites)? If it is, in fact, a schwarzbier then please just bloody well call it a schwarzbier. My cynical side (what's that, you didn't realise I have one?) wouldn't be too surprised if "black pils" is a schwarzbier but hopped to proper pilsner levels, in which case why not Indisches Schwarzbier? Alternatively you could make it stronger and call it Imperiales Indisches Schwarzbier (or would that be a Baltic Porter by this point?).

The one though that raised my hackles this week is the concept of a "black Kölsch". According to the Kölsch Convention, for a beer to be able to use the appellation "kölsch" it must be brewed in Cologne, and "pale, well attenuated, hop accented, bright, top fermented". There's that tricky word "pale" again. Sure, a brewery might have got 4 out of 5 of the beer's characteristics right, but it is not a Kölsch because it is not pale. Interestingly, the only major difference between between Kölsch and Scottish 80/- in terms of the style parameters is the colour. Is "black" Kölsch therefore a Scottish 80/- by another name?

I am fairly sure I am not the only one that finds this idea that by adding a dash of dark malt to a pale beer style you have somehow created a fusion of traditions, innovated in new and sexy ways, annoying, especially when similar styles already exist. It was said of the great Scottish author Lewis Grassic Gibbon that he had a talent for "calling a spade a spade", it would be nice if breweries would do likewise.

* the full quote about Lewis Grassic Gibbon, author of A Scots Quair, is that Gibbon was ""for ever calling a spade a spade, when there is no need whatever to refer to the implement at all".


  1. So I suppose you don't like Saint Arnold's use of "Black Kolsch" for their new beer, Santo? :)

  2. I can't remember what beer it was that got me thinking about this, but at least Saint Arnold have the decency to say that black Kolsch doesn't "technically exist as a style" rather than trying to claim some innovative new style or some such nonsense.

  3. Black pils! That's the first time I hear of that! It's incredible how innovative Czech brewers like Budvar have been! A hoppier dark lager, who would have thought...

  4. Al, it's Friday. Chill out and go drink some beer :D

    Griping should be done on Monday's in anticipation of another week of work.

  5. Hopefully going straight to Beer Run after work, Mrs V is planning to review her research paper for her Masters with a friend of her's there - they have Victory Donnybrook on tap!

  6. Hey—this all sounds familiar.

    Spot on rant, though. Job well done Al.


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