Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Defining 'Good'

Yesterday my good friend, and once upon a time drinking buddy, Pivní Filosof, tweeted the following:
"Too many people trying to define what "craft beer" is or isn't, not enough talking about what makes a beer good..."
So, I thought that what would be a better way to mark the 750th post on Fuggled than to finally try and define 'good' beer? I am perfectly aware that I might be on a hiding to nothing here, but here goes.

Firstly let's think about words for a moment, what does 'good' mean? Well, if you do a search on, you will see that it lists many possible meanings as both a noun and an adjective. I won't list all the options here, but if you click the link then you can check them all out for yourself. One thing I will reference here though is the etymology of the word, which apparently comes from Old English:
"god (with a long "o") "having the right or desirable quality,"
Apparently the Old English is itself derived from the Proto-Germanic 'gothaz' meaning "fit, adequate, belonging together".

Using the definition of 'good' as something which has the 'right or desirable quality' brings us rather quickly to the sticking point in trying to define 'good beer', what is the quality in your beer that is 'right or desirable'? Ultimately 'good beer' is a very personal thing, something unique to each drinker, which then raises the question, what is 'good beer' for Velky Al? Let me answer that question.

The 'right or desirable' qualities that I look for in a beer can be best summed up as:
  • flavourful
  • balanced
  • refreshing
I realise that even within that fairly short list there are any number of personal preferences as to what constitutes flavour, balance and refreshment, but as this is my definition of good beer, let me attack those one at a time.

I like beer that tastes good, again that awkward word 'good' pops up. Good tasting beer to me is one where you can taste the elements of the beer as expected for that particular style or type of beer. If I am drinking a stout for example, I want to be able to taste the roastiness, coffee and chocolate that you expect from that kind of beer. Likewise if I am drinking a Vienna lager, I want none of the roastiness of stout, but rather the toastiness that comes with using Vienna malt. You could argue that it is about 'authenticity', is this really how stout, pilsner, mild or whatever is supposed to taste like?

I sometimes wonder if 'balance' is becoming something of a dirty word in the beer word, in much the same way 'session' is interpreted by some as meaning 'insufficiently sexy'. In my definition of 'good' beer though, balance is important, mainly because I like drinking beer. I am not the kind of person who is happy to go to a beer festival and sample 10 to 15 2oz samples, I prefer beer festivals where you order a half pint, or a full pint, and you stand around drinking and talking with friends. In my experience, beers which are imbalanced are not beers that I want to drink more than a single serving of. An absence of balance normally, though not always, means that a shit ton of hops have been dumped in making the experience of the beer like sucking a grapefruit. Alternatively imbalanced beers can have too many hop varieties, and when I read the hopping list of some beers having 7 or 8 different high alpha hops I can't but wonder if the brewer is simply having a lupulin wank.

Drinking is primarily about refreshment, whether after a day of manual labour or sitting in a cubicle staring at a computer screen, both require refreshment and there are few feelings in the world as wonderful as that first sup on a pint at the end of a day. A refreshing pint can just as easily a stout as it can be a witbier, indeed when I was laid off last week I found the couple of pints of Left Hand Milk Stout I had at McGrady's very refreshing, especially as one definition of 'to refresh' is 'to cheer' and I certainly felt happier after the pints than before.

Thankfully with those criteria of 'good beer' there are many individual beers that I consider 'good' and am more than happy to drink, regardless of corporate structure, method of dispense or style. Good beer is really something intangible, indefinable in some ways, as it is, in the final analysis, what the individual likes to drink.

Perhaps that is why more people want to try and define 'craft beer' because that is, seemingly, an easier task, though as I have written about before, a pretty daft one.


  1. Interesting post. Love the phrase 'lupulin wank'!

    'Good' is arguably less useful than 'craft', though, if you want to talk to or work with other people around, e.g., organising a festival: you might not agree that a beer is 'good', but you might concede it fits a working definition of 'craft'. (Guess you could have a working definition of 'good', too?)

  2. There are just beers I like, and beers I don't. Anything further than that is attempting to objectively define an intrinsically subjective matter.

    What is more relevant and measurable is that the wider the range of different styles of beer available in any given pub makes it more likely that we can all find something we each like.

    1. I absolutely agree with you, there is nothing worse in the beer world than going into a renowned 'craft beer bar' and finding only 15 taps of pale ale, IPA, double IPA or some other 'innovative' variant of IPA.

      15 taps should mean 15 styles of beer: bitter, mild, brown ale, porter, stout, weizen, witbier, pilsner, schwarzbier, strong lager, old ale, lambic, Berliner weisse, 80/-, IPA, etc, etc.

    2. My 15 favourite styles! Where would you start?

  3. Great post!

    I believe that there are only 3 categories of beer:

    - Beers you like
    - Beers you don't like
    - Beers you don't quite like, but don't quite mind drinking.

    All the rest are subcategories, and the beauty of it all is that we can all sit in the same pub, drink different beers and have a great time together, regardless of what each one is or isn't drinking...

    1. Good is as hard to define as craft.are there good lagers not imo but i went into a craft bar tonight and they had bitter-ipa -double ipa-cranberry milk stout -saison-belgian ipa -wit -a 3.2 hoppy session beer and a few others all british versions but were they good. thats debatable.
      cheers john

  4. Your'e showing your southern hickness now Al.
    This beer tastes gud.

    It's such a hard thing to quantify. To the majority of beer drinkers, pale yellow, fizzy, tasteless lagers, consumed at freezing point "tastes good" so it's very subjective.

    I have even had infected beer, clearly flawed and unintentionally lactic and have liked it because I like sour beer. To me, that beer tastes good, even though it was flawed. To someone else, it might be like drinking celery juice and we all know celery is devil food and the epitome of evil.


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