Thursday, October 17, 2013

In Praise of Subtlety

If you have been reading Fuggled for a while now, you will likely know that I am a fan of certain beer styles. For me there are few greater beers to drink than a properly made Czech style pale lager, any of the bitter family, or a dry stout. Beers that in their basic ingredients are painfully simple, usually not much more than a couple of malts, maybe a couple of hop varieties, yeast, and water. They are beers that when well put together seem to be made for the best way to drink beer, in the pub with your mates.

There are times in the craft beer world that these kind of beers don't get the attention they deserve, seemingly because they don't have the latest hipster hop variety that tastes like stewed lychee and dill, or perhaps they haven't been aged in bourbon barrels, or worse yet, they are simply not extreme enough for the people that want every drop beer that passes their lips to be an experience that blows them away. Simply put, they are probably too subtle.

Subtley in beer is something that I greatly appreciate, delicate flavours, refined aromas, and the mysterious communion of such simple ingredients being made complex at the hand of the master brewer. The problem with subtle beers, as I talked about briefly in my previous post, is that a couple of ounces in a shot glass will simply tell you nothing about the beer, other than the dominant characteristics. I would argue that even a full pint is not enough to really get to grips with a subtle beer. Subtle beers need to be drank many times because there are many facets to pick up, it's just that they are delicate and not likely to charge down the doorway of your tastebuds.

I am lucky in many ways though that several of my local breweries, and some of the not so local but still Virginian, make wonderfully subtle beers. Devils Backbone's lagers immediately spring to mind, whether the Vienna, which is a perennial favourite of mine, or even the Gold Leaf, and how I long for the day they re-brew the Trukker Ur-Pils. Likewise Starr Hill's Dark Starr Stout, a beer that I am convinced would do well in Ireland, it is that good a stout, and of course there is the magnificent Downright Pilsner from Port City Brewing.

Subtle beers, the ones you drink pint after pint of with your mates, are, in my unhumble opinion, the very height of brewing. They are the ones that are so painfully simple in terms of ingredients, but so wretchedly difficult to do well and avoid the trap of blandness or the pitfall of an absence of balance.

Let's celebrate them.


  1. Couldn't agree more. Some beers really do take a while to get your head around from a tasting perspective.

    Mild is the classic example. It's only by three pints in you get a handle on it.

    Funnily enough I wrote a similar article a few years ago you ight like to read: