Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Not a Number

Numbers are part and parcel of beer loving, and brewing, whether at home or professionally.

It all starts with building the recipe, working out the percentages of grains we want to use, taking those percentages and turning them into weights to match the capacity of our mash tuns, to reach the our target gravity, either as specific gravity or degrees Plato. Then we work out the number of bitterness units we want in the beer, and break them down by hop addition, and the number of minutes to boil the hops for. With the original gravity decided, the hopping set, we decide on a yeast to give us the amount of alcohol we want.

Number, numbers, numbers, just think of all the numbers we track when we brew, or that become a point of reference when drinking:
  • OG
  • FG
  • ABV
  • IBU
  • SRM
Yet not a single one of those numbers will tell you anything about what matters when it comes to the most important elements of drinking a beer, flavour and aroma.

Numbers will never explain the flavour and aroma differences between Saaz, Cascade, and Kent Goldings, to use three classic hop varieties as examples. Numbers will not explain the difference in sweetness between Munich and crystal malts. Numbers will never explain how a great session beer can be infinitely more satisfying that a run of mill booze fest.

Numbers are part of life as a beer lover, but they are not the meaning of life (no, not even 42). The satisfaction that flavour and aroma bring to the drinker sitting in the pub with a pint in his or her hand, is all that is important.

Ultimately there can be no objective proof of a good beer by appealing to numbers, not even sales numbers. Since beer is entirely subjective, you either find the flavour and aroma of a beer appealing or you don't, and that is the only qualification of a beer's 'goodness' that matters.

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