A Good Beer Blog


Have you read The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer - A Rant in Nine Acts by Alan and Max yet? It's out on Kindle as well as Lulu.

Maureen Ogle said this about the book: "... immensely readable, sometimes slightly surreal rumination on beer in general and craft beer in particular. Funny, witty, but most important: Smart. The beer geeks will likely get all cranky about it, but Alan and Max are the masters of cranky..."

Ron Pattinson said: "I'm in a rather odd situation. Because I appear in the book. A fictional version of me. It's a weird feeling."


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The Beer Nut -

I'm confused. Why describe it as a "Belgian beer" if it's from the US? Are all tripels in some way Belgian? Are all pilsners then in some way Czech? All porters in some way English? You'll be after our stilton next...

Ed (if that <i>is</i> your real name), I think it's pronounced KER-ber-ros: there's a stress accent on the first epsilon (Κέρβερος).

Alan -

So I shouldn't be calling you "The B<small><small>ee</small>ee</small>ee<small>ee<small>ee</small></small>r Nut?</b><p>In the states you see Belgian-style or Barley-wine-style which I think is a bit of a bore. Not to speak for Travis, but a Belgian yeast strain is as much an immigrant as Pierre Celis. Why not call it Belgian? We have Canadian cheddar after all. Shouldn't the best cheddar in the world be named for what it is?

The Beer Nut -

You can call me what you like, sugah. I got stress accents all over.

Why not call it Belgian? 'Cos it wasn't made in Belgium. Can just anyone make Canadian cheddar, or does it have to come from Canada?

Me, I'd like to know that my "Belgian" beer was made in Belgium, with all that goes along with that statement. If my "Canadian" cheddar turns out to be Ukrainian, I'll be miffed. And when my "Irish" beer turns out to be Belgian, I get very annoyed indeed.

Alan -

But Canadian cheddar is itself an oxymoron to the good people of Cheddar, Engerlant. And I, for one, am quite content with my Belgian Scotch ales. Style is the thing...and even then only a thing.

Virgil G -

Kerberos is the dog that guards the gateway to hell. He was a three headed dog, which is why Flying Dog chose him to be the dog for their Triple.

The Beer Nut -

But "cheddar" is a noun here. Cheddar need not come from cheddar any more than cravats need come from Croatia, nor turkeys from Turkey (or India if you're French). And there are specific codified laws about certain place-noun products like cognac and stilton.

But "Belgian" is an adjective. Belgian beer, Belgian chocolate, Belgian roller-skates and Belgian dishwashers are necessarily <i>from Belgium</i>.

You can have Scotch ale (or Scotch eggs or Scotch tape) from anywhere, including Belgium, because "Scotch" does not ordinarily mean "from Scotland". Scottish ale and Scottish eggs, however, are necessarily <i>from Scotland</i>.

"Scotch" denotes style. "Belgian" denotes place of origin.

Josh @ Flying Dog -

I thought I'd post the copy on the left side of the label, to see if that helps any. We do use the term "Belgian-Style" in it:

"Greetings, oh god of the barstool. In your hand resides mighty Kerberos Tripel. A Belgian-style ale so cherished, that its namesake, the three-headed, hellhound, sentinel of the underworld guards thy bottle. So quench thy godly self. Then ask thee barmaid to retrieve ye another. For you are most powerful, and this is your bounty."

The whole "Belgian vs. Belgian-style" issue is tricky. Didn't a Colorado Craft Brewery get in trouble from the Trappist Monks about their use of "Belgian" on a beer a bunch of years ago? I can't find it online, but I sort of remember that happening...

Alan -

Hey Josh! I am sure I read somewhere that the yeast in question have tiny little passports and, like, are not Catholic but sadly mute one-cell Belgian Protestants so that wherever they go they are Belgians but never listen to Trappists. Beside, under Canadian law, no one can own a life form which means they can define their own subjective experience and character to the best that they can.<p>And Canadian Cheddar cheese is a noun preceded by two adjective. Jeesh! And double "Jeesh" as Scotch, along with Scottish, is just English for Scots.

Travis -

First off, to Josh, sorry the harsh review, but I have to say, you guys need to spice that up a little bit to win me over. I am not a hater, I just know what I like.

About the whole "Belgian" thing, I am a homebrewer more than a beer snob. For me, when I brew a style like a "Belgian Strong Ale" or a "Czech Pils" I call it that, why? Because THATS THE NAME OF THE STYLE! When you register a brew into a competition, you use the BJCP Beer Style Guidelines to decide what to enter it in as. They are pretty clear in those and the country of origin is just part of the style.

Take the American IPA versus and English IPA. Technically anything brewed state-side is an AIPA, but in practice, an IPA that is a little less hoppy and a little lower in alcohol is an EIPA, not an AIPA no matter where its made. (not to mention an IPA is an India Pale Ale and not many of them are made there) Thus when you enter a brew into a competition, you take where it's brewed off the table and enter it into the proper category.

Say what you will about technical stuff, but US Breweries that call a beer a "Belgian" are referring to the style, not producing unauthentic products. (on a side note, Trappist, by style definition, assumes that it is being brewed by a monk so you cannot properly call a brew a Trappist unless that requirement is met)

Stonch -

"an IPA that is a little less hoppy and a little lower in alcohol is an EIPA, not an AIPA no matter where its made"

Says who? First off, I don't see why we should be sub-categorising beers called IPAs into "AIPAs" and "EIPAs". Second, I just don't agree with your statement at all anyway, especially the presumption that such contrived style guideline nonsense is in any way self-evident or orthodox. It's just a load of stuff made up by some American homebrewers.

Josh @ Flying Dog -

The other thing to think about is that this is Flying Dog's interpretation of the style. None of our beers follow every guideline (see: Gonzo Imperial Porter). Perhaps the video we made about Kerberos might also help. Should have put this all in my previous post - my apologies for not having remembered about it.<p><center><object width="500" height="281.25"> <param name="allowfullscreen" value="true" /> <param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always" /> <param name="movie" value="http://www.vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=979715&server=www.vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=00ADEF&fullscreen=1" /> <embed src="http://www.vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=979715&server=www.vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=00ADEF&fullscreen=1" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="true" allowscriptaccess="always" width="500" height="281.25"></embed></object></center><p>Flying Dog Brewery Kerberos Tripel from Flying Dog Brewery on Vimeo.

Alan -

Tripels are tough for me. The ones I like have a pretty subdued malt graininess but with a big fruitiness. I think it's La Trappe's Tripel that has for me a big peach thang going on. My favorite, Goliath, likely leans on a little white pepper in the mash - something I recommend. But that is about the only tripel I hunt out. It reminds me of Pinot Gris but that may be me reminded of the residual sugars. But it's often too heavy for the occasion.

Travis -


Agree with it or not, when you are drinking an American made beer that is a "Belgian Strong Ale" it's a Belgian Strong ale. This does not suppose that it was made in Belgium. It's simply putting a brew into a category for consumer and brewer. I understand what's to hate about the BJCP guidelines, but as a homebrewer, I look at the BJCP as a benchmark. I try a beer and say "I like this brew" and decide to brew it or something like it, I can reference the style to determine how I want my beer to taste. Like it or not, the BJCP is a great resource for homebrewers who are just getting into beer and need to expolre a lot of styles to determine what they like and don't like.

I am not crazy about styles and sticking to the guidelines, but I like that brewers classify their beer for me.

Stonch -

What's a "Belgian Strong Ale"? A strong beer from Belgium? Most Belgian beers are strong. I don't get it. And why the capital letters?

You see, the assumption that underlies your argument is entirely false. You talk as if these BCJP guidelines are in some way generally accepted. They aren't. Perhaps in your country they're given some credence by brewers and enthusiasts, but elsewhere they're largely unheard of.

Alan -

But isn't Travis saying the same thing? That as a home brewer they give credence because they are an instructional tool? I don't think there is a general acceptance but there is a specific acceptance - by home brewers which is sueful and by prigs which is not.<p>But if you look at the English home brewers of the 1960s and 70s - the predecessors to the US craft beer movement as well as the BCJP guidelines - they are making recipes to style. Dave Line in his very influential <i>The Big Book of Brewing</i> has eight chapters on different styles, even making the distinction between "Irish stouts" and "sweet stouts" that would send Martyn C. and Ron P. into a spin. If one was to trace the BCJP, in fact, it is at the heart of the good beer revival, even if it had morphed into an entirely too complex and too fixed system.

Ethan -

I'm surprised, Alan, that you haven't brought up Matt Dunn's essay, I think it deals with this issue very precisely.

In short, we need <i>some</i> kind of common vocabulary, end of story. We can't have a fully subjective system, obviously, so we have a relatively arbitrary objective one (well, several, I'm sure, but BJCP is pretty thorough.) Reject any specific classification system if you want to, whatever, but you're still going to need a common terminology to discuss beer with, something less broad than "ales and lagers" (Which is, of course, pretty imprecise), and I guess for some people, something not as fine grained as Düsseldorf v. Northern v. Münster v. Sticke Alt.

In any case, the adjective 'Belgian' doesn't mean "<i>made</i> in Belgium" necessarily, in any context; It simply means 'associated with Belgium'. I have a Belgian friend who was conceived and born in the US, but lived in Belgium since the age of 2: He's Belgian- ask him!

Alan -

I am not surprised as I seem to be entirely unaware of Matt Dunn's essay except to note, upon further review via Lord Goog, that it is a chapter on the question of beer styles in that 2007 masterpiece <i>Beer and Philosophy</i> of which I, too, wrote a chapter.<p>I will review and revive my appreciation.

Ethan -

That's funny.

I think in one sentence or less, he says "The classification you use really depends on what you need it to do for you," if anyway you assume a non-essentialist position on beer styles.

Which you pretty much have to- they're definitely different from, e.g., elements.

Stonch -

I'm simply unconvinced of the need for prescriptive beer "styles" in the American vein and nothing above does anything to change that.

Ethan -

Who says they're <i>purely</i> prescriptive? BJCP Guidelines are descriptive, broadly, of their 'representative examples;' they're prescriptive if you're entering a beer into competition. You don't have to compete, but you do have to call "that beer made by that company, there" something.

At least if you have any desire to convey your experience of it to someone verbally. I'll agree that the best thing to do is put one in someone's hand. Mouth. But here in the blogosphere... sort of a verbal/image-y place. Besides which, it is often the brewer's very intent to make "a style," according to <i>some</i> guideline or another.

As for "in the American vein," well, sure, they're mainly written by Americans (I think some Brits and Canadians have been involved, but I can't say for sure.) but I am positive they're not meant to, and don't particularly, enforce an "American" slant on anything, any more than Michael Jackson's writing only applies to other Englishfolk. This is, I agree, a dodgier claim than the need for some kind of classification at all, which I think is frankly evident. However, I'll argue that

1) The BJCP organization is fully international in theory (there are no rules prohibiting membership outside North America so fas as I am aware),
2) The guidelines are dynamic (not static, last updated 2008 in fact),
3) Anyone who wants to can join and then rise in the organization to the point where they may, in fact, contribute to the framing of these rules which
3a) do pay certain attention to aspects of history/culture/geography/ingredients/process/research/&c
3b) are crafted with some degree of input from the public, (sort of like amicu briefs I guess,) when revising them, so I understand.

So, they're not made by some American cabal out to dominate international beer thinking, rather, I think they're open to debate and change by anyone interested enough to participate in the organization. I don't think that's an unreasonable tradeoff, though I could definitely imagine/support a wiki/open-source BJCP or BJCP-type guide as well. My hunch is it would settle out very BJCP-like, but maybe not. It's a cool project idea, though, for any webby/geeky/styley takers.

Ethan -

Not to flog a dead horse, so my last word, I promise- but I did just completely happen to run into this passage on the way to some other tidbit of information:

"Guidelines are just that: guidelines. They are a tool. They are not some kind of law or regulation. Their purpose is to help enhance the understanding and quality of our products. The art of establishing, changing and using guidelines is a game we all play. In the end, it is our participation as spectators that makes it all worth the playful and meaningful consideration. Glasses full of brew and enjoyment."

Papazian (as if the incomplete/verbless final sentence didn't give that away!)