Taste and memory...clam fritters and plain ice tea.
I shouldn't be so lazy. The house is mine for a few days what with a March break trip. I have projects like a tub to caulk. I have beer to brew and to bottle. Heck if I wanted to I could get into those four krieks I have laid in for a sourpuss side-by-side-a-rama, Beersel, Hanssens, Cantillon and Drie Fonteninen. But instead of doing any of that, I am cutting and pasting.
Why? Because earlier today I zipped off a couple of comments really quickly over at Stan's that I really like. They cover off some thoughts that I have had about writing beer reviews for some time and they really don't directly fit into the flow of Stan's point, an interesting proposal for a standard lexicon for describing the taste of beer. An excellent idea other than the fact I would want nothing to do with it after maybe working just a short while with it. Anyway, here are my comments with the rushed spelling mistakes fixed:
#1What to take from all that? First, you will learn about taste from tasting. Second, you will learn about writing about taste from writing about taste. Third, trust yourself if only because for 99% of us we are writing only for ourselves when we describe our own tastes. When you write about what you taste you start writing about you. Taste is evocative to the person who is tasting and what it evokes is that person's own past, foods and drinks for sure but also smells and recollections. What does beer and BBQ remind me of? What reminds me of beer and BBQ? Biere de garde like 3 Monts make me think of the early 20th century attics of my youth. Grainy and a little stocky musty. That in turn reminds me of the now extinct Moosehead Ten-Penny in the late 1970s when I was first the drinking teen. Similarly, the white pepper thing in saison reminds me of my mother's chowder. All good memories of being young. No pocket-sized standardized Wheel o' Flavour or Periodic Table of The Elemental Tastes is going to capture all that experience. Triggering that experience is likely a large part of what I like about food and drink and sharing it with friends and family, sometimes the same people in the memories.
Not to be contrary….oh, what the hell…there are two problems with this. People taste differently for one thing. The combination of chemicals in the mouth form differently for many. For one person, the 27 chemicals in the mouth may gather into 4 lumps adding up to green pea, tobacco, apple juice and bubblegum while the other may add them up into 3 lumps tasting like bark, leather and pear. Connected to this is the result that for the two "malty" may mean either what is malty (a bad descriptor as it is describing a thing by the thing itself) is different for two different people or the two people have two different words for the taste in their mouths as their associative triggers are simply different.
The second reason is also related - not all people have the same associate taste repertoire. I can only distinguish between hints of fresh fig and hints of dried fig if I have eaten them and one quickly realizes that just as with apples and pears there are many varieties of fig. Twenty years ago, when I worked in Holland as a wholesale florist trainee, I could tell about 50 varieties of red rose from each other. This compounds the difficulty of standard language as if you describe red rose I presume that you are not saying what I say.
Taste is evocative and therefore personal as to what is evoked.
SB: I wasn’t really being contrary - that is more of a running joke with me and Stan.
I think that this is a great idea for a beginner. This is not to be snobby but it is a great start out on the path of exploring taste and that takes a while. What is of no interest to me, however, is to give up my personal lexicon which is created as I go along by how taste is evocative to me. [There is an incredible tangential but interesting point to be made here about how different languages work as exemplified by the Mi’kmaq language of eastern Canada but I will refrain.] Let it suffice to say that I would not care to give up that personal relationship to my own words and thoughts a standard table of acceptable words.
It reminds me, too, of a point Hemingway made in, I think, the preface to "Death in the Afternoon" about being an aficionado of anything. There is a bit in there about the skills of observation and reporting on the observations being quite distinct skills each of which each have to be present for good writing to be created. Refining and trusting your own perception (his first stage) is a worth goal in itself and if you ever hope to have your reporting being uniquely your own you will have to find your own lexicon based on your own perceptions to report those perceptions. If you are lucky, the lexicon will make sense to another though, as Lew recently exemplified in his good natured (I hope) balking at my reference to "wheat cream" in relation to Girardin Gueuze, that is not necessarily something that can be taken for granted. My usage made perfect sense to me [and I will not be moved from it] but was gobblety-gook to him which I take as a quite honest response.
Also interestingly, I think Hemingway also pointed out that the pursuit of this excellence of description also will destroy your ability to experience the pleasure itself. A useful warning.
It always comes down to the fact that this taste is like something else, it's not like just itself. But what that something is, well, that is up to you.