Now Stan has jumped into the fray on the usefulness of "style." It reminds me of all the little words we use to convey something other than the personal experience: expert, connoisseur, judge. There is so often a downside to any of these things. Consider what Hemingway said of "aficionado":
The aficionado, or lover of the bullfight, may be said, broadly, then, to be one who has this sense of the tragedy and ritual of the fight so that the minor aspects are not important except as they relate to the whole. Either you have this or you have not, just as, without implying any comparison, you have or have not an ear for music. Without an ear for music the principle impression of an auditor at a symphony concert might be of the motions of the players of the double bass, just as the spectator at the bullfight might remember only the obvious grotesqueness of a picador...
So, there are two things in there. First, unless you see the whole context, including the negative, you do not see the thing in itself. Second, not everyone will see the whole thing: "either you have this or you have not." I accept this. But I do not accept where it is taken to lead, which are inevitably forms of exclusive, excluding superior capacity. The thing lumped together as "expertise."
The thing is... I have never met one of these craft beer experts. I've met lots of interesting and pleasant and hardworking people but never an expert. It is perhaps natural that people would want to lead or be seen to lead given that beer is such an immersive topic. It reaches into you like good radio, consistently generates conviviality, pervades our extended northern culture and powers a good segment of the economy. Yet it is also a fraud in ways that experts might not be comfortable acknowledging. It can dope us, distract us and place us behind the wheel of a car. It can affect your health and too often costs too much. It engenders the flimflam of celebrity and may be making suckers of us all.
For me, an idea like "style" is great if it serves your particular hobby interest in good beer. So, if you like to judge and enjoyment of being a judge is your entry to the subject, well, go ahead and have 2,000 "styles" for all I care. But if you are an impressionist and want to record your personal perceptions of experience, that is just as valuable and style is pretty much irrelevant. After all, a poem is as useful as the textbook. If you want to play at aligning flavours in solids and fluids and call it "pairing" feel free but you will notice that actual taste of the beer and food is so particular that "style" quickly starts being a bit thick for practical purposes. And finally but perhaps most tellingly, if you wish to reach into history, you will find that "style" is a moving target and in the end a disappointment.
As Stan has noted, all this talk of style is one of the most interesting examples of the beery discourse. A evening seminar was given this week in England and the English-speaking beery world was set abuzz. Somewhat antithetically, too. Because if there were such things as fixed styles, experts and the rest the seminar would have been a lecture and no one would have needed to discuss it further.