Levels of abstraction. That is what this style stuff is about. Not about what it is but how it can be grouped. I think. Two articles got me thinking about this today. In The New York Times, Eric Asimov talked about "sour" beer and got into a range of beers that I would never consider to fall under that adjective. And the great ATJ discussed the challenges posed by grappling with the idea of Abbey beer.
So I get back to the original question: what is an Abbey Ale? Is there such a thing? Trappist is an appellation — it covers dubbel and tripel and very strong dark beer. Abbey? It seems to be 5-6% (but then looking back at my notes I find Silly Brewery making a 9.5% one), sweetish, gold in colour with reddish hints, but then it could be a brighter gold or a darker gold. In one French brewery I was given one with rice in the mix, which gave it an almost ethereal lightness of touch, which didn’t work for me. So is it a marketing device? On the label the picture of a fat cheery monk or a sombre looking abbey and the promise of heaven in a bottle seems to be a popular device. Marketing then. That’s the way my thoughts are going.
One thing pops into my mind when I read that passage. And it is not intended to give the dim and greasy hope. But is it so bad to consider that marketing might have some actual work to do? Maybe the idea that you can find valid maltiness with a pinch of thoughtful Belgian yeasty spice is enough to be Abbey. Can't we gather around that cause?
Yet Eric Asimov's inclusion of Goose Island Sofie and Ithaca White Gold as sour? That goes further, doesn't it? Does marketing need to make sour out of, you know, tang? I had that great CNY beer last year and mentioned "I had one the other night that had spent a long time in the stash and was gorgeous, showing lots of tangy beer gone bad quality." Is tangy beer gone bad sour or is it something else? And is Sofie sour? Really? Stan wrote a great post this summer about the weird things we love in weird beer. But does that make for sour?
I've undertaken my sour beer studies and included a lot of things... but now I wished I called it "Acids I Drink" or some thing like that. Tangs, sours, twings and twangs? They all have their own worthy place. But by bundling them under "sour" are we not treating them like we treat Abbey beers, labeling them with a euphemism? And if we do - but do so to aid in understanding by adding an abstraction... is that so wrong?