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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Pivní Filosof -

The thing that bothers me the most about these "ancient beers" is that other than the list of ingredients, little else is known about them. Even saying that they are "recreating" them is stretching things a bit too far. But that's another thing.

Stan Hieronymus -


Now what are the other 9 most dangerous "beer" words?

Alan -

It's really a word that relates to history more than beer. It's not the fluid's fault. It's the characterization of the research... or the fact that it's research at all.

Lauren Maynard -

My question, though, is what is a better way to characterize the beer? I think it's interesting to look backward in order to be more creative moving forward. Food and drink are emotional experiences; a layer of history in a beer adds to the experience, even if it doesn't necessarily mean the liquid is historical. How can we encourage this kind of creativity in a way that feels more honest? What's the more honest version of the story of Midas Touch?

Joe Stange -

McGovern's work is pretty fascinating and, I'd argue, important. Calagione's interpretations might be fanciful compared to recreations of actual historical recipes that Pattinson's dug up, but so what?

I'm not sure I understand your problem in this case.

My main issues with this article were in this graf:

"Of course, re-creations of historic beers are as old as the craft beer movement itself. Many of America’s best-loved styles, such as saisons, hefeweizens and imperial stouts, were once on the brink of disappearing, and many were saved by breweries that championed them. During the 1970s and ’80s, for example, San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing revived interest in not only California steam beers but also chocolate- and coffee-flavored porters, which brewers had largely cast aside."

Can you spot them?

Alan -

Lauren, I would actually prefer to cite that a beer is an exploration of an ancient ingredient, an experiment, than suggest that it is like a re-creation of what was.

Joe, if you are not concerned with misleading branding, that is fine. There is nothing of integrity in the idea of "fanciful". There is plenty more integrity in saying that the prominent taste of "X" is the first time that "X" has been included in a beer since the Maya, Celts or Venusians and leaving it at that.

Show me the pot with straws before we pretend that we are drinking Egyptian beer. They do exist.

Jeff Alworth -

Wow, what a can of worms this topic could turn out to be. I may have to wade in with a post of my own. For now, a comment.

What I think is useful in the article is the observation that brewers are interested in historic styles, whether they taste the way old styles might have. There are twin, related objectives here: to try to understand history through modern interpretations and/or to actually recreate beer from the past. To the extent any brewer claims to be able to do the latter, I call BS. With the exception of lambics, the controllable variables are too many and too changed to get back to those ancient beers. The technology has changed, the biology has changed, the ingredients have changed--everything's changed. Forget the clay pot; it's impossible to brew the same beer Egyptians did without a time machine.

That said, trying to understand the beer through re-interpretations is a great thing. Why not? To the extent authenticity comes into this, it's in the brewery's desire to reveal those old beers. It's like making a movie from a book. You can't actually do it word for word, so you have to interpret it. The "authentic" works are those that hew to the story, themes, and metaphor of the source material. They become inauthentic when they use the book as a launching pad to screw around with entirely different stories or themes. So it is with beer.

Done interestingly, they're fantastic at provoking people to think more deeply about where their pint of beer comes from.

Alan -

Isn't Ron and Fuller's XX an authentic recreated beer?

Jeff Alworth -

Sort of, but as John Keeling pointed out when I visited (no, I'm never ever going to get tired of writing that), there are subtle differences, like the availability of malts--and, I assume, the type of barley. Modern hops are different, and the equipment at Fuller's is different.

I'm not one of those hardcore people who think you can't call this authentic, but it's worth noting that times do change. My guess is that the beer they produced (also that stout they made) would taste quite similar to beers of the age; maybe like one brewed at a different brewery. That's easily close enough for me.

Alan -

You comment reminds me of the time when I was speaking with a very large squirrel over a tray of Manhattans... [Oh.. no, that was a daydream.]

Anyway, I see that point. There are no old hops. We have hybridized the crap out of them. Barley, too. And the beer would lack the note of despair from the workers in the dark Satanic mill that put the stuff out. But if XX is wobbly, surely the arse is out of this phoney baloney Egyptian and Mayan stuff. Isn't it just branding with an archaeologist's trowel?

Jeff Alworth -

Well, you could say so. On the other hand, I think there's value in attempting to come to terms with beer from earlier epochs. We may not adequately reproduce it, but we can get a better sense of how it differed from what we drink now. Brewing a Burton, for example, will not necessarily produce a spot-on era Burton. But it could go a long way to giving us a sense of what they were like. That's a worthy endeavor.

Now, when a brewery merely seizes on the romance of some lost style, remakes a random beer to capitalize on it, and promotes it with some bogus story--that I can't endorse. But somewhere between a time machine and the total scam is something worthwhile.

Alan -

I don't disagree with that. What really surprises me is how it is possible to get pretty close but most heritage or scientific recreations are so phoney. There is sufficient information, for example, on how to kiln pale malt with wheat straw to make it not all that different from something in 1600. Is it that there is just no market for the beer that closely honours the past? One suspicion I have is that beers were far simpler, few ingredients, home style techniques, consumed sooner. Hard to make a big profit per bottle on that. Pretend you are making a Pharaoh's brew might get you 4 bucks more profit per bottle.