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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Bailey -

Just as with literary criticism, for example, the difficulty comes when you have the pure aesthetic experience and then, as a function of being human, want to connect with others and share that experience. The pure feeling has to be crammed into ugly, unworthy words which only half-convey what you intend them to.

All rather unsatisfactory and alienating, but rather that than never trying to connect.

Jeff Alworth -

I don't actually think the third exists--and certainly, Jackson was no practitioner of it. That some people try to make a living by being the wise one still doesn't mean it exists. You have to have more than priests; there must be supplicants as well.

I would add a fourth--the School of the Big Rush. These are people who believe the only thing there is to beer is extremes and power. If these were musical traditions, I'd be pointing at metalheads. Their faith is outlined in the reviews on BeerAdvocate.

You seem to be a member of yet another school, which you have hinted at by absence--in regular critiques of pedants, lushes, self-appointed wise men, and fanboys. I can't quite make it out, but it doesn't seem to fit in any of these pots.

Gary Gillman -

In the pre-Jackson era, I'd say the most common school in terms of consumer writing, was the "national" one. Beer was essentially classified by country of production. Each nation therefore had a claim to merit, measured on a scale. Germany and England ranked at the top, Belgium too (even then) and then came others: Ireland, America, Australia, Holland, etc. There wasn't too much discussion about internal divisions of style or taste although these were noted in some cases.

So prevalent was this way of looking at it that even Jackson's World Guide To Beer (1978) was organised by country. But as you said Alan, he had layered over his beer classification system which (to me) was a sort of literary-scientific mix he came up with. The classifications of bottom-, top-, and spontaneously fermented beer had been long known and addressed in detail in technical texts. Michael would have studied some of these but he also combined the information with a degree of romance and authorial skill in a way no other author had done. Just as one example, he said that Alt Bier was a cousin to English ale. Now, one can cavil with that today, but he was trying to make a point that there was a linked tradition of top-fermentation brewing in northern Europe which transcended national boundaries.

I believe he created the very concept of Imperial Stout. The elements were there, e.g., the name, but he transformed and re-interpreted them into something new and exciting.

His later books freed themselves from most national constraints, and indeed the beer world itself has become largely international, both at the industrial and craft levels.

Today his achievement is being expanded by further technical and historical work, in a deeper way than he likely had the time and resources to pursue. But also, he may not have wanted to go there, being satisfied perhaps with the balance of science, history and gustatory detail his work reflected. Or (what may be the same thing), he may have felt a broad audience would not be interested in details of far-away history or arcane science.

But these perspectives are not the only way to look at beer to be sure. And logically of course they should not be, otherwise we're due for a 1970's-style mass market adjunct beer revival pretty soon and I'd say let's not go there! Other perspectives are valuable too, some of which you mentioned, Alan.

One modern perspective that is ahistorical is viewing beer as part of the slow food movement, something which started in Italy I believe (the movement itself). Some of its adherents will likely want to take inspiration from old beer recipes but not all, some just want to encounter or create vibrant and unique tastes. Maybe that is an aspect of the aesthetic school you mentioned, Alan.

Some people view craft beer as essentially a local industry matter, that small is good: that is another valid approach but not all will share it once again.

I tend to get caught up in the history side, an interest I had long before the Internet facilitated learning more about it. But I have to remind myself that not everyone cares about history (or science) and it is certainly not necessary to creating great beer of course! And this current post of yours is salutary in that regard, Alan.


Pok -

Unfortunately the most common form of beer thinking may be The School of Accessory. By "not thinking" we think about how a beer might allow us to outwardly portray a lifestyle.

Marketing trumps rational thought when viewed at the scale of hectilitres.

Alan -

Good comments, all.

Jeff - ouch. What do I believe in? Dunno. But I do think it is displayed somewhere in all these blog posts, needing better sifting out. And I meant I blame Jackson in the sense it is his evil spawn that has founded this school, not he himself.

Jeff Alworth -

Alan, ouch?

(FWIW, I am a subscriber to the art school, which is much-derided and dismissed. It holds that beer is like art and follows trends and fashions and can only be understood in historio-socio-cultural context. The derision has not persuaded me to abandon it.)

Craig -

I try (stressing the try) to simply believe in beer—all aspects, pleasure, history and wisdom. In Porter we trust.

Alan -

Ouch in the sense of getting a bit directly to the personal. I am fine with yours other than the use of "art" in that context. I consider that design / artisan / fashion but art needs to express an idea even if the idea is about the art itself. Plus art has a lot of unattractive baggage like false pricing that no one wants to see imported into good beer.

Alan -

Gary, it is instructive to review the post from last year about the earlier Jacksonian writing on style. And, with respect, he was important but not comprehensive as well as more concerned with great individual beers more than a hierarchy of styles. The hunting of beer, after all, is not about taxonomy and classification. It's about the singularities.

Jeff Alworth -

Alan, I hope you're only talking about my queries about your own philosophy. Nothing else in my comment was directed toward you. And that was just curiosity.

Jackson. Ah yes, I see your point now.

Art. "I consider that design / artisan / fashion but art needs to express an idea even if the idea is about the art itself." Agreed, and I wonder if beer can express ideas. I don't usually romanticize things, but perhaps beer is an exception. American breweries make some pretty conceptually laden beers that don't seem to be understandable except as ideas. The first Belgian IPA was a thought experiment. (Now it's a gimmick--see, just like art!)

I don't think the false pricing bit is such a big deal, but a lot of other people do. I could load that onto my pile as additional ballast.

Bailey -

Woah... can beer be art! There's fodder for a year's worth of discussions. Excellent.

(And then we can move on to, like, how we even know all this is *real*, man.)

Alan -

Jeff, I think it is an excellent question, a worthy one. As beer is fraught with attractions and burdens, it is fundamental to ask each ourselves why.

Gary Gillman -

Alan, I recall that discussion well. Jackson was at heart an aesthete, not a scientist, and also, his books served different purposes. The pocket guides, which were always country-focused, tended to single out the best beers, and after all used a scoring system. They were meant for consumers "on the run", for a quick reference. But his coffee table works so to speak were focused on systems of classification IMO and the beer world, judging e.g. by brewspapers, various beer books and other media still seems to look at the subject the way he did it. E.g. his view that stout in Ireland was dry stout and the English type (e.g. Mackeson) sweet has had enduring influence, even though modern historical studies (see Ron's site on this) have suggested this is not so or an over-simplification. He was the first as farr as I know to identify the American Pale Ale style, and so on. A huge influence, but it is being subsumed and expanded upon by the work of others today.

Still, I am in agreement with your main point, as mentioned earlier. This historical, "grand man" way is one way to look at beer, not the only way. Just the other day someone said to me, I don't like hoppy beers. He meant, he doesn't like beers with strong American hopping, but to him that's what hoppy beers are, APAs. It's another way to look at it, beer is multi-faceted.


Gary Gillman -

Sorry, Alan, I meant to say, "to him, that's what APAs are, hoppy beers".

The fact that one can distinguish an American style of pale ale from other styles (English, say, or Belgian, and perhaps even German), is a Jacksonian way to look at it, but that's not the be all and end all of beer appreciation.

I still remember a lady from a tasting 20 years ago saying a beer (probably an early APA) was "angular"! Why not devise a geometric model to describe beers? :)


Alan -

He was an Aristotelian. But classifying and hierarchies of taxonomy are not a natural thing but an imposed one. His "creation" of imperial stout or APA is addressed by the notion that a beer by any other name is just as sweet... and roasty and stuff. Hugely influential as you say but triggered a wave of brewing schisms that we are burdened by now.

But, yes: The School of Geometry. I actually think of taste as an X-Y graph. Bordeaux falls of a severe cliff mid-swallow for me.

Jordan -

Alan, you left out self indulgent jerks who make a lot of pop culture references and poor analogies. Third wave Po-mo beer criticism.

Stan Hieronymus -

The hunting of beer, after all, is not about taxonomy and classification. It's about the singularities.

Is that a another School of Beer Thought?

And is there a school of thinking for people not interested in overtly thinking about beer? OK, obviously the school of drinking, but beyond that?

olllllo -

I'm apparently reading too many things as I cannot find the source of this argument which goes something like this...

Without push of the style mavens (or the School of Wisdom) would we not be pulled by the "College of Marketing". These marketers are the same ones that Lite is "A Fine Pilsner Beer"


Alan -

Jordan: The School of, what, the Hipster?

Stan: Perhaps that is called recess. Or is this the vision quest? There is something restless in the ranger that is not in the hunter. The hunter returns home with the catch. The ranger dies on the range.

olllllo: the way of the wise excludes and has always been the playground of the PR rep and the consultant who come with outstretched hand. This is the wisdom of the mystery, not the wisdom of free and public education.

Bailey -

Stan -- that's the group I find most confusing -- "this conversation is boring, why are you talking about it, it's only beer, have a pint!"

Why are these people reading blogs/books/forums if they find the very act of thinking and writing about beer fundamentally irritating and/or pointless?

Many of them also write blogs, which is even weirder.

Abderrahman Anzaldua -

This is great!
Can I post this on my website?

Alan -

Of course not.