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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Alan -

Stan's post from a year and a half ago is important on this point, too.

Pivní Filosof -

Well, I've decided to sort of ignore them and leave all that to the competition judges and the wanna-be judges of the rating sites. I know, it's silly and it won't change things, but it works for me... (until they mention Imperial Pilsner, that is, which fortunately, wasn't included in the latest style guidelines of the BA)...

The Professor -

I agree with Pivni on this. The growing list of "styles" has already become a parody of itself, to the point where I (and from what I can tell, a lot of other beer lovers) just shrug it off. Outside of the amateur contest judging, none of it has any real relevance anyway. Some folks have seemingly become far too obsessed with it.

I like Lew Bryson's take on it best of all: "...brew with style, not to style"

Ethan -

"A good beer deliverers the style it promises on the label. If it says Pilsner, wheat beer, ale or stout, it truly has the characteristics of that style." Michael Jackson / Ultimate Beer

I find the angst over what is or isn't a style, or what a style means, itself vexing. It's not a question with a single, objectively correct answer. Michael Jackson broke things down along mainly cultural/historical and geographic lines; The BJCP's taxonomy serves the needs of the AHA and homebrewing competitions; the BA's serve the needs of marketers; and the words on the bottle point a potential consumer in a general direction; that's all. Big whoop.

What am I missing? I don't usually suffer for a lack of intellectual curiosity, but this topic really doesn't do it for me; perhaps I just need a different frame?

Alan -

I guess what I am really thinking is that the use of style is not so much angstity as perhaps blocking the view of a better categorization system. What, for example, if all beer were categorized first by water hardness and then by yeast strain? I am drinking a Black IPA that I had not realized (when I had the first bottle on Friday) was holding itself out as a Black IPA. I just sort of absent mindedly thought it was an odd IPA half paying attention. But, really, this is primarily a black roast beer and has more in common with a dry stout. So, why not focus on the flavour than the strained relation to an abstract label.

I actually prefer Jackson's earlier view: "If a brewer specifically has the intention of reproducing a classical beer, then he is working within a style. If his beer merely bears a general similarity to others, then it may be regarded as being of their type." I think he meant style as we would when staying "styled after" X or "in the style of" X. Black IPA is a type under that logic, not a style. Far less anal.

Ethan -

Isn't a 'style' just shorthand for water hardness and yeast strain, and a billion other things? I am certainly open to the idea that there could be other ways of breaking things down, but there must be some appeal to the current means; it has stuck around, after all. I really like Mantis Design's Beeriodic Table, which seems to me to organize things along the lines you're suggesting (Google for it, I am writing on my phone which makes putting links in a bit of a pain).

Type v. Style, to me, seems like mere wordplay. Perhaps we'll add "-ish" to all our beers, just so nobody gets the wrong idea: CBW Brown Whale Porterish. CBW In C Pale Aleish. &c.

Alan -

Too late as I have now gone too far and created an entire new system. The trouble with style as a system is that it has not in fact stuck around. It looks nothing like it did a decade ago. If we keep at it, in another decade it will loose all connection to reality. I can't rely upon such shifting sands.

I like my idea of interpreting Jackson's "style" more and more now that I think of it. What he really was getting at was what we call "cloning" in homebrewing. Brewing a lager styled after one from Pilsner was like getting a hairstyle like Justin Biebers. Anything short of copying was just a type, a far looser level of particularity.

I would suggest that the "-ish" would go more to the front so that you would be brewing a "pale-ish" ale.

Bailey -

I'm of the view that the current system of styles is fine as long as everyone knows its purpose and limitations. (It'll do.)

Having said that, I'd love someone to write a book about beer which doesn't break them down by country or style, but finds some other prism to look at them through.

"DNA" might be an interesting approach -- which varieties of malt, hops, yeast do they share? Some strange beers would end up in the same quadrant categorised that way. For example, St Austell Tribute (our local bog standard ale) is made with Willamettes, Vienna Malt and a British ale yeast, and therefore has more in common with some US beers than, say, Fuller's London Pride, which traditional style groupings would put it alongside.

Alan -

Yeast strain categorization would be a great basis for a system.

Bailey -

Some kind of interactive database which allows you to produce groups on the fly would be nice, e.g. "Show me everything between 4.5-5.2%, top fermented, using Czech hops" or "show me everything from Czech Republic, Poland and Germany using wheat malt".

Alan -

You speaka my language.

Or maybe even "show me everything 4.5 to 4.9% with malt graininess and a mellow black tea bitterness." I don't need to know what "top fermented" means or where the hops come from.

Bailey -

Hmm. Wonder how you'd go about getting those more abstract factors in the system? Perhaps by scraping reviews/blogs and looking for recurring words or phrases? (99% of beers in the database would be "citrusy", though.) Or is there an existing flavour-wheel or chart you could get people to map their reviews on to?

Alan -

Minimalism. That is what this is about. What is the least knowledge necessary to achieve an understanding of beer? Who is the Beckett of beer classification? Minimalissimo is what we need.

Bailey -

Well, for most practical purposes, when Boak and I are discussing a beer, we get 90% of the value out of "It's nice, dark, malty" or "It's bland, pale, hoppy" or whatever. Everything on top of that is just improving the focus.

Joe Stange -

I can't go along with beer classification based on yeast strain. I know Belgian ales made with American or British strains. They're still Belgian ales.

Meanwhile, I made what I call an extra pale with a Belgian-ish yeast blend and American hops. I say it's Costa Rican.

Alan -

But if it does not matter if they are Belgian or American who cares? Could you identify the country of origin on a blind tasting?

Alan -

Jeff also took up the question as has Max.

Sam T -

The problem that I see with style classifications moving forward in time is the increasing globalization of brewing style. 90% of the beer in the world is already essentially in the same style: the lightened, standardized take on the pilsner style that I see sometimes just called international lager.

It's taken much longer, but almost all other styles are now going down this road. Brewers are using ingredients from all over the world and have access to the knowledge of brewers in other areas as well. Brewing is now essentially the same everywhere with only some regional quirks still persisting.

I brew in a brewhouse made in Oregon but in the German style, and use fermentors made in Germany to make beers with an ale yeast from England, malt from Canada Germany and England, hops from the US, England, Germany and Slovenia. Our water goes through reverse osmosis so it can be designed for any mineral content we want. We package in bottles, kegs, and casks (cans soon) and naturally and artificially carbonate our beers. We make wort in the modern German style of upward infusion mashing, ferment warm, and then lager.

So what style is our beer?

And I'm glad so see you like Union Jack. Try the Double Jack yet?

Alan -

It's Sammy style!

Had the Double Jack but like the more reserved level of hop-sanity of the Union Jack a wee bit better. I did buy two DJs as trade bait up here in the land with not so much variety in good beer.