Stan is doing a series of hop focused posts triggered by the release of his new book For The Love of Hops. My copy is on order. His post yesterday has had me thinking about representations of taste. Are they useful? Practical? The whole thing reminded me of one of these, a late '80s era graphic equalizer. No college dorm stereo was complete without one. A technology whose popularity arose and disappeared entirely within the years between the start of my teens and end of of singlehood.
Why did that occur? Lack of practical usefulness. No one cared. And no one really cared at the party when someone started fiddling with the one playing the music. Flavour wheels, bar graphs, spider graphs and other representations of flavour which ultimately rely on graphical analogy or allusion to familiar images are a lot like graphic equalizers. If you don't appreciate the reason underlying the graphical representation data - aka the system of communication - being proposed, well, surely there is little hope. Only a few at the party need to hear that high hat boosted 12% compared to the number that need to chat up that person over there. It is a form of information sharing that really speaks only to those already in the know.
Which is not a bad thing in itself, knowledge, but there are many levels and purposes for knowledge. As with a room filled with twenty literate and well spoken people, there will only be confusion if they happen to speak twenty unrelated languages. Which is why I have yet to find any common ground with the proposition that, as Stan proposes, visual representations are much friendlier than common language. While I can agree few will get point if anyone says there is a hint of guava in that pale ale, I think far fewer need a pie chart to explain what is meant by bread crust or butter cookie when describing the maltiness of pale ale.
One of the challenges posed by the explosions in both the number of very similar craft beers and the number of people wanting to describe the flavours in craft beers either as a hobby or a job is that there are only so many ways to express a relatively limited set of perceptions. There are, however, a far greater number of experiences to be enjoyed when tasting. Add food or trigger memory or overlay with friends and conversation and complexity grows. As does pleasure. And practicality. Because few have a beer without beer, memory or conversation. Few also think of spider charts as they move about experiencing the world. If you are one of the few, that's fine. Otherwise, use words when you describe beer. They are perfectly useful for all those other things in your life.