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."


Comments are locked. No additional comments may be posted.

Gary Gillman -

Science in my view Alan should be limited to keeping out the egregious parts of the beer palate, what few in the past (yes there were some) didn't want like acetic acid, strong brett taste, and damp paper or port-like oxidation.

Beer is better without all that, even for most geeks.

But don't let it go too far. Logically, if you do, all beer will taste like dilute vodka, right? Which a lot of people like, it's called the vodka cooler. There is a (large) place for that, but a centuries-old acquired taste for beer says no, don't push it that far. Keep the retained flavours of malt, hops and certain other long-accepted flavourings.

Why does beer taste essentially of these things? Because that is what people had to make an intoxicating drink with. And people got used to the taste. If you designed from scratch an alcoholic drink, I should think it would have no taste, just effect. But people got used to malt-based beer and numerous iterations and styles of it, which is why we are all here.

Science used wisely will preserve the best part of what is an arbitrary but long-acquired taste.


Gary Gillman -

I should add, by vodka cooler (VC) I mean the type which is neutral in taste or almost so, not the ones that have a marked fruit or other taste.

A vodka spritzer is another drink which might be the perfect drink if you designed it from scratch.


Ron Pattinson -

"or even provide grain better suited for beer and brewing" show where their priorities lie - with the farmer and not the brewer.

Why do British brewers like Marris Otter? Not because of the flavour necessarily, but because it malts well and is easy to brew with. Why do they have to contract farmers to grow it? Because the yield per acre is crap.

The needs of farmers and brewers often don't coincide.

Win Bassett -

I agree with Ron. This is a slippery slope. Take a look at the evolution of our food. In an effort to produce cheaper, prettier, more plentiful food, we've arrived at GMO-ridden substances that taste horrible and are horrible for your body. Let's not let this happen with beer.

Alan -

"Let's not let this happen with beer."

Well, that happened over 100 years ago. Is there a heritage seed depository for malting barley? I have belonged to Seeds of Diversity which has some heritage barley strains but not sure of their relationship to brewing.

Lisa -

Along these lines, I've been wondering for a while, especially with regard to hops; just how similar are modern hops (even of 'older' varieties) to their earlier counterparts? Given things like changing climate and different growing conditions - especially growing them far from their native locations - are they producing the same effects they did in, say, the 19th century? I'd be very curious to see someone with some chemistry and historical plant breeding smarts weigh in.

Alan -

Hey Lisa. Have you heard of this hop program between UofV and Cornell? I thought there was a heritage aspect to it.

Gary Gillman -

There is no way I can prove this, but I am satisfied that hops essentially are similar from then to now. There would be some differences in flavour and alpha acid content, but that is true today too and even amongst the same variety in the same area this occurs.

When you read hundreds of period accounts, such as that some beer has a "twang", that some American hops taste of "pine" or "blackcurrant", that East Kent Goldings are amongst the best in England, that some German hops have a "garlic" or "onion" taste, you get a sense that not that much has changed really.


Craig -

At some point this discussion is going to lead into cloning dinosaurs, right? 'Cause I saw that movie and, boy, it did not turn out good.

Alan -

I was thinking more about a morph towards show tunes but that's just me.

Another Alan -

To state the obvious, grain doesn't ripen into malted barely (and I sure hope "science" never gets there). Thus, there's a lot that happens after the harvest where science can play a roll in improving beer as a general proposition without potentially screwing things up - like the GMO issue Win raises.

But really, we managed to create tasteless food through science well before knowing how to genetically modify them in the laboratory.

Can science improve malting techniques to improve extraction rates, thus requiring less malt for the same batch of beer? One example of many, I suppose. It seems your point is directed at the actual crop production, but yes, science has a big roll to play as the craft beer industry grows - and brings with it a growing need for raw materials, energy, etc., etc.

Alan -

"Can science improve malting techniques to improve extraction rates..."

Why is improved extraction rate considered an improvement? Does it taste better?

Another Alan -

Well, improved extractions rates sure improve my homebrewing results, but that's more an issue of my questionable skills, than any needed scientific advancements.

I didn't read your post as being limited to "taste" and therefore can envision a variety of ways in which science can improve beer - again, as a general proposition - including the development of different varieties of grain. Here in Montana - a significant barley growing region - there have long been research projects focused on developing varieties of grain which are both good for the farmers and good for the brewers. With a malting plant in the middle of this region, its no surprise that Montana breweries use a ton of local barely that is also malted locally. (Local is relevant.) So, will improved barely, improved malting, or other scientific improvements make my local beer taste better? It's quite possible.

Ed -

If you want old hops those that are sold as East Kent Goldings originate from very closely related plants (differing only in mutations) dating from the 1700s and 1800s and have been grown in the same area since the 1800s. As they're propagated from cuttings they're the same plants they always were.

Alan -

I would not call propagated from cuttings "science", though, Ed. Husbandry is as old as the agricultural revolution.