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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Jeff Alworth -

I envy you! I love these recreations, phony or not. Even where they're not exactly the beers people 500 years ago drank, we can get a bit of the sense. What's that saying--history doesn't repeat, it rhymes?

I guess the big thing for me wouldn't be the malt quality, but how they made it. I am now strongly in the Cornell camp that no one would have bothered boiling a gruit beer, or at least, not for very long. I'm not so familiar with koyt beer, but they probably would have cooled it in a coolship, right, and might have let it ferment spontaneously. (Though pitching yeast was by that time the standard.)

I've wanted to try a wilder gruit myself, because that seems like it would more approximate the taste of yore.

Alan -

It's all too clean but, you are right, there must be echoes. And oats don't lie.

Gary Gillman -

I don't agree at all that things can't taste the same as back then when recreated exactingly. No, I wasn't there, but neither was a person who says it's phony fun. I look to other evidence. People in the 1800's said pale ale had an "excess of bitter", left the palate clean, and wasn't as sweet as mild ale. I had a pale ale just like that last night. It didn't have brett, but others I've had did. Even if the 1800's pale ales were all bretted (which I doubt), that base has been covered. You can correlate many 1800's remarks with how the recreated beers taste particularly, too, when they tell you what they didn't like.

But I always go back to the porter story. A member of the Durden Beer Circle in the 1970's brewed an 1800's London porter. He gave a taste to an aged woman who happened to be at the tasting (she wasn't a member of the group) and trying to think of a general way to explain it, he said, "oh it's like Guinness". She tasted and replied, "no it's not, it's London porter". It turned out she was "in service" when WW I started and knew the taste from then. If some 70 years later she recognized the taste, there is no reason that that Vassar recreation couldn't have been quite close to the original 1830's beer. IMO of course.


Alan -

I don't mean they can't but if you are not going to use actual techniques they likely won't. And without the water and yeast being identified, quite unlikely.

Gary Gillman -

Actual techniques are (I would argue) fairly modular. If that wasn't so, top-fermented ales made in, say, conical fermenters would taste different to those brewed in open fermenters, but they don't to any material extent, take e.g. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, it tastes the same now as in 1982 basically. Yeast can affect taste but there are lo of yeasts and must have been lots then, it's a plant, its function is mainly to produce alcohol and its effects in the drink depend too on filtration and many other factors, e.g. a lot of yeast just tastes like yeast.

This is not anything you can prove but that lady recognized London porter and that's good evidence right there. Another example: an English observer said in the mid-1800's or so that Lichtenhaimer beer tasted like weak cider. I had a recreation of 1800's German white beer in New York, one of the "Professor" series out of Munich, that tasted exactly like that.

I am convinced, at any rate, that the circle of tastes sought to be achieved by closely following old recipes is the same as the one that existed then: thus, say Fuller's Double Stout recreation, which was superb, perhaps didn't taste like Fuller's beer from the 1890 recipe, but I'd wager that it tasted like another 1890's brewer's beer. The Kernel's 1890's recreation of the same style was outstanding and in that circle with Fuller's. You could tell that Guinness FES would be too if it used all-malt and more hops, IMO. At a certain point, it starts to spell a picture. So I think he was wrong on that.


Alan -

With respect, I am not going to accept all heritage brewing being conclusively accurate based on your one elderly lady. And "weak cider" is not a description that attracts the adjective "exact." But, as you can imagine, it is not an exercise I find all that fulfilling as it is entirely speculative for anything other than "in the ball park" or "could be like...".

Jeff Alworth -

Gary, where I'd be very careful is in relying too heavily on the descriptions of people writing decades or hundreds of years ago. All descriptions are culturally-specific, relative, and inexact. Look at BeerAdvocate and imagine that just one of those descriptions was what you were going on 200 years after the fact. It's not worse than nothing, but almost.

The relative thing is big, too. I had a Double Mountain kolsch last night that is by the tastes of Oregonians mild. If I handed it to a Belgian or Bavarian, she would almost certainly describe it as "bitter." To a Brit, our 5.5-6% "session" beers are rocket fuel; to Americans, cask ale is "flat and warm."

So when you read someone writing that a beer has an "excess of bitter" you have to immediately wonder: compared to what?

Gary Gillman -

The "excess of bitter" was meant in relation to mild ale, said at the time to favor the malt over the hop. I can get that, it's not hard. I don't see the relativity you do Jeff, we are talking about the same countries (England, America) about 150 years ago. It's not that long ago. People in their 90's today had grandparents born then.

I know what washy cider is like, or when beer has a "Madeira" odour as Barnard said of a 2 year old strong ale, or when beer is "glutinous" (very malty).


Ron pattinson -

Me as Švejk. Not sure how to interpret that one.

Wish I could try the Koyt. It looked really weird during the brewing process.

Alan -

It was really tasty, Ron. Quite singular in texture but really very pleasant sip.

And I have always admired the honesty of Švejk.