A Good Beer Blog

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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

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Stan Hieronymus -

So give me a date we are basing this on. Everything used before that is allowed, and everything after is "not beer."

Alan -

Not date based at all. Beer based. If the thing is not required for the making of beer it is flavouring.

Alan -

Cider makers have the decency of giving these things other names.

Chris -

Hmm, I don't know if the adding of "not beer" is instantly a distancing away from beer. Is Heather Ale a distraction or covering up? If someone were to re-create West Country White Ale, would that be a distraction as well? I certainly agree that beers brewed with bacon or some peanut butter flavoring have rarely been very beery (or good) at all and are sold on gimmick, but I don't think the idea of "flavoring" is altogether taboo, either.

Stan Hieronymus -

Taking you literally that would be water, something fermentable and yeast (wild or tame). Otherwise, is there a "not beer" list?

Alan -

You appear unhappy with the concept. Maybe you should write about your unhappiness with the concept rather than nipping around the edges.

But, to your point and as you know, that would be an incomplete list. Beer is made of malted grains, bittering greens, yeast and water. Ale is an example of what you suggest.

Stan Hieronymus -

To the contrary, I find the basic question intriguing. But I'm trying to understand the parameters.

I understand my personal weaknesses, that I can drift quickly toward technical explanations.

Alan -

It's called a stren-gweek-ness when you got what you got, Stan. I like the idea because at a certain point there is beer in the middle of something and concentric rings of deviation from beer. It would be bad for us all if we can't assert what beer is. And also bad to be unable to note what is less than beer.

So I take it "syrups" are not in beer, for example. That is beer with flavour added. Not necessarily a degradation anymore than pyment is a degradation. It is, however, really not meads just as braggot is not beer... or mead... but the thing it is itself.

Craig -

Why do the ingredients, adjuncts, syrups, additives or whatever you want to call them, matter if the end product tastes good?

Alan -

Some soda pop tastes good.

Craig -

You're right, but Cherry Coke is not less of a soda than Regular Coke, because it has Cherry flavoring added to it.

Steve Gates -

I did not expect the type of conflicted confusion you encountered here Alan, your position, I thought, was a sound one. The premise of your position is a reasonable theory that all extraneous materials added to beer to is just muckery. Beer does not need maple syrup, raspberries, apples or anything else to draw a crowd. Point taken.

Craig -

I don't agree that the "purity" of beer validates it.

Bailey -

On the one hand, I'd tend to agree that 'silly beers' are rarely enjoyable. The beers I like best are the beeriest ones. Even at the tamest end of tinkering, I can't think of a honey beer I've really enjoyed, at least not *because* of the honey.

On the other hand, I like Kriek; and I enjoyed a beer that tasted like creme brulee. I certainly wouldn't want to rule out drinking beers with added flavourings -- a sense of my own preferences is enough without a public statement of intent, patch on my jacket, pledge of allegiance, etc..

Anyway, there's no shortage of beery beer, and I don't think the doughnut beers are going to push it into extinction, so if people want to mess about, and other people want to get excited about it, *shrug*, fine by me.

Alan -

Not so much purity, Craig, as simplicity. I like Bailey's idea of degrees of beeriness. I have no issue with adding flavour to beer. It is then just beer with flavour added, not beer. Or a technique added. Doughnut beer is my new favourite label. Except we do have a bit of a problem with brewers focusing on them, relegating some sorts of beery beer to the side for easier to brew flavoured drinks or other querky sideshows.

Gary Gillman -

I agree with Jeff and yourself. But it is not that the non-beeriness or distancing is not legitimate in some way. It is legitimate because virtually everything under the sun you can think of has been used in brewing before (I won't say "added to beer" because that begs the question).

Perhaps bacon wasn't, but chicken was, and beef. Herbs of many descriptions were. Capsicum was (1800's), and coffee (ditto). Spices too, and fruits, many kinds. Porter was placed in casks that had held sherry or similar wines in the 1800's and probably long before.

What is that song by that fine Canadian band The Bare-Naked Ladies, "It's All Been Done"...

However, that doesn't mean doing any of that makes good beer. It generally does not do so, IMO. Porter doesn't need coffee or chocolate, those things traduce the taste of good beer - IMO again. Beer doesn't need figs or dates. I agree about honey, maple syrup too, the fermented results always taste strange to me. Sure the odd mild spicing is okay (I like beers that have used Seville orange peel as a flavouring) but not as a general rule or very often.

Plus, I think it is better to master existing beer styles before venturing out. Many breweries still have a long way to go on that.

So, experiment by all means, it isn't "wrong" and it isn't new, but I express my preference as a consumer to buy malt-based beer and preferably all-malt, with just hops. That is the purest form of beer IMO and no matter what economic history revisionism says about the German Pure Beer Law, I think the guys who passed that got that. So did the English before the mid-1800's who required in beer only malt and hops.

Gary

Craig -

I dunno. Try changing the word "beer" or "beery" in you post to "pancakes" and see if your position still stands up. Are blueberry pancakes fine, but does the addition of strawberries dilute the pancake-iness of those pancakes?

Isn't it more important that the end product be good, rather than if it falls into a predetermined category of beer vs non-beer?

Alan -

Look, I like tasty as much as the next guy. But, although many falsified beers are not that good, I am not discussing quality as much as identity. If anything can be in there, something needs to be not beer. Otherwise beer is meaningless.

Bailey -

"If anything can be in there, something needs to be not beer. Otherwise beer is meaningless."

Hmm. All kinds of things have fuzzy edges and outliers, with a relatively obvious, clearly identifiable core. There will be a point when it ceases to be beer, I guess, but I'd be wary of a clear line.

A cidery beer and a beery cider wouldn't might not be that different.

Craig -

"If anything can be in there, something needs to be not beer."

Why? Beer has always had "stuff" added to it. You were born in Canada, but you're of Scottish heritage, that doesn't make you any less Canadian, does it?

Where would the line be drawn and by whom?

Gary Gillman -

The line has been drawn many times. The German Pure Beer Law drew it. English law drew it for commercial brewing before sugar was first allowed in 1845. Michael Jackson drew it in a manner of speaking when he said that German beers, with their all-malt character, best expressed the qualities fine malt can lend to beer. Fritz Maytag drew it when he decided to brew with all-malt at Anchor. And so on. Each was particular to its context, but together it adds to a tradition, one no one is forced to accept to be sure (e.g. the Belgians were always happy to depart from it), but which has a gravitas that cannot be denied, IMO.

Gary

Gary Gillman -

And no question that Anchor first made under Maytag's leadership a spiced Christmas ale, I know that. One can acknowledge the value of some departures from the tradition of all-malt and all-hops, e.g., a cherry kriek, while still considering that beers made only from malt and hops represent the best of the beer tradition in general.

Gary

Alan -

And, Craig, think of the poor hipsters who have been raised in a post-craft world where flavour is the thing you ram into beer after the beer has been made - whether by some syrup or powder, late hop additions or ramming it into a cask. All masking the actually flavour of bittered malty goodness. I blame flavoured vodkas, the last thing they drank...

Craig -

The Reinheitsgebot had more to do with making sure grain was available for baking, and English law's prohibition of sugar was a taxation issue—neither had much to do with the purity of anything, let alone identity. Further more, Maytag made his decision for his personal company, most definitely not the brewing industry as a whole. As far as Jackson is concerned, admiring a brewing tradition is a far cry from defining what beer is, versus what beer is not.

Craig -

You're right Alan, no good beer can come from a keg.

Oh, wait a minute....

Jeff Alworth -

I'm late to the party here, as usual.

I guess in my case, history is the wrong lens through which to view this. Yes, humans once threw henbane and chimney soot into their beer, but so what? Obviously people didn't like those beers and so the breweries stopped. (The poisoning may have had something to do with it.)

For me it's an aesthetic consideration. One of my longstanding gripes is pumpkin beer, the most popular of which were designed to taste like pie. Beer and pie are literally 2-3 in terms of things I like to put into my mouth (coffee holds the pole), but I like them for different reasons. I like them because they're different. Americans have long attempted to fuse foods into unnecessary and usually disgusting concoctions. Call them post-ingestion combinations. It's gross.

As a matter of aesthetics, rules are hard to establish. Oud krieks are sublime but cherry-syrup kriek things are horrid. You see, aesthetics, not rules. Over the weekend I had a coffee IPA, a beer combining favorites 1 and 2 on my list (or 1 and 3: hmmm) which I expected to hate. It was a masterpiece. There are 999 ways out of a thousand to make a terrible beer with coffee and hops, but Fort George found the one good one.

That's why I phrased it as a presumption of grossness. Most these beers are. And until they start being less gross in the aggregate, my presumption remains. No rules, though, just presumptions.

Alan -

I am pretty sure you are having another discussion with another Alan, Craig. Jeff has illustrated the very essence of the doughnut beer idea. It can be tasty. But it is a beer with coffee flavour. You can remove the coffee and you still have beer. It is like this:

"beer + X ≠ beer"

but, interestingly, it is clear that

"beer + X < beer"

which is an astounding observation if you think of it. Additions function as subtractions when it comes to this aspect of beer. An extraordinary truth if you appreciate the fundamental nature of science.

Gary Gillman -

Craig, those are inferences from the history, just as mine are. I will grant that for some of this there may have been mixed motives, but to rule out taste is unrealistic, IMO.

Gary

Craig -

No, I'm pretty sure it's you I'm talking to—but I'm sure not we're both listening to the same Jeff!

I take his point to mean that he doesn't see the necessity of the beery equivalent of the music mash-up—the beer that emulates, pie, or egg nog, or pad thai. He's asserting that most of the time those beers end up being lousy—with some exceptions of course. I can see that point—a point which he attributes as a personal point of view. What I don't hear him saying is that those beers that employ such gimmicks or unorthodox ingredients are no longer beer and/or are somehow greater than beer. I totally agree that not all of the crazy ingredient beers are good, in fact, I'm grossed out by Wynkoop's bull ball abomination—but I don't think it 's any more or less of a beer than say porter or IPA.

Alan -

That's fine but haven't you forgotten to make your argument? It isn't enough to say you don't get it. You have to defend why adding flavour to beer makes it not "beer plus added flavour" if you are going to partake in a chat like this. I am not just parroting Jeff's point, either. I am suggesting that this is not just about whether something is gross. Rather than an aesthetics question it for me it is for more about marketing and adulteration both substantively and conceptually to justify a gap in skill.

It is Special K with the dried strawberries added which is both weirdly gross and also a non-innovation based on chucking something else in. Next, add powdered milk so you just have to add water. And you pay more for the privilege. The natural extension with beer is that, like other forms of process overlay, you can have anything flavoured like anything and still be labelled "beer". And at a premium price, too. Excellent. Because it is way easier to add a tub of this non-fermentable or squeeze in a tube of that non-fermentable than actually and skillfully coaxing more interesting and nuanced flavours out of malts, hops, yeast and water.

Which is the promise of Zima. What we have is craft brewed Zima. Yum.

Bill -

"The first three--Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian--are of particular character and differ essentially from each other; the two others have nothing but what is borrowed, and differ only accidentally.... To the Greeks, therefore, and not to the Romans are we indebted for all that is great, judicious, and distinct in architecture."

Craig -

Beer plus added flavor is your argument, not mine. My point is, again, is if it tastes good who cares, call it doughnut beer or beer with doughnuts—it's all still beer. If this all boils down to the "we need to get back to the beeriness of beer because all this other stuff is making the beer to expensive" argument, well then sorry, that bell's already been rung. I wouldn't expect beer to be getting any cheaper anytime soon regardless of what's in it.

As far as additives pushing beer so far out of content that it's no longer beer, I just don't think that's going to happen. I think flavoring and additives are a trend just like every other trend that's happened over the past 1000 years of beer making. I see brewing with non-tradition ingredients as a challenge—and I definitely don't think that their use is an indication of a lack of skill. I think it's great that brewers take chances, sometimes those chances work, sometimes they don't. That doesn't mean that I don't think that they should stop trying to do funky things—who knows what will come out of experimentation. People thought rock n' roll was going to destroy society, too.

Alan -

OK, got it. Everything would go craaaaazy if we considered stuff like this. Hooray for everything.

Jeff Alworth -

Since my name has been associated with an ambiguous concept, my work is done. I don't care what position you take, just so long as you invoke me when you take it.

Alan -

"Alworth's Policy" is so dubbed.

Stan Hieronymus -

Does this raise the "mirror" question?

"Six food trends for 2013" includes "beer as an ingredient."

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/01/22/food-trends-2013/1855189/

Alan -

Looking forward to all those DIPA reductions and then the backlash.

olllllo -

Hey, remember when everyone freaked out about a half wedge of citrus affixed to the rim of a glass?

Good times.

Alan -

Yah, remember how crap that was? Another great way to cover up all that yikkie beer taste.

J Tom Field -

If we are strictly speaking about adding flavor after the brewing process is complete, I do not completely disagree. That being said, I don't have a problem with mixed drinks but maybe we should now call it a malt beverage. If we are talking about items that have been added to the brewing process (arguing at what point in the brewing process could be had), I think it's all fare game and let the market decide how crappy the product might be, or how genius. Bire de miel from DuPont (disclaimer, I do work with Vanberg & DeWulf) has a wonderful scent of honey but almost no sweetness on the pallet because the sugar has been fermented out. This is interesting. Plopping honey in afterwords to cover what might be a bad beer is not. The idea, or at least my idea, of a pumpkin beer is not one where it is spiced but where pumpkin (or other squashes) are used in the mash. This can lend a subtlety of flavor to what is very much a beer. Throwing a bunch of pumpkin pie spice in is suspect and lacking true creativity but still maybe beer. Seven Brides did a pumpkin beer where they re-fermented the beer in a huge pumpkin that they had caramelized with Everclear. It wasn't what I'd want as a daily drinker but it was interesting and still tasted like beer, I drank a second several days later.

Squash in beer is not a new thing, it was the bittering agent when hops were not available. That being said I just heard of a brewery making a oyster stout where they touted their oysters as coming from a particular bay (I can't recall which one.) This seems silly to me. The original historical precedence for oyster shells being used in brewing relates to fining and possibly water conditioning, flavor was not the intent. This beer may taste great but I doubt you could recognize the type of oyster used. Burnside just made a beer with beef heart. I haven't tried it and I'm a little scared, I have heard mixed reviews.

If we decide to use our "these are the acceptable ingredients" date as 1954, we are going to be limiting a lot of product from being called beer. If we go back 9000 years with Sam Calagione anything is possible, though arguably possible doesn't necessarily make it good. Is their room to argue the lines between beer and malt beverage? Probably.

Joseph Callender -

First there was Craft vs Crafty. Now there is Beer vs. Not Beer.

http://craftbeercoach.com/deconstructing-a-critique-of-beer-culture/

Ryan Brei -

As in any other discussion on experimentation, it seems that we have some favoring the experimentation, and others taking a more reactionary position. We should remember that all beer has come about through experimentation. Some of the beers we love now didn't fit the neat confines of a definition of beer operating at the time of their first production. Pale malt wasn't always commonplace in beers either, but people trying to get a pale, clean tasting malt experimented with kilning malt with coke and changed the beer climate permanently.

The argument to me seems to boil down to whether we should stick with traditional beers that have already gained their acceptance, or continue to push the envelope and potentially discover what might, in future generations, fall in line with a "definition" of beer.

Alan -

JTF: Good stuff. It is not so much acceptable ingredient as participating ingredient. So honey makes sense but it is close to braggott. We are not really against the fluid so much in search of the right name. There is nothing wrong with yoinks of specific names for such things. Again, not really so much about adulteration as identification.

Alan -

Not really much of an experiment to add a flavour in a static phase of the process. Unlike fern ale. That would be great. Coke is for hipsters. Bring back fern ale.