Archive | May, 2006

Promoting beer knowledge vs. snobbery

Now the New York Times has written about the city’s first beer sommelier, a already discussed here a couple of months ago.

This will lead to a whole ‘nother round of posts in various blogs, and probably touch upon some more interesting ideas (including still more discussion if sommelier is a wine specific word). I promise not to beat you over the head with too many pointers, but here is an interesting thought from Roger Baylor:

This is the part that I’m having a problem embracing:

“We don’t aim towards pub people,” he said. “We’re about the beer geeks, people who want to try a new experience.”

Whether or not there is a word that accurately describes the function of ordering and recommending beer — a beer sommelier — how can it be so blithely divorced from the consciousness of pub people?”

In my experience, that’s where the “geeks” came from in the first place.

Beer knowledge is important, and to disseminate it through the experience and wisdom of a “beer sommelier” is something worthy of praise, but to imbue it with pretentiousness is both unnecessary and potentially self-defeating.

It’s hard enough going out there every day and having to un-do the incessant dumbing down of beer perpetuated by a half-century of megabrewing theory and practice without mimicking the excesses of wine snobbery.

Feel free to discuss.

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A ‘complex’ beer issue

We love lambic in our house, yet I suspect I could spend the better part of the day asking others who live in our village about it before I found somebody who knew lambic meant beer.

But, goodness, all the attention it is getting these days could make you think it might be the Next Big Thing. We’re all in trouble if it is because we’re gonna run out of lambic real fast. For for instance, Cantillon – a subject in many of the discussions linked below – brews all of 800 barrels a year, about the same amount as the modest-sized brewpub up the hill from our house.

Following an article in the New York Times and a couple of blog posts by Eric Asimov you’ve got this:

A Lambic Primer at Ratebeer.com from Daniel Shelton of Shelton Brothers.

Followed by spirited discussions at Rate Beer and Beer Advocate. (Thanks to Jonathan Surratt for the links.)

These discussions wander off in esoteric directions and raise as many questions as they answer, but it’s ahrd to quit reading.

I’m drawn to two subjects. First, the role of tradition and if tradition allows room for innovation. Without innovation there would be no Double IPAs, so I’m voting for innovation and figuring there should be some wiggle room when talking about tradition.

Second, the sweetness versus complexity argument. Gee, does that sentence equate sweet and simple? No apologies.

I’m reminded a late night discussion a year or so ago with Yvan De Baets, a Belgian brewer in waiting who wrote the history of saison in Farmhouse Ales.

“One of the main goals of Belgian brewers should be to fight against the Coca-Cola flavors and those kind of gadget tastes,” he said. “We should be about cultural tastes, not (sweet) animal tastes.”

Amen (although I’d like to ask brewers of all nations to act as responsibly).

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Machine vs. wine tasters

What happens when university students use a machine to compete against a panel of wine experts in predicting the price level, region and quality for a number of wines?

Chemie.DE News-Center reports they came quite close to the experts’ judgment, especially when predicting region and quality level for wine at lower prices. Both the panel and the wine analysers had problems when predicting the price of the more expensive wines, but the expert’s ability to judge the finer points of the wines allowed them to get closer to the actual price.

However, the students and their machine easily won when it came to delivering speedy results.

I’m not sure that a beer tasting contraption could do as well.

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Out of boring beer ideas? Never

Here’s another take on why we’re seeing “bolder” (OK bolder might be a little strong) beers from the nation’s larger brewers.

“I think they’ve exhausted [the formula of] ‘How many types of beers can we make that are light and boring?’ ” said Walter Trifari, head of brewing operations for Fordham Brewing in Dover, in a story at Delaware Online.

Experience tells us they can still find more.

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But are they describing the flavor?

Relative to the ongoing discussion about the need for better vocabulary when tasting beer, an amusing comment from a wine blog. In this case, Mark Fisher asked, “What do you think the best Wine 101 class would include?”

The first reply was this:

I’d like to know if wine critics can really taste “a hint of raspberry dipped in chocolate and wiped away with old socks.” I think a wine should be judged on smoothness and depth. Cheaper wines can be smooth but better wines also have depth. I think wine reviewers make up all the descriptive language because they’ve got to fill the space with something.

Could it really be that simple?

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