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Another reason to buy ‘Amber, Gold & Black’

Amber, Gold and BlackPerhaps I’m picking a nit, but there’s a difference between being too serious about beer (as Stephen Beaumont points out here, and I must confess happens in these parts) and taking beer seriously.

Martyn Cornell illustrates that today when he answers the question, “So what IS the difference between barley wine and old ale?”

This is simply a brilliant bit of research, a classic illustration of looking beyond the obvious, and a superb piece of writing.

The bottom line: He tells us something new.

I realized as I started typing that I don’t think I’ve told you that Cornell’s Amber, Black & Gold — which I called the beer book of the year in 2008 (a more complete review) when it was available only in electronic form — is available Amazon’s U.S. site.

Now I have.

6 Responses to Another reason to buy ‘Amber, Gold & Black’

  1. Andy Crouch September 14, 2010 at 10:16 am #

    The more I learn about the history of beer styles, the more I think that their value (and therefore their definition) rests in what the consumer or general public expects them to be. I think we can agree that many English style strong ales (call them whatever you wish) tend to be less boozy and hoppy than the American counterparts we call Barleywine. To the extent this constitutes a sufficient difference to justify different names, the question becomes, what do we call them? Not that the general public is really in touch with this, but for me, Old Ale connotes a maltier side while barleywine tends towards hoppier. No historical basis whatsoever, just my expectation. At this point, I’m also willing to throw out the utility of using history to help explain or define modern beer styles. I think we’ve simply moved beyond its usefulness.

    See you in Denver.



  2. Barm September 15, 2010 at 6:49 am #

    I’m willing to throw out the utility of using styles to explain or define beers. I think they can only be understood by history and by familiarity with the present.

  3. Martyn Cornell September 15, 2010 at 10:07 am #

    I’m sure we all agree that the style label stuck on any given beer doesn’t matter a rat’s arse as far as the drinker’s enjoyment of that beer goes: the liquid in the glass is all that ultimately matters. I’m equally sure we’ve all drunk and enjoyed beers that fit no known or defined style.

    I think style labels are important for the overwhelming majority of consumers, however, who need some sort of guide as to what they’re going to be getting. I know little enough about wine, for example, to be glad of the New World habit of putting the grape variety on the label, which the French in particular are only slowly catching up on, since I hate Chardonnay. If I hated hoppy beers but liked dark malty ones, I’d be glad to see “IPA” and “porter” on labels/beer taps, since I could then make an informed choice.

    Would it help me make my choice to know that the IPA I had just rejected was nothing like the beer Hodgson’s brewery sent east, or the porter I was drinking was just like the one Barclay Perkins made in 1850? No. Not me, and not, I suspect, the majority of “craft beer” drinkers. I don’t think even beer enthusiasts, generally, care much beyond whether what is in their glass is any good – and why should they?

    I like writing about beer styles and their histories, you may have noticed, but I certainly don’t think styles should be fetishised: it’s interesting, for a tiny number of us, to know where today’s beer styles have come from. It’s more important, though, for consumer confidence, to be able to tell drinkers what they can expect by reference to a particular style in its modern incarnation. The relevance of past beer styles to the present is, as Ron and I have shown, limited. As is the nonsense of “true to style”.

  4. Stan Hieronymus September 15, 2010 at 10:51 am #

    Martyn – Being an optimist, I think/hope your work deters styles being fetishised (that might be fetishized in American). A start will be for breweries to quit concocting incorrect histories of India Pale Ale for their bottle labels.

    And, of course, eliminating the phrase “true to style” from polite conversation would also be nice.

  5. The Professor September 15, 2010 at 11:04 am #

    Andy, I respectfully disagree…it is history that helped to develop and define so called beer “styles”, not a rather suspect list that is the recent invention of an organization concerned primarily with home brewed beer competition judging (and in the process probably generating more revenue for contest sponsors by offering more and more entry categories. LOL).

    Don’t get me wrong… You are certainly entitled to you own personal expectations and opinions that result from that expectation being met or not being met. One’s own expectation with regard to a given beer is a perfectly fine and legitimate thing to consider…but hardly a reason to throw out the understanding and consideration of history, and the natural evolution which is what truly defines so called “styles.” There have always been wide variations on the themes in terms of “style” without having to declare the emergence of a new one on what lately seems like a daily basis.
    The real problem is the current fad…obsession even…of trying to hang a tag on and pigeonhole every slight variant into a new so called “style”.

    That’s why in the end, I agree with Barm…and I think the whole idea of beer “styles” has practically reached the point of silliness (witness the very bizarre controversy over Black IPA, or whatever it’s being called today. It’s just a dark ale, folks… variations of which have been around for ages. For commercial purposes, call it whatever you like. But it is certainly not a new invention).

    While I am a long time supporter of the small brewers, (a few of whom make some mighty fine beer), it’s sad to me that the industry itself is now apparently starting to use the amateur “guidelines” as an authoritative reference as part of their hype.

    Beer is starting to get a bit pretentious, and people are starting to be turned off by it.
    …could be a small part of the reason the hipsters are turning to PBR. LOL.

  6. Mike September 15, 2010 at 3:07 pm #

    The proliferation of and obsession with “beer styles” has led to confusion, not elucidation. Rate/Advocate might actually have something useful to offer instead of endless discussions on the general topic of: “is it this style or that?”.

    History, OTOH, educates us. When I drink a beer, knowing it’s history provides context, knowing style provides nothing.

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