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The vocabulary of tasting

The tasting of lambics previously promised by the New York Times arrived today. Well worth your time.

Discussions about the article already include many more words than are in it. A few:

Burgundian Baggle Belt.

Rate Beer.

Beer Advocate.

At the Babble Belt there’s also side conversation about the use of wine vocabulary in a beer story, and the question pops ups, “Are we validated by them (wine snobs), or are we secure in what we know to be some of the greatest flavors and complexity of any beverage?”

That’s a fair question. The short answer would be, no, we shouldn’t feel validated just because a wine writer pens something nice about beer.

However, language is another matter. Those who try to describe beer in technical terms reserved for wine – and the Times article certainly does not – should be made fun of. But well used vocabulary is well used vocabulary.

Firestone Walker brewmaster Matt Brynildson discussed this recently. Firestone Walker is located in Paso Robles, Calif., in the midst of scores of wineries. After the winery tasting rooms close at 5 p.m., wine tourists and winery workers often congregate at the brewery tasting room, which is open until 7 p.m.

“The wine world has an incredible vocabulary,” Brynildson said. “They seem to conjure up more of a food vocabulary.

“A lot of brewers pick it part by just talking about the technical characteristics.”

(I can certainly be guilty of that. The other day a brewer mentioned he was tasting a Belgian-brewed tripel. “Good beer,” I said, “but it could use more hops.” What I should have said is that I would like it better if it were a bit more dry, with a touch of bitterness to balance the beer’s sweetness.)

“I learn a lot when I drink beer with winemakers,” Brynildson said. “They talk about it and look at it from a different angle.”

That’s why even if you already know all you want to about lambics you should be sure to check out Lambics: Beers Gone Wild. You’ll still learn something.

One Response to The vocabulary of tasting

  1. mallace May 3, 2006 at 8:11 pm #

    Thanks for linking to a variety of sites discussing the tasting article. Being an English teacher and casual linguist (is there such a thing?), the vocabulary issue interests me greatly. I think wine has such a developed vocabulary simply because it has a much longer history of being discussed in those terms. It seems that, for a variety of reasons, beer’s history of taking itself seriously enough to say such things as “notes of cassis and new leather” is much shorter. The respective pallates of beer and wine are different enough for beer to develop its own legitimate, distinct vocabulary for flavor evaluation, but it will take time. I don’t get the sense beer vocabulary is developed enough right now–nor is it published often enough–to appear as distinct from wine vocabulary as it could be.

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