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Why the old beer conversations are new again

Good tasting, huh?At the risk of repeating myself . . .

A) If you want to start a heated online conversation then making beer rating the theme seems to be the way to go. Witness the dust up at Beer Advocate that was followed by commentary in 718 722 beer blogs. Or the 57 comments (so far) following Stephen Beaumont’s Sh*t Online Beer Raters Do (But Shouldn’t) post.

Several of the comments in the second focus on serving size. Well, I checked and it turns out NEW BEER RULE #3: You must drink at least two servings of a beer before you pass judgment on it is almost four years old.

B) Yesterday Alan McLeod wrote about the arc and width of beer. His essay drew upon several blog posts and a multi-contributor Twitter conversation. Give it a read to to make complete sense or settle for the conclusion.

When industrial brewers – or, for that matter, any brewers who believes that beer should only taste as they conceive – demand our obedience we are being asked to believe. To believe there was a mythical big bang of flavour when it was truer and more perfect is to believe that you are not a participant in the process.

The latest from wine columnist Matt Kramer seems relevant here.

Today, if you want to experience a wine that is at all different from anything that might be understood as “mainstream,” you have to drink “small.” Put simply, big wineries are all about predictability.

I’ve written about this phenomenon before, suggesting that today’s wine landscape is divided between what I call “wines of fear” and “wines of conviction.” True, small wineries can be fearful and make their wines accordingly. But mostly they don’t, while big wineries almost invariably do.

And, by golly NEW BEER RULE #4: The god of beer is not consistency seems to apply. (And I will be sure to file this in the Beers of conviction category.)

It makes me think I should be writing about something new. Except for many people only recently more interested in beer these topics are new. And there are new revelations within the conversations for and from those who’ve been chatting away a while — witness the Twitter exchanges Alan refers to.

Certainly, there are new areas to explore. In fact, as soon as I hit publish here I must return to examining why two people can smell the same dry hopped beer and one will describe exotic tropical aromas and the other cat pee.

12 Responses to Why the old beer conversations are new again

  1. Alan January 19, 2012 at 6:36 am #

    There are always new analogies. I didn’t mention it but I was also thinking about hitting a baseball. I play now vintage baseball, renewing my relationship with the game in my later 40s that I gave up after one season in grade 4. Skill at the plate includes being able to put the ball in the gap between 2 and 3rd as well as lifting it in the long sustained arc out out out… Even if you are great at the bat you never know exactly what will occur but you have a plan and it plays out on average fairly reliably over time once you get good at it. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want good beer that bats even .380. But that’s the idea. Or one of them.

  2. Steve January 19, 2012 at 7:36 am #

    your last point could fill a book I think Stan!

    Off the top of my head variables include:

    *suggestion from reading previous review/bottle rubric
    *suggestion from knowledge of how a hop should smell
    *experience of different flavours
    *ailment impairing senses
    *different genetic sensibility of noses
    *background aromas
    *time of day
    *atmospheric conditions

    Interestingly different bottles of the same beer from the same batch can sometimes smell different too.

  3. Linus January 19, 2012 at 8:33 am #

    Nice to read that the hop aroma dilema I face with my wife every time we taste an IPA is universal.
    I always get the nice floral, citrusy aromas and she always complains about the cat pee smell.
    Some time ago she made me smell the cat’s sand box and I had to agree with her.
    Hops smell like cat pee. People who never had a cat can’t say that because they never smelled cat pee before.
    Aroma perception is very subjective, it depends on each individual aroma memories. And each individual will associate a smell with a different memory and past experience.
    That’s why dry hopped beer have floral, piney, citrusy AND cat pee smell.

  4. Dan January 19, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    Maybe your cat drinks your beer without your knowledge?

    (I have a cat, and never thought her piss smelled like hops, but different aroma perception thing again.)

    In regards to point A. Steven Colbert had a quote regarding the hacking of HBGary Federal by Anonymous, “Anonymous is a hornet’s nest, and Barr said, ‘I’m going to stick my p*nis in that thing.'” Replace Anonymous with RB or BA and Barr with an outside blogger/writer/anyone and the quote works quite well.

  5. Linus January 19, 2012 at 9:10 am #

    Personal experience shows that female cat pee is more hoppy (floral, piney) while male cat pee is strong and less hoppy.

    On point A I strongly agree that BA and RB as well as a well known brazilian web site with beer evaluations ( after all I’m from Brasil) add nothing to the individual perception of beer.

  6. Stan Hieronymus January 19, 2012 at 9:13 am #

    OK . . . the hops comment was meant as an aside.

    Steve – Many of those variables are removed in a lab setting.

    Linus – There does, indeed, seem to be a male-female difference (talking human perceptions, not the sex of the cat peeing).

  7. Martyn Cornell January 20, 2012 at 8:30 am #

    If you’ve ever picked elderflowers in bulk to make elderflower cordial (an excellent hangover cure, btw) and left them for a few hours in a closed room, you’ll understand the whole elderflower/cat’s pee/gooseberry/sauvignon blanc/Nelson Sauvin smell-alike complex: they all have similar floral/funky notes in the aroma, and I can understand why one person is reminded of one, and another person “gets” something else in the same general area, all from the same beer.

    (I’d love to drink a pale ale flavoured with elderflowers and Nelson Sauvin hops, incidentally – is anyone doing that?)

    • Stan Hieronymus January 20, 2012 at 9:48 am #

      Martyn – Nelson Sauvin hops take a little tracking down in the US. But I’d bet a small micro or a brewpub makes a beer this year with elderflowers and Nelson Sauvin . . . and still more botanicals and/or hop varieties. It is the American way.

  8. Joe Stange January 20, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    Great stuff from Kramer (as usual), re fear vs conviction. So, are the mass produced pale lagers the beers of fear? Or is it the barrel-aged imperial stouts and double IPAs that breweries are still putting out, possibly afraid that they might otherwise be buried under mediocre ratings at BA and RB?

    Wine has parkerization. Does beer have tickerization?

  9. Stan Hieronymus January 20, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

    A really interesting idea, Joe. Identify your audience, which isn’t necessarily of the “mass” variety, and cater to it.

  10. Joe Stange January 20, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

    I think we could both name breweries who cater to raters — sooners or laters, they might be out-of-staters or masturbaters… oops, got carried away — although they may turn their heads and whistle when asked about it. Wouldn’t want to appear cynical, I guess. Why be shrewd when you can pretend to be an artist?

    We should lead a seminar for brewers on artisanal marketing. Repeat after me: “I just make the beers I want to drink… If other people like it, that’s great.”

    My mission as a drinker and writer is to find the brewers who really mean it.

  11. Steve January 20, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    “Or is it the barrel-aged imperial stouts and double IPAs that breweries are still putting out, possibly afraid that they might otherwise be buried under mediocre ratings at BA and RB?”

    C’mon Joe, you know that any beer that has barrel-aged, imperial, or double on the label will never get mediocre attention at BeerAdvocate.

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