Showing posts with label beer styles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label beer styles. Show all posts

Monday, April 15, 2013

It's Real!

I noticed on Friday that Ratebeer has finally caught up with the real world and accepted that Polotmavy, which is Czech for 'half dark', is a distinct beer 'style' from Vienna lagers or the more generic 'amber lager'. They describe the 'style' as follows:
'This is the amber lager style of the Czech Republic. The character that the brewery usually aims for with this style is a hybrid between the dark lager and the pale pilsner. The result has a richer malt character than the American Dark/Amber Lager/Vienna style and more hop than the Oktoberfest/Marzen style'.
While I understand what they are trying to say here, let me just clear something up, Polotmavy is not a 'hybrid' of pale lager and tmavy, which is dark lager, it is a descendent of Vienna lager. For a better idea of these beers, this is what Evan Rail says about it in the 'Good Beer Guide - Prague and the Czech Republic':
'Unlike Pilsner-style brews, which usually require extremely soft water, half-darks can be made with a higher carbonate content and can include caramel and dark malt to various degrees, as well as Pilsner malt. Extremely clear and reddish-amber in colour, they are perhaps closest to the Vienna lager invented in the 19th Century by Anton Dreher'.
Something that is important to remember with Czech brewing though is that what we in the Anglo-American centric beer world call a style, such as polotmavy, is really just a definition of the general colour of the beer. Most examples range from a rich amber to a garnet red, as such you'll see beers marketed as 'jantar' and 'granát' respectively. Remembering that fact is important, because under the current Czech brewing laws there are 4 categories of beer based on strength, each of which can be Polotmavy:
  • Stolní pivo or 'table beer', up to 6° Plato OG (up to 1.024 and rarer than hen's teeth)
  • Vy?epní pivo or 'tap beer' between 7° to 10° (1.028-1.040)
  • Le?ák or 'lager' 11° and 12° (1.044-1.048)
  • Speciální pivo or 'special beer' 13° and higher (1.052+)
Another thing to be aware of is that Polotmavy is not the same as a ?ezané, which is a blend of dark and pale beers, both should be the same gravity, to make a Czech lager equivalent of the black and tan.

As for how a Polotmavy will taste, again let me quote Evan (admittedly for the Le?ák variant but applicable across the board really):
'a lightly toasted taste and some serious malt complexity followed by a balanced hop finish'.
As with most Czech beers, the hops in question are likely to be Saaz, so expect lots of that wonderful lemony, hay, grassy thing that is so characteristic of the most noble of noble hops.

To mark Polotmavy's acceptance on Ratebeer, I cracked open some of my homebrew version, which I call Dark Island Granát, on Friday afternoon, when Mrs V got home from work....

Is it 'to style' (such a bullshit phrase)? I like to think so, is it dangerously moreish to drink? Oh yes.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Sense of Place

Terroir, as I sure many of you already know, is a term commonly used to describe the interaction between the geological, geographical and climatological aspects of a place and the agricultural produce that grows there. I have to admit that I am not convinced about the use of the term 'terroir' when it comes to beer, given that beer is more of an industrial product than an agricultural one.

Something that is evident though is that beer does have a sense of place. This sense of place has come into sharp relief recently with the Brewers Association announcement that Gr?tzer is now included in the style guidelines used for the Great American Beer Festival, and other competitions. I am not going to get into the wrongness of the defined guidelines, Ron has done a sterling work on that front already, but I have seen a few comments around the name of the beer.

Gr?tzer is the German name for a beer also known as Grodziskie Piwo, which is the Polish equivalent. As the town from which the beer sprang is in modern day Poland, Grodzisk Wielkopolski since you ask, quite why the German name was chosen is beyond me, perhaps the committee were intimidated by the Polish name? Either way the name means exactly the same in both languages, 'beer from Gr?tz/Grodzisk'.

Beer's sense of place comes not just from the climate, geography and geology of the place where the raw materials are grown, but from the people and place that convert raw materials into something drinkable, raw materials that have an infinitely small chance of becoming useful to a brewer through the course of nature (quite how chocolate malt would occur in nature is beyond me). As such, the historic beer styles which come with an appellation are mostly the products of urban life - Pilsner, Burton Ale, London Porter, K?lsch, even the new/old stlye of Adambier was once known as Dortmunder Altbier.

In defining the styles that are named for these urban centres of brewing excellence, I tend to think that the final word should always belong to the practices, ingredients and methods used in that place. Would a brewer from Grodzisk recognise the Brewers Association 'Gr?tzer' style as being something like that which was made in his town?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

So Stylish

Sure, beer styles aren't perfect, and yes it is true that brewers, whether pro or home, brew beer rather than styles. However, beer styles do serve a purpose as a frame of reference for both drinkers and brewers. If I brew, for example, a 10% pale lager, hopped with Tettnang to 55 IBU and lagered for 60 days, then it is quite clear that it is not a Premium American Lager. The question though that has been bouncing around my head for the last couple of days is "who decides what style of beer a product is?".

It is clear in my mind that the final say should rest with the actual brewers themselves. The one group of people who should resolutely not be allowed anywhere near the decision making process for a new beer is the marketing department. If a brewer, for example, brews a generic pale lager, and the company markets it as a Pilsner, it does nobody any favours, least of all the consumer.

Someone with sufficient knowledge of Pilsner beers, whether German or Czech, will be disappointed drinking a generic pale lager which has been labelled a Pilsner because it doesn't have the requisite hoppiness, body and flavour. If said drinker is also a member of sites such as BeerAdvocate and RateBeer, they will then give their opinions on the beer as a Pilsner and likely how it fails as one and score it accordingly.

Worse yet are reviewers who, through no fault of their own, have never had the inestimable pleasure of travelling to Germany or the Czech Republic to drink the real thing in it's natural environment. Having grown up on beers from green bottles which have been pasteurised and then travelled long distances in less than prime conditions, it is no wonder they come out with some of the drivel you read on the rating sites. It makes me want to scream when I read that an American made Pilsner "has the right amount of skunkiness" for the style, when in Germany and the Czech Republic such a beer would be entirely unacceptable. You only have to drink fresh Pilsner at the source to know that the bottled version is a travesty.

Having said that, if a brewery sticks with the decision to market a generic pale lager as a Pilsner, and the beer is listed as such on the rating sites then the brewery deserves being beaten with the big stick of public opinion. It is a different situation when the beer is clearly labelled as a certain style but listed on the rating sites as something else, take this example for one of my favourite beers:

Why, oh why, is Williams Bros 80/-, known in the US as Heavy, listed as a "bitter"? The commercial description attached to the page claims that the beer is a:

"traditional Scottish ale brewed with an emphasis on the malt characteristics. Lightly hopped, as is true to this style of beer, with fruity malt aromas and a toffeeish mouth feel"

this despite the fact that the site's definition of "bitter" reads:

"gold to copper color, low carbonation and medium to high bitterness. Hop flavor and aroma may be non-existent to mild"

while their definition of a Scottish Ale is:

"generally dark, malty, full-bodied brews"

Whoever listed Williams Bros Heavy as a Bitter is clearly as clueless as people that believe Miller Lite to be a Pilsner.

My problem with all of this is that ultimately two constituencies are affected, the consumer because they are buying into false expectations and the beer itself because when it is mislabelled by either the brewery marketing department or the self appointed arbiters of style it will be panned for not being something it isn't.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What Does A Czech Have To Do?

I have found in my almost two years of living here in the United States that amongst the beer loving community there is a reverential awe that comes out whenever it comes up in conversation that I lived in Prague for the best part of a decade. I was going to write "beer fraternity" rather than "beer loving community" but equating the fine people I have met through beer with the boorish, obnoxious pillocks that are the stereotype of "frat boys" would be doing many a top bod a disservice.

Czech beer has, quite rightly in my opinion, an aura of excellence associated with it, and several people I have come in contact with talk about their few days drinking in Prague as one of the highlights of their beer drinking lives. However, the ignorance in the beer community over here about Czech beer never fails to astound me, and as ever it is Those Sites (how Shakespearian, like calling MacBeth "the Scottish play") that unwittingly, or otherwise, promulgate such ignorance through their rigid misunderstanding of beer styles in central Europe.

I have argued at length, both on here and on one of Those Sites, that tmavé should be a separate style for ratings, rather than being lumped together with either Dunkel or Schwarzbier. The knee jerk response is that there are too many styles already and it would just sow confusion amongst the ranks. Suggest however that Black IPA should be style and hey presto, a new style is born with an almost religious anti-critical fervour.

Czechs, however have another style of beer which is misunderstood and neglected on such sites. Polotmavé, which translates literally as "half-dark" is usually lumped together with Vienna lager, usually on the basis of them both being the same(ish) colour. Using such logic, I guess then that Schwarzbier is in fact a porter. The problem with calling polotmavé a Vienna lager is that Vienna lager as originally created by Anton Dreher used a single malt, can you guess what it was called? Most modern Vienna lagers, from what I have learnt, use a base of pilsner malt with a hefty dose of Vienna malt. Personal aside here, if you are making a Vienna with none of the eponymous malt then it isn't really a Vienna lager, regardless of the colour.

Polotmavé on the other hand, as the name kind of suggests, uses the same malts as tmavé but less of the specialty malts that make tmavé darker. As with many things in Czech brewing, their is a huge spectrum covered by the term polotmavé - from the 13o version made by Primátor to the insanely gorgeous 16o beer from Hotel Pegas that I drank in Brno. There is at least one brewery in the Czech Republic that makes both a polotmavé and a Vienna lager, called a Vídeňské ?ervené or "Viennese Red", which to me at least suggests that Czech brewers understand the styles differently.

I guess what I am really trying to say here is that Czech beer, just as much as British, German, Belgian or American, must be understood on its own terms and not forced into artificial categories just because it makes life easier for some. It is this false categorisation that makes ratings from certain sites for some beer styles entirely irrelevant, because the model against which the beer is judged is not the same as the model from which the beer is made.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Beer is not about Style

Beer styles piss me off at times. There we go, I've said it, and I feel pretty much the same as I did before saying it. Styles don't piss me off because they are stupid, or irrelevant or even just an excuse to create a new gong at a beer festival for egomaniacs to lay claim to creating something. Styles piss me off when people from outside a tradition try to explain that tradition and categorise it, and often get it wrong.

Take for example Czech dark lager, tmavé pivo or ?erné pivo as you will see it called. Unfortunately the fact that this type of beer is dark and a lager immediately, in the minds of some, means it must be a dunkel or schwarzbier, often with tmavé being equated with dunkel and ?erné with schwarzbier. The problem with such a simplistic view is that by Czech law, there is no such beer as a ?erné, only a tmavé. The deciding factor must always be how the brewers and drinkers in a style's area of origin understand the beer they are drinking.

Of course beer styles and how they are understood change with time, none more so perhaps than India Pale Ale and possibly Mild as well (though my inner cynic actually thinks it is more of a case of Mild being thoroughly misunderstood for too long). That fact in itself should remind us that styles need to be taken with a pinch of salt, and perhaps explains why tasting notes have been something of a hen's tooth on Fuggled. Not to mention that I haven't taken tasting notes at all in quite some time, simply put, it can become a chore when all I want to do is have a few pints with mates.

I wonder then if styles, while useful when starting out trying beers from around the world, actually take some of the joy out of drinking? Likewise with homebrewing. Trying to get a style right is useful when you are first making beer, but after a while all you want to do is brew beer to drink.

At the end of the day, if a beer isn't for drinking, then what's the bloody point?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Everyone Else is Writing About Styles So I May As Well Jump on the Bandwagon

Beer styles seems to the topic de jour in the blogosphere, "do they matter?" asks Mark Dredge, Pete Brown tells us that his post is the last he will ever write on the topic and Adrian Tierney-Jones gives us more thoughts about beer styles.

My take on beer styles is this, if you are going to insist on them, then don't do it half-arsed and make sure you have your bloody facts right. Take for example a thread I started recently on RateBeer about Czech style dark lager, known either as "Tmavé" or "?erné" in the Czech Republic - that's "dark" and "black" respectively. The crux of my argument is that Czech Dark Lager is neither a Dunkles nor yet a Schwarzbier and as such, should not be lumbered in those categories but should stand alone. Of course you then have the problem of putting a fairly pale dark lager such as Kozel ?erny in the same category as Kout na ?umavě's almost black 14o Koutsky tmavé - two beers which very nicely show the inconsistency of naming protocols.

Of course, beer styles have their uses in helping people decide what they what to drink, or at least that is the argument you hear quite often from defenders of styles. I am not convinced by that argument to be honest. I would argue that most people choose their beer primarily on the basis of colour - I well remember speaking with my friend Rob, back in Prague, about his idea that beer lists should have a little box showing the colour of the beer and I still think it is a good idea. Rightly or wrongly, we generally expect darker beers to be sweeter and less bitter than pale beers, hence one of my problems with Black IPA/CDA/Insert Name of the Week. I don't want beer that messes with my head - but then I don't believe beer to be an existential experience to chase, which is an entirely different post.

I wonder though sometimes if the ever increasing number of styles and sub styles isn't a product of the proliferation of competitions and awards? I am sure this is something of a chicken and egg situation, but it seems at times as though some brewers decide to make something different, or at least change the hops and claim it is an innovation, and so the competitions in order to remain relevant add another style, another gong and so the cycle goes.

As I said earlier, if you are going to insist on beer styles, then do it thoroughly and properly - otherwise, what is the point?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Doing It Jazz Style

I think I mentioned on Twitter or Facebook, or quite possibly both, that I was planning on brewing a porter at the weekend. The weekend became Monday and the porter became brewing beer jazz style, as in making it up as I went along rather than brewing whilst playing the trumpet.

As I only had Admiral hops in the fridge, I popped round to Fifth Season to get some EKG and 1056 American Ale yeast, at this point the plan was to make a bigger batch of the Red Coat Export India Porter to satisfy the various bods who have asked for a bottle. I also picked up an extra pound of DME to bump up the fermentables a tad.

Eventually I had everything to hand in order to make the Red Coat, and for reasons best known only to the workings of my brain I decided to change tack. Thus it was that recipe became as follows:
  • 3lbs Light DME
  • 1lb Extra Light DME
  • 0.25lb Caramel 120
  • 0.25lb Special Roast
  • 0.125lb Carafa II de-bittered
  • 0.125lb Peated malt
  • 0.5oz 10.5% Admiral @ 60 minutes
  • 0.5oz 4.5% EKG @ 45
  • 0.25oz 4.5% EKG @ 15
  • 0.25oz 4.5% EKG @ 1
  • 1056 American Ale yeast
According to the various online tools I use to work out colour and bitterness, this beer has an SRM of 24 and an IBU rating of 21, the original gravity was 1.060 or 15o Plato. As to what the beer actually is, well your guess is as good as mine. Given the similarities to the original Red Coat it could quite well be a peat smoked porter, though it is stronger than a brown porter and less hoppy than a robust. It could also be an smoked American Brown Ale, but for the use of British hops. A quick aside here, I am starting to love the BJCP styles, simply because they give me rules to break! Whatever it is, it is dark, reasonably hopped, and hopefully about 6% abv with a decent peaty whack - one of the comments that came back about the peat smoked mild I made was that the smokiness could be increased, so an extra half ounce went in this one.

All said and done, I have a beer fermenting away happily, as you can see from this picture:

On a related note, and this isn't something I would normally do, but the picture below is the medals I won at the Virginia Beer Blitz. I had never won a medal for anything before, so I am probably inordinately chuffed at having done so, and it has made me more enthused to make more beer, improve my skills and hopefully add some more gongs to the collection.

Whilst talking about improving your brewing skills, this month's Brew Your Own magazine has a lot of interesting stuff about extract brewing, including a piece talking with professional brewers who do the whole extract with grains thing and have won multiple awards at things like the Great American Beer Festival.

Anyway, more ingredients arrived yesterday, so more brewing on the horizon.....

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I Hate Pigeonholing!

I find myself in somewhat of a quandry, though thankfully not of the kind that leads to existential angst. You see, I have decided that this year I will go ahead and enter the Dominion Cup, Virginia's leading home brew competition. I also plan to enter the home brew section in the local county fair, though this isn't a BJCP or AHA sanctioned competition, but hey, any chance for some glory and being able to call myself an "award winning home brewer". Sit, ego, sit.

I have four beers to enter for each competition:
  • Samoset 2009 - my barleywine into which I chucked some dried sweet orange peel
  • Black Rose - a very dark Dunkelweizen, almost a wheat stout
  • Old Baldy - a 65 IBU American IPA, dry hopped with Challenger
  • Experimental Dark Matter - the peat smoked mild
It is the last of those four that is the root of my bafflement, or rather which category to enter it into. Given the style guidelines set out by the BJCP for Mild (11A), a starting OG of 1.052 is too much, though at 4.3% abv the alcohol content is within the given limits, as are the 16 IBUs.

However, given that I used a portion of Peat Smoked Malt in the grist should I enter it in the Smoked Beer Section (22B)? If so, then the question becomes, what is the base style? I have played with the idea that the base style closest to the beer I produced is a Robust Porter (12B), but the hopping is wrong for the BJCP's interpretation of Porter, though ideal for Mild.

There is of course the final option, to enter the beer in category 23, the anything goes world of "specialty beer". The problem there is that I am not convinced that my beer is that much of a specialty. Historically speaking we all know that "mild" doesn't refer to the alcoholic strength of a beer, but rather it was a young beer that hadn't yet become "stale" or "old", so from my understanding of Mild, that's exactly what I have made, just with a dash of lovely peat smokiness in there as well.

What to do, what to do?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Not Again!!

I am a glutton, for punishment it seems, given the near apoplectic rage that comes over me when reading beer and homebrewing magazines that go on spouting bollocks when they really should know better.

Again, the target of my ire is the "Buyer's Guide for Beer Lovers" in the latest edition of All About Beer magazine. Before I rage though, let me say that the article about cask ale in the US was excellent and please, please, please people on this side of the Atlantic, badger your local pubs and various drinking holes to start offering cask.

Now then, to that which caused my irk. Who actually decides the category that a beer falls into? Whoever it is needs to re-read the style guidelines printed with the tasting notes, which claim that strong ales are "higher alcohol versions of pale ale" which are usually "deep amber". Then, when you go and look at the beers falling under that category, the top one listed is the Imperial Porter from Rogue Ales, which our apparent experts on beer describe thus: "brown black colour with a rocky reddish tan head".

Anyone else seeing the problem here? The label says it is an Imperial Porter, a name lumped together with the Baltic Porter category (perhaps the plebs don't know where the Baltic Sea is, and after all if you want to make a stronger version of something why not just label it "imperial"?), so why oh why, for crying out loud is this beer not in the Baltic/Imperial Porter category?

The label says it is a porter, the colour says it is a porter, so put it in one of the porter categories you mongs!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Oh for crying out loud!!

Love 'em or hate 'em, beer styles are part and parcel of life for the beer aficionado. Styles should be a product of a communal consensus as to what makes, for example, a stout a stout rather than a porter, and while I sympathise with those who see limited value in styles, they do give a frame of reference, a sitz im leben if you want to get hermeneutic, for what are the accepted parameters for a beer.

The one thing though that makes me rant and rave about beer styles is when beers are misplaced within the beer category world. Take for example the current edition of All About Beer, which I pick up from time to time at my local Barnes and Noble. This edition has a "Buyer's Guide for Beer Lovers" about the many varied strains of lager out there on the market place, such styles as "pale lager", "pilsner" (I promise not to get into provenance and authenticity here), as well as a few bock variants.

Gripe number 1 is putting Primátor Premium Lager in the pale lager category, while Staropramen Lager apparently belongs in the pilsner category. Now, those of us who know something of the Czech brewing scene, and if I am mistaken I am sure emails will be arriving fairly quickly, will know that when a brewery from outside Plzen labels their beer "premium", then you can be fairly sure that it is their 12o version of the original, especially when said brewery also has a lower gravity lager available.

Gripe 2, when giving a history lesson, please, please, please get your history right. When describing the Baltic Porter category, apparently "traditional lager-making breweries along the export route [from the UK to Russia] developed their own version of the style". Firstly, the style was developed in the UK and was picked up as a top fermented beer in the 18th century by brewers on the route. It wasn't until many breweries switched over to bottom fermenting in the second half of the 19th century that Baltic Porter became a predominantly "lager" style beer, though some places still make it as a top fermented ale, mostly in Sweden.

Gripe 3 - this is a quote from a review for Colorado K?lsch, which describes k?lsch as being a "response to the popular pilsners being produced in the Czech Republic in the 1840s". Historically speaking, bollocks, bollocks and more bollocks. There was only 1 pilsner being brewed in Bohemia in the 1840s, strangely it was a beer called Pilsner, from the town of Pilsen, to use the name of the city at the time. There were no doubt other lagers aplenty, but only one pilsner. Secondly, there was no Czech Republic in the 1840s, there was Bohemia, a multi-ethnic part of the Austrian Empire (the Austro-Hungarian bit turned up in 1867), the Czech Republic however didn't exist until 1993 to be strict about these things.

My last gripe, or rather the last gripe that I will share with you good people, came from the regional winners of the USBTC winner for the "Bitter/ESB" category in the Mid-Atlantic/Southeast region. The beer in question is one I have written about before, Starr Hill's Pale Ale. Now, Starr Hill Pale Ale is a perfectly decent pale ale, it has plenty of the citrus hoppiness you would expect from a pale ale made in the US - anybody else seeing my issue here? If I were to put Fuller's style defining ESB next to Pale Ale, they simply would not be considered expressions of the same style. Whoever decided to label this beer a Bitter/ESB (and don't get me started on the differences between Bitter, Best Bitter and ESB), really needs a trip to the UK to discover the glories of Bitter in its natural environment.

Here endeth the lesson. The lesson being "get your bloody facts right!"

Now that I have calmed myself a bit, I am planning which beer to have this evening as the doctor says I can have a beer a couple of times a week - will it be homebrew, Budvar or a nice hoppy American IPA?

The agonies of choice.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Erm, no.

I am all for making new beer styles, and for the creative fusion of existing beer styles. Some call it innovation, others call it messing about, but sometimes it works perfectly and the end product is simply a delight. Sometimes though, the end product looks great but tastes crap, and I have to wonder if the brewer in question has forgotten the power of colour in the perception of how a beer should taste.

Take for example the oxymoronic "Black IPA" that all of a sudden appears to be the latest beer rage. I had a pint of Laughing Dog's Dogzilla Black IPA at Beer Run here in Charlottesville last night, it was my first trip as I am celebrating soon to be an employed person! The beer was certainly dark, indeed it put me in mind of a good porter, especially given the tan head, however the nose was the classic American IPA citrus. Taste wise the hops simply overpowered everything else in the beer, I may as well have been drinking a standard IPA.

This got me to thinking exactly what the point of a style bastardisation such as Black IPA would be? Judging by the colour and body of the beer, I got the feeling it was basically a porter hopped with C-hops, but without the body and malt that would balance out the hops sufficiently. Also, why try to coin such an oxymoronic beer style? Black India Pale Ale? How can black be pale? India Black Ale maybe, India Porter maybe more so, but an ale that is black and pale at the same time? Please, come on!

Colour is an important signifier of what is likely to be in the glass, to get that colour makes use of crystal malts, maybe some chocolate malt, maybe some roasted barley or even black malt, so you expect a certain sweetness to the beer that was simply absent in the one I had last night.

On a positive note, the Bluegrass Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout was magnificent!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Is Authenticity Important?

This is something I have been thinking about quite a bit lately, is the authenticity of a beer really that important? Does it matter much that a golden lager from Germany bears the label "pils"? Are the methods and ingredients used in producing a particular beer as important as the taste of the end product? Where is the line between making a genuine artisan beer and being innovative just for the hell of it?

The spur for this train of thought over the last couple of weeks was a short clip on TV about how Samuel Adams Boston Lager is made. Part of the process used, according to the clip, was the use of a decoction mash - in particular a double decoction. I was thrilled to be honest to see that at least one of my favourite American lagers (and that is a very, very short list) is made with a decoction mash, as well as 5 weeks of lagering, not to mention being krausened. Of course, strictly speaking, the word lager comes from "lagern" meaning "to store" in that most wonderful of languages, German. Lagering as a process not only takes place in the bottom fermented beers we, in the English speaking world, term "lagers", but also styles such as Altbier and K?lsch - some labels for which carry the phrase "oberg?rige lagerbier" or "top-fermented lagered beer", yet we label it an ale, when it is just as much a "lager", being the product of a decoction mash and a period of cold conditioning.

This got me to thinking about Shakespeare's maxim that "what's in name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet", and while I think that is generally true, it is also true that the elements which compose a rose come together in such a unique way as to make calling a rose a daisy, pointless. If you see what I mean. It is ridiculous to call Altbier an "ale" when the only difference between it and "lager" is the yeast employed to make the alcohol, and the only thing it shares with what the English speaking world calls "ale" is the very same yeast. So, in a long round about way, we come to why I think authenticity is important - simply because we insist on using styles in order to categorise the beers we drink.

Let's look at the overused term "pilsner", one which has led me to be deeply disappointed with many of the beers I have tried which proudly display the term on their label. While I see the value of the appellation "pilsner", I also think that Pilsner Urquell forfeit the right to use that name on their products made in Poland and Russia. But is it just a case of where the beer is made that is important? Are not the accepted process of production and ingredients used by the brewers in that place equally as important? I would argue that is exactly the case; thus a "pilsner" for me is made of 4 ingredients; pale moravian malt, Saaz hops, soft water and bottom fermenting yeast stolen from Bavaria by a dodgy monk. Just as important is a triple decoction mash and a lengthy lagering period. For breweries to make a "pilsner style lager" whilst ignoring the very things that made Pilsner Urquell the wonder beer it was, is gross misrepresentation.

Such a strict view of the term "pilsner" begs then the question, can an India Pale Ale be thus called if it hasn't spent 6 months bobbing around on the ocean? Not to mention the difference between a style and an appellation, and where those two monstrosities overlap. This is perhaps where I depart from the fans of "extreme" beers - I would rather drink a well made, traditional, pilsner, for example, than a pure alcohol, 6 trillion IBU, double, imperial IPA or some such. I guess what I am saying is that authenticity is vital when using a beer which has an appellation, but of course innovation when interpreting a style is acceptable.

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...