Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I Don't See Any Method At All

A few months ago Alan and I were eating dinner at a restaurant and looking at the beer menu.  Alan said he wished that one of the beers listed included its style (so that he could anticipate what it would be like).  This stuck in my mind because beer styles are a complicated issue.  In the U.S. there has been a very style-oriented approach to homebrewing, and arguably this has had unfortunate consequences in the commercial beer market.

But styles have their place.  They are a very economical way to convey information, and if they are used properly they don't have to be stifling, I think.  You have to ask:  what would a world without styles look like?

One option would be some other system to convey information.  You could come up with 3 or 4 dimensions:  ABV, IBUs, SRM (a measure of color), final gravity (which is a measure of residual sugars and starches, which add sweetness and/or body).  Then you could tag on a few flavor descriptors if needed.  There would be complete freedom to brew anything within the n-dimensional space defined by those variables.  But there would be learning costs (most people don't know what SRM measures, for instance).  People would have to calibrate their existing impressions to the new system.  And the descriptions would lack a certain elegance and historical resonance.  You might think that's a minor concern, but presentation affects the overall experience more than we would like to admit.

Of course even if you embrace styles, you can still be relaxed about enforcing them.  But the less rigid the styles become, the less information they convey.  It's a tradeoff.  (There is another issue, which I haven't considered here, about whether forcing brewers to work within constraints might actually improve the results, or result in more diversity and creativity.)

This may all be moot, though.  With smartphones and easy internet access, it's possible to pull up a description of almost any beer very quickly.  It would be interesting if, as a result, styles lost all meaning and came to seem quaint.


Post a Comment

<< Home