Thursday, December 10, 2015

Maureen Ogle shows us how to write a beer review.

Maureen Ogle writes books on history, like modern plumbing and meat in America. In 2006, she wrote on beer, publishing Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer, a seminal history of that topic.

In her Facebook rant, err post, below, Ogle does what so few beer reviewers do. She defines her prejudices of dislike and parameters of enjoyment. She tells you something more about herself. And then she elucidates, in direct terms, how one beer falls far from those and the second well within. She uses phrases that evoke meaning beyond "awesome" or "hoppy."

And, she really, really doesn't like Ballast Point's Sculpin.

1. I promise I will NEVER AGAIN comment on a beer that burns my mouth.

2. In my opinion, feeble though it is, a "good" beer is a beer that tastes good to ME. Not you. Not her. Not him. ME. If it doesn't taste good (and a beer that burns my mouth does not taste "good" to me), then I prefer not to drink it.

3. What I think is a "good" beer has NOTHING AT ALL to do with a) its ingredients; b) its maker; or c) [and most important] its technical quality. Eg, I have NO doubt that Ballast Point's Sculpin is a superior beer. But it doesn't taste good to me.

4. On the other hand, Ballast's Indra Kunindra is a fucking revelation. I have four bottles in the fridge. I think it may now be my desert island beer. I had a dream about Indra K. Its flavors haunt me. Do I think it's a "good" beer. Oh, yes, I do.

5. I AM NOT AN EXPERT ON BEER. I drink beer that I think tastes good. I avoid beers that don't taste good. And that, my very dear friends, colleagues, and random encounters in the cosmos, is my bottom line and final word on the debate about "good" beers.

6. Yes, this is very much like my take on the meaning of life. I made up my mind decades ago, and nothing since has changed my mind about said meaning. And no, I don't discuss that. With anyone.
From Maureen Ogle's personal Facebook page: 7 December 2015. Reprinted with permission.

'By the way,' the first.

I disagree with Ogle. I personally like the 'bite' of Ballast Point's Sculpin. It was one of the first 'west coast' IPAs I had ever tasted that presaged the current U.S. practice of emphasizing Juicy Fruit-like aroma hops (even while still delivering a finishing slug of hop burn).

But that's the point. Ogle shows us how to write a beer review. She doesn't damn the beer because of categorical disregard. She doesn't damn the beer's technical merits, in fact just the opposite. What she does do is tell us that she doesn't care a whit for Sculpin, to her taste, and what that is. She gets up close and personal. A lot. But reading her reaction to Sculpin should make it obvious whether or not you might want to purchase it, or accept the 'burning' challenge.

'By the way,' the second.

Ballast Point is a craft brewery in San Diego, California: in fact, one of that city's pioneering breweries, opened in 1992. It recently made headlines when it was purchased by Constellation Brands (a wine-centric alcoholic beverage conglomerate based in New York state) for a heretofore unheard of price for a 'craft' brewery ... $1 billion dollars.

'By the way,' the third.

Ogle has recently announced her intention of writing an update to Ambitious Brew: an 'e-essay' on the decade of 'craft' beer following the book's publication.

I plan to celebrate its tenth birthday by publishing a new final chapter. An addendum, if you will, to the book. This won’t be a revision: I don’t own the rights and the publisher has no interest in the book and certainly not enough to pay for a revised edition.

Instead, I’ll write the chapter and publish it as a stand-alone essay. Digital only, to begin with. (I’d love to do a print-on-demand paper edition, but that would be pricey for both me and readers. So for now that’s a back-burner option.)

I plan to publish the essay on/around October 1 2016.

  • Without explicitly discussing it, Ogle delineates the difference between two aspects of hops in beer: bitterness and aroma. She dislikes the surfeit of the first in Sculpin; she extols the abundance of the latter in Indra Kunindra. Beer author Jeff Alworth recently wrote on this difference in a column at All About Beer: Bitterness is not the same as hoppiness.
  • Mark Dredge (NOT Matt Drudge) is a British beer writer. At his blog, Pencil and Spoon, he recently attempted to categorize American IPAs, coming up with eleven varieties reflecting the style's development since the early 1990s.
  • For more from YFGF:

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