Monday, September 01, 2008

When traditional isn't traditional enough

From this morning's Washington Post:

Raul Cano, 63 , now the director of the Environmental Biotechnology Institute at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo ... [fermented] a yeast strain Cano found in a piece of Burmese amber dating from about 25 million to 45 million years ago.

[Fossil Fuels Brewing Co.] -- in which Cano is a partner, along with another scientist and a lawyer -- introduced its pale ale and German wheat beer with a party last month at one of the two Bay Area pubs where Fossil Fuels is made and served.

The Beer That Takes You Back . . . Millions of Years
Enterprising Scientist Finds New Use for Ancient Yeast
By Gabe Oppenheim

The article quotes William Brand, the Oakland Tribune's beer critic, as offering this opinion:
the ancient yeast provides the wheat beer with a distinctively "clove-y" taste and a "weird spiciness at the finish."
So, I checked Mr. Brand's blog. There, he had written this, more positive, review:
[I] haven’t tasted the pale ale, but the wheat is one sweetie with a wild, interesting, enticing spicy finish.

Judges at the World Beer Cup in San Diego this year, however, were not enticed. They found this 45 million year-old Saccharomyces cerevisiae —brewer’s yeast— to be not traditional enough.
"we had one judge give us the highest marks, one just below and one who didn't like it," says Chip Lambert, 63, the company's other second microbiologist. "We learned that the issue was that in these competitions, you brew to match the traditional concept of the style, which these yeast just don't do."

I may have stretched this conceit a bit —maybe 45 million years— but nonetheless there are indeed many beer stylistas who will deem a beer unworthy, based not on the beer's intrinsic merits, but on whether or not the beer meets their perceived criteria for tradition.

At this same World Beer Cup, a Gold Medal was awarded for International-style Pale Ale. The beer was tasty, but I ask: exactly what would that style be traditionally???

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