Monday, September 20, 2010

The nonsense of 'true to [beer] style'

Martyn Cornell writes a beer blog out of the UK called Zythophile. Think of it as the thinking person's beer blog, Mr. Cornell being the thinker. Here, he's thought about the importance (or not) of beer styles:

I’m sure we all agree that the style label stuck on any given beer doesn’t matter a rat’s arse as far as the drinker’s enjoyment of that beer goes: the liquid in the glass is all that ultimately matters. I’m equally sure we’ve all drunk and enjoyed beers that fit no known or defined style.

I think style labels are important for the overwhelming majority of consumers, however, who need some sort of guide as to what they’re going to be getting. I know little enough about wine, for example, to be glad of the New World habit of putting the grape variety on the label, which the French in particular are only slowly catching up on, since I hate Chardonnay. If I hated hoppy beers but liked dark malty ones, I’d be glad to see “IPA” and “porter” on labels/beer taps, since I could then make an informed choice.

Would it help me make my choice to know that the IPA I had just rejected was nothing like the beer Hodgson’s brewery sent east, or the porter I was drinking was just like the one Barclay Perkins made in 1850? No. Not me, and not, I suspect, the majority of “craft beer” drinkers. I don’t think even beer enthusiasts, generally, care much beyond whether what is in their glass is any good – and why should they?

I like writing about beer styles and their histories, you may have noticed, but I certainly don’t think styles should be fetishised: it’s interesting, for a tiny number of us, to know where today’s beer styles have come from. It’s more important, though, for consumer confidence, to be able to tell drinkers what they can expect by reference to a particular style in its modern incarnation. The relevance of past beer styles to the present is, as Ron and I have shown, limited. As is the nonsense of “true to style”
[emphasis mine].

Mr. Cornell wrote this as a response to a post by fellow beer blogger (in the US) Stan Hieronymous. In quite the circular blog reference, Mr. Hieronymous had mentioned Mr. Cornell's blog post about the difference (or not) between the 'Old Ale' beer style and the 'Barleywine' beer style as another demonstrable reason why readers should purchase Mr. Cornell's book Amber, Gold, & Black.

I would (and did) concur.

The 'Ron' in this case is Ron Pattinson, also a UK beer historian. He writes the beer blog Shut Up About Barclay Perkins.

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