Thursday, December 10, 2009

One Thing the Beer Community Must Not Let Happen

Beer, they say, is the drink of the "everyman" – easy, accessible, unpretentious. Wine, on the other hand? That's the domain of the upper crust, the pinky-raisers, the people who take their drink way too seriously and have the vocabulary to prove it. For confirmation, wine-culture haters point to the excessively – and often comically – verbose wine review, wherein the supertasting wine critic cites obscure flavor after obscure flavor, some of which most people never realized counted as "flavors" at all. "Objects found in a forest or tannery," perhaps, but often not the first (or fifth or tenth) thing popping to mind when a sensation flashes past the taste buds.

Take the following example, seen recently hanging on a shelf at a local wine shop/bar:

This example is fairly representative – which is to say, not exceptionally egregious, comparatively speaking. And yet, note the clever assortment of metaphorical adjectives and gratuitously specific descriptors like "bittersweet cocoa" and "Turkish coffee notes."

Besides simply sounding snooty and over-the-top, there's evidence that wine reviews like this may, in fact, be packed with as much B.S. as substance. Behold this fine article from the Wall Street Journal, which cites research data suggesting, among other things, that wine tasters a) probably can't actually detect as many simultaneous flavors as they let on; and b) disagree with other tasters, and themselves, at an alarmingly frequent rate.

So what's this got to do with beer?

As brewers and beer lovers become more serious (no problem in and of itself) about creating, evaluating and promoting quality beer, we see more and more wine-style (for lack of a better term) descriptions and rating methods entering the picture.

This isn't a bad thing per se, but caution must be exercised lest beer find itself in that unenviable position wine now occupies: stuffy, buttoned-up, dour and dubious.

Let's all help accord craft beer the status and accolades it deserves, but always remembering that beers should first and foremost be casual, approachable, authentic and fun.


Derrick Peterman said...

Thanks for all the good references. I'm amazed there is actually a Journal of Wine Economics. I could not find a similar beer journal doing a few Google searches, but did find a Beer Economics conference was held last May in Belgium. Here's a link to it:

Brad said...

Derrick, I was surprised too about that wine journal.

I wonder what, if any, great revelations came out of the beer economics summit.

jaymo said...

While unpacking in our new house, I came across a box of my old wine magazines and paged through a few reviews for kicks. My two favorites were "burnished leather" and, better yet, "evokes images of a limestone cliff after a thunderstorm."

Brad said...


That last one might take the cake. Sheesh.

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