Monday, 26 October 2009

Another post about the itch that is beer styles

At the Conwy Feast beer tent on Saturday afternoon, a glass of Great Orme’s delectable Welsh Black, a 4% dark ale that one immediately assumes is a mild. A chat with the brewery’s founder Jonathan Edwards turns assumptions on its head though. A mild I presume, I say in the manner of Stanley greeting Livingstone, no comes the reply, a halfway house between a mild and a dark ale. CAMRA, naturally, accord it the status of a mild when it hands out the awards. We discuss the whole vagaries of the beer style question and eventually decide that it’s a good beer whatever pigeon hole one wants to put it in. It reminds me of Green Jack’s Jack the Ripper, which won Champion Winter Beer a couple of years ago, after triumphing in the barley wine sector, even though the brewery has described it as a tripel — so is a tripel a Belgian barley wine? It wasn’t the last time I looked. I always reckon that Malheur 12 has more in common with Anglo-American barley wines. The question to be asked is — is the whole issue of beer styles just there for the consumer or does it remain a valid way of dividing up the family of beer? I must confess I don’t have the answer, but it’s one of those things that bugs away at me whenever I write about a style.


  1. If the brewer describes as something particular then surely we should respect their opinion and categorise it as such?

  2. "A Good Beer" - a new beer style perhaps?

    I think getting wrapped up in beer styles too much can be a problem, but it's useful to provide guidelines. Getting worked up about it is silly. There are far more important things to get worked up about, such as sparklers for instance.

  3. Velky — I agree unless you get one who likes playing silly buggers and describes something that tastes like a stout and calls it a blonde porter IPA, then we are in the realms of surrealism, but on the other hand… :) Some brewers get castigated for saying that their beer should be served through sparklers, but then that is their choice.
    Dave — completely misread your comment, with November 5 close I thought you were on about fireworks, but see comment above about sparklers. In my opinion, some work through them, others don’t. Matter of brewers’ opinion presumably. Also I think the sparklers debate can seem a bit parochial sometimes, a bit of a CAMRA/Dave Spart version of medieval monks debating angels on a pinhead.

  4. I like to think of beer styles as overlapping Venn diagram circles rather than rigid boxes, but I'm not at all sure about the current American trend towards producing over-hopped stouts and calling them "Black IPA".

  5. Hi Martyn
    I think I know what you mean about the diagrams, and it’s a good analogy, or maybe we should be approaching beer styles in a post modernist fashion, nothing is certain, all is shifting, there are rules and after that it’s time to break them, but like you I feel that a black IPA is a sales gimmick (but if done in good faith it might be a Nietzschean/nihilistic view of style, in which case, it’s Private Frasers all round).