They Brew it, I sell it, You Drink it... and so do I..

Friday, 20 May 2011

Is 'Style' In Fashion?

Ponderings of a Mad Ghost:

There's a lot to be said about beer styles in todays modern beer culture. A lot of breweries seem to be coming up with new styles and others seem to be copying them. I say new styles, but what I've seen of it recently are beers such as Black IPAs, Imperial Pilsners, Black Saisons, Belgian style IPAs, Triple IPAs.... you get the picture. But when it comes down to it, does placing an extra word to an already existing "traditional" style make it any different? And more importantly, can you really call them new styles? By adding 'Imperial' to Pilsner does it make it so much different to an existing Pilsner? Some may say yes, some may disagree.

Who even came up with definitive list of beer styles and stated what they had to be?!? I can imagine a tortoise shelled looking, lengthy bearded man, kept in a study, surrounded by books of beer history and memorabilia, who looks into every beer made and if it doesn't fit into his definition of a "traditional" style - he disregards it as a crap beer. We know this not to be the case, but sometimes with some people, it seems it could be!

Let's say I produced a beer. Let's call it a Coriander Pale Ale - or a CPA for short. Others may want to brew it in the same style, maybe, but would people actually accept it as a style? maybe not.

I like to fit people's ideas into two camps: People who look towards modern methods of brewing, let's call then 'modernists', and people who favour the more traditional stance on brewing, let's call them the 'traditional peeps'. Now I'm not trying to say you can't join both camps, absolutely not, I think both camps of thinking need each other but consider this (taking into account of all the new and exiting beers brewers are producing today):

We have a brewer, let's call him Dave. Dave wants to brew a beer, but it's very different to the style "laws" at the time. He knows if he makes it, and calls it the style he's thinking of the 'traditional peep diehards' will sample said beer and completely refuse it as it doesn't meet their standards of style. So what does Dave do??? He ponders, and guesses he can add a couple of words to the existing style and keep the 'modernists' and the 'traditional peeps' all happy, by making it sound interesting, pay respect to the old styles, and still make a delicious beer!! But is it a new style of beer? Once again some may say yes, some may say no.

Some say it all boils down to personal experience. A few months back I drank, side by side, Anchor Bock and Schonramer Saphir Bock. This was interesting because while the American Anchor was a dark bock, it was light in % - only 5.5%, and the German Saphir, while being strong at 8%, was very light golden in colour. Which would you think most describes the 'traditional style' of bock beer?

Image "borrowed" from the Baron!
Sorry dude, my cameras at the shop :(
Hope you don't mind :)
Tonight I drink a new beer to me: Kernel and Darkstar collaborative Imperial Marzen 9.1%. It's a new beer style to me too. (thinking about it, can you call Collaboration beers a beer style?? and what about cask aged beers - they need a name!)

It's a very interesting beer indeed. A sort of barley wine meets strong German lager. It has a an interesting aroma of sweet apples and pears, a bit of German pepper? and a big alcohol sweetness. The taste comes through the same. A big malt sweetness, mixed with some toffee, caramel and fruity flavours. A big deception beer, You get some alcohol in the body, but it fades away rather quickly, making you have your second, third and fourth sip in about ten seconds! A very pleasant concoction, even if I've never heard of Imperial Marzen.

Don't write off beers before you try them. That's all that need be said, if it doesn't conform to any style of beer you have in your head, chalk it up to one of life's experiences, and if you enjoy it, search it out and preach of its merits to others!

Call it what ever you want. If it's good I'll keep coming back.


  1. Brewers are not coming up with new styles. They are just marketing beers under new tags. Styles evolve. Tags are transitory.

    Imperial is lazy beery shorthand for 'stronger'.

    Beer style is not definitive. Michael Jackson may have set out the stall, BJCP goes for be prescriptive. But style is an interpretation, not a definition.

    Collaboration beer is not a new style. Too often, they're a mis-mash. Literally.

    Great post. The sooner drinkers un-think style and re-think tasty beer, the better.

  2. Brewers can easily come up with new combinations of words to describe their beers but I'm very dubious about whether they're new styles.

  3. 'Styles' = Marketing. Pretty effective marketing too.

  4. Very interesting post. The increase in collaborative beer styles is surely a sign that brewers are becoming more innovative and experimental, not less so.

    It's like fusion cuisine - there used to be loads of 'fusion' restaurants a few years back, because people got bored of Italian, French, Chinese, Indian, Thai on their own.

    Now you don't see so many, because it forced people to choose the better of the two things being 'fused'. Now it's all about experimental British cuisine.

    I think beer is going the same way. So many collaborative beers out there, but soon they'll go back to honing and refining the oldest, most traditional beer styles. Either way - we win!