Beer Styles

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Steve Beaumont
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Beer Styles

Postby Steve Beaumont » Tue May 02, 2006 10:35 pm

So having just perused the "Joseph Bloor" style debate, I'm led to wonder about beer style and its utility for beer drinkers. (Note: I'm not talking about judging here, just drinking and enjoying.) I mean, if a helles is more malty, then where does that leave Andechs Spezial Hell, surely the hoppiest of the Munich-area blondes, and IMHO the best? And what of something like Houblon Chouffe, which deftly mixes the attributes of a Belgian tripel and an American IPA? Or, closer to home, the Cascade-hopped Hop Addict of Durham, which has such an obvious British malt profile?

And that's not even mentioning such amorphous style concepts as the "Imperial or Double Red Ale" or the "American-Style Hefeweizen," or even the thoroughly bizarre "Cellar or Unfiltered Beer," all recently judged in the World Beer Cup. (In which, I should mischievously add, Lowenbrau won a bronze a Munchner-style helles!) Have we reached a stage in brewing where styles are being so wantonly stretched and mutated that they have no use at all? Or is beer style still an important attribute, so long as we make our definitions wide enough to include a multitude of permutations? Your thoughts, bartowellers?
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Postby JWalter » Tue May 02, 2006 11:07 pm

First off, great question.

Personally, and I'm sure not everyone shares my opinion, I feel that generally speaking 'styles' are useful, they can be used to quickly convey lots of information. For instance, if I say, this beer is an IPA, you should be able to very quickly have an idea of the color, flavor, type & amounts of ingredients, bitterness, etc... If we didn't have these defined styles then it would be a bugger trying to describe beer in less than 3 or 4 sentences...

I think an argument about whether a particular beer is one style or another is academic. It's somewhat like trying to pin a genre on a particular band, (are they Grunge or Punk or post-Punk or ?) and at the end of the day, there is often no RIGHT answer, some opinions might be more correct than others, and while it can be an interesting educational experience, at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter if you consider Headstrong Pale Ale to be an American Pale Ale or a English Pale Ale, or apparently even whether you consider Keiths an India Pale Ale... I personally get rather hot under the collar about the latter, but also realize that's the beer geek inside of me getting the better of me!
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Postby Tapsucker » Wed May 03, 2006 12:20 am

The sad part is that style labels usually are used to exclude things.
For instance, people will say "I don't like XYZ style". It's too bad some people will close thier mind to new experiences. Style labels can be a ghetto too!

I think your comments on the mutation of styles may take away some of the power of absolute labels and get people out of their shells.
Though, I don't think anything will get me drinking fruit jam infused beers!
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Postby old faithful » Wed May 03, 2006 8:31 am

All style classifications are to some degree arbitrary. They are useful as general guides. Jackson did a lot of work in this area in the late 70's. But even he recognised (from the beginning) that stylistic terms were sometimes used loosely, e.g. I recall he wrote in the 1977 World Guide To Beer that the term "bitter" in England was applied to a range of beers some of which were sweet in palate. I think in most of the beer lands there has always been a certain range of beers, at least in parts of these countries. Some fit an accepted descriptive term, some were at the margins, some would not even qualify by some peoples' definitions. I think too the way some people classify beers results from their particular interests or other random factors. E.g. the fact that a strong porter was called Russian Stout on the label of at least one such product, Barclay's Russian Stout (later Courage's Imperial Russian Stout), probably inspired Michael Jackson to view this type of beer as a style unto itself. It could I suppose have been viewed as part of the strong stout/porter category in general, thus embracing beers like Guinness FES and the strong all-malt Guinness sold in Belgium, France and other parts of the EU. It could have been viewed as part of the dark family of beers, or strong dark family. Instead due to a writer's skill and literary-romantic perspective it became Imperial Russian Stout. I should say even before Jackson people categorised beers, in England they spoke of pale ales, bitter beers (the draught version), Burton, mild and brown ales, strong ales and "stingos", and stouts (Jackson later usefully distinguished between dry stout and sweet stout, as he did between southern and northern brown ales). All this to say, styles are useful and help a lot of people but they shouldn't (in my view) be used in too absolute a way.

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Postby JerCraigs » Wed May 03, 2006 9:56 pm

Who decides what style the beer is? Frequently the brewer will decide to call something a Pilsener that is far from it for example. Whats the difference between a double IPA and another breweries super hoppy barleywine?

I think its accurate to say that styles are being stretched, and in some ways new categories are being developed that are really too broad to classify things as narrowly as the older more traditional styles.

Strict guidelines such as the BJCP are best when dealing with styles that are obviously one or the other. Not so great with those styles that are on the borders IMHO.
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Postby Al of Kingston » Thu May 04, 2006 11:02 am

I asked a similar question about IPA this week and was taken in the comments down a long path of back and forth of interesting examples leading to a disagreement about even the word "ale". The problem is there is always going to be a dislocate between branding and description with the overly generous use of "IPA" being my most recent bugbear. In addition to such branding, the recent perhaps over-committment to style as a definer of beer comes in large part from the homebrewing competition side of things which may have distracted us all from the overarching importance of just what is in the glass.
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Postby iguenard » Thu May 04, 2006 12:06 pm

This makes me smile. What's in the glass should eb the most important thing no?

I recently got offered to judge an event close to home, and their guidelines are interesting to say the least.

The judges are asked to rate beers blindly, the style has to be determined by the judge (doesnt even have to be a real style... like summer beer for example), then the beer is evaluated against the style assigned to it.

That way, the if the judge thinks your stout is a porter, he will rate it as a porter. Makes sense because the qualities of the beer therefore determine what it is, instead of a label. I cant wait to see how it turns out.

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