It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
My goodness Bill, just how many styles of beer are there? I took at look at the never ending
categories at the Great American Beer Festival and got a headache. Then I checked the
BJCP Style guidelines and stopped counting at twenty which only make my headache worse.
I remember when beer was simple. We had ales, lagers,or a the all purpose category of
"other" for well, others.
Now I'm reading about the latest argument in the world of craft-brewing nomenclature. Can
you believe the self appointed movers and shakers of the beer world are battling over what to
call a beer that has the hop character of an India pale ale but the color of a stout or porter?
I had two different brewery versions of that "style" the other day and not once did I wonder
about what to call it. It was a dark, hoppy, ale. And both were good.
The Brewers Association, a national organization that looks after the common interests of
American brewers, has decided that the style should be called American Black IPA for the
purposes of judging during the Great American Beer Festival. Here we go again. And it begs
the question just why does it have to be labeled as "American? Is it because it's hoppy?
Couldn't I make a black ale that had a low hop character and still call it American? Not to
mention that centuries ago, the term "ale" referred to a beer that had little to no hops at all.
To further confuse the matter, it has been put forth by several brewers in the Pacific Northwest
that, considering the beer originated in that region (also known as Cascadia, which includes
Oregon, Washington and most, if not all, of British Columbia -- really, they even have their own
flag), it should be called Cascadian dark ale.
There is evidence, however, that a brewer by the name of Greg Noonan was brewing a highly
hopped porter in Vermont several years before the Cascadians. Therefore, we should call it
Vermont porter, right? Look Bill, highly hopped porters, or black pale ales, were reportedly
produced in Burton-Upon-Trent, England, since 1888 so why don't we just call it Burton porter?
I think you get my point. Let's not get bogged down in all these names and categories.
Just give me a good lager or ale and I'm a happy camper. I'll let the so called beer
intelligentsia create a million categories so every beer can be awarded some sort of medal. As
for me, I'll just drink it.
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next month.
Let me start with your unnecessary rant on the American Black IPA issue. The facts are that the
style is not new, nor is it regional. It isn't even necessarily American. But it's here to stay, and we
have to call it something. I'm in total support of the term Black IPA solely for conversational
purposes, so we all know what we're talking about. Everyone knows an IPA when they taste and
smell one. The fact that it's black simply needs to be stated for clarity. As far as individual
breweries and individual drinkers are concerned, please call it whatever you wish. I think most
discerning craft-beer drinkers will figure out what it is.
Having said that I think you miss a key point in all of this. One of the things that endears people
to a beer or beer style is the story and history behind it. While Cascadia isn’t a term familiar to
the general population, it would prompt curious beer drinkers to learn more about the beer in
front of them and the story behind the style.
Simply put, a beer style is a label given to a beer that describes its overall character and often
times its origin. It's a name badge that has been achieved over many centuries of brewing, trial
and error, marketing, and consumer acceptance. Yes, it's a help to consumers, just like the two
of us. Your support of just three categories would set beer drinking back centuries. Imagine
someone (like you) who loves IPAs going to a bar and only could say give me an "ale". Who
knows what you'd be getting?
Gina, you've got to realize that the style groups were created around common sensory traits –
appearance, aroma, flavor, and body. The stout guidelines, for example, describe it as a black
ale with coffee like aromas, roasted malt flavors, medium hop bitterness, and a creamy mouthfeel
(the actual guidelines go into much more detail). That makes sense.
Beer styles aren’t written into law, but the most well-known and used style guidelines are those
written by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) as you noted. You are also right about
the styles being important when beers are entered into competitions. So what's wrong with that?
The history of beer style is the history of beer itself. Even in 2050 BC there was a differentiation
between at least two different types or qualities of ale. So sorry Gina, history wins this debate
Here's looking at you, kid! See you next month.