Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What is Good Beer?

This posting, an exert from Sharp's Brewery Head Brewer Stuart Howe, is a great insight into the degrees of separation that exist in the beer world, purely due to ones strong opinions. "What is good beer?" is a question that Stuart superbly defines as what YOU want to determine as good beer.There's a great line towards the end of the post that completely sums up our Summer Limited Release, Two Head IPA. As an English IPA, complexity and balance from the fermentation and malt was particularly important when designing the beer, not just the hop character.Read the post and make up your own opinion. Cheers

Saturday, 3 December 2011 Written by Stuart Howe, Head Brewer for Sharp's Brewery, Rock, Cornwall, UK

What is Good Beer?

I was reading Mark Dredge’s post on using too many hops in beer and the resultant comments and it got me thinking; what is good beer?
The answer to that is simple: Whatever the person drinking the beer is looking for. It’s a bit like a cup of tea. I like a loose leaf lapsang made with soft water whereas most people like PG tips with plenty of milk and maybe one lump or two. Are they all idiots or am I? Don’t answer that!
I must warn you that I am now going to launch into my traditional sermon a lot of which I will have covered before. Sorry but I can’t help it.
You can argue that a beer brewed at high gravity using raw barley, enzymes, maize, hybridised yeast and post fermentation bitterness is a better beer than a reinheitsgebot-brewed, ice cave-aged whole hop pilsner if you are a thirsty drinker looking for cool clean refreshment on a scorching summer’s day. To a hophead who habitually shifts the frame of reference of his palate towards the extreme, a well-balanced, quenching cask ale which tastes of malt, hops and fruit is abjectly inferior to an ultra-pale, 1 Simcoe cone per ml, baseball bat of unrelenting grapefruit pith brewed by a 20 year old with his baseball cap on sideways, in a converted garage.
As a brewer I look for beers which I know are hard to execute, made well. Bunging a load of hops in or putting your brew in a barrel you have bought off a distillery is not difficult and certainly not big and clever. All too often the world of beer writing, blogging and the enthusiast is seemingly equating new and different to good and better. It very seldom is. For some their livelihood relies on uncovering the next big thing. One style of beer or brewery becomes de rigueur before being chip wrapping.
There are of course some drinkers who dismiss the new and innovative as second best to the old fashioned and traditional. In my opinion they are just as wrong as the fashionistas.

There seem to be a lot of people who profess to be beer lovers and yet seem to want to change beer completely. They can’t think that much of it if they champion the new and innovative to the detriment of the classic. A true beer lover embraces change enthusiastically but shows the necessary understanding and appreciation of our heritage and the passion and expertise of the brewer. I think only when you understand the complexities and elegance of brewing can you appreciate the true art of the brewer and how to judge him. You might not agree and why would you? You probably won’t be a brewer and if you are I bet you don’t sell much.

A great Lambic is not the Lambic which has a lower pH than all the others. It’s the one with highest degree of complexity and balance between the components of that complexity. So a great IPA or double IPA is not the one with the highest concentration of iso alpha acid. Very bitter and very strong beers have their place but to label subtle and well-constructed beers as crap because the analytical numbers don’t add up to 10,000 is ignorant and worthy of a slap. Who wants one? Eh?!
You decide what constitutes a good beer but in my experience the more you understand of what goes into a making a beer and the more widely you educate your palate, the more rewarding the experience of the decision making becomes. Everyone is entitled to an opinion but I think everyone should be able to reasonably justify that opinion when it is challenged.

Fashions change, balance and complexity never go out of style.

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