So, what is beer?
This is a question that I often ponder… not just craft beer, but beer in general. There are so many different styles being brewed all over the world and more and more craft breweries are popping up that are adding their own twists to traditional styles, merging two or more styles together or reinventing them completely.
The question is not “what is a good beer?” - I would say that a good beer is one without flavour faults a beer judge may argue that a good beer fits into the strict criteria of its given style. A well trained beer taster should be able to determine without bias if a beer is free from off-flavours and well made, regardless of whether or not they like the style.
Whilst studying at university, I worked in a wine shop and although I’m personally not a big fan of fruity, grassy sauvignon blancs, I trained my palate to determine distinct flavours and faults and so I was able to recommend a good sauvignon blanc to the customer although I wouldn’t necessarily choose that wine… I didn’t enjoy it myself, but it was undoubtedly a fundamentally well-made wine.
The question is also not “what is a popular beer?” - That is ultimately decided upon by the consumer and that is the beauty of beer – from hefeweizens to IPAs and saisons – everyone has their favourite styles and brands particular to their individual palate. A great beer is never going to become popular if nobody knows about it or tries it and similarly, an average beer can become very popular if marketed and branded effectively.
A good example is a wheat beer. Some people are sensitive to the phenol flavours and aromas produced by a typical wheat beer yeast. So whilst I absolutely love the spicy, clove and banana fragrance and taste of a hefeweizen, the person next to me might be overwhelmed with the smell of medicinal “old bandaid”… but that doesn’t make it a bad beer, right? It just means that some people don’t like that flavour profile.
My partner’s palate is very sensitive to hop resin and high IBUs and he won’t drink anything over 30 IBU. He finds that really heavily hopped IPAs coat his mouth with a thick and unpleasant flavour, but that doesn’t mean all double and triple IPAs are bad or poorly made beers, it just means he prefers something different when we’re out at the pub. Just like Bob doesn’t like the texture of avocadoes or Mary doesn’t like blue cheese… you wouldn’t say that all avocadoes and blue cheese are bad!
With all of the social media sites at our fingertips these days, everybody is a critic. I find it really interesting to read all of the different reviews of food and drinks on internet forums and Facebook groups – it’s so great that we can communicate and share our experiences with one another simply with the click of a button, however it is always interesting to see how quickly defamatory remarks are posted about something without a second thought or some research simply because someone didn’t like it!
But enough ranting and raving on about what I think! To truly answer the question “what is beer?” a good place to start is the ATO definition of a beer…stay tuned for Part 2: “The definition of beer in Australia” to be posted same time, same place next week.