When it comes to beer, all that really matters is taste

"They really should have served this in a stange."
“They really should have served this in a stange.”

Obviously I like the process of making great beer.

I appreciate the effort that goes into the act of making beer, the attention to details, the thought that goes into choosing the right ingredients, the adherence to traditional styles or conversely the use of innovative new techniques.

I have an appreciation of the work that goes into making good beer.

However, I feel it needs to be said that none of that shit actually matters.

All that really matters is taste.

You can worship at the altar of the beer-making gods, study techniques and principles of brewing and find new and crazy ways to forward the art of beverage crafting, but unless you can put your pint of beer in front of someone who will say “That’s a good beer,”….who cares?

I had this discussion on the weekend with a few people representing local breweries (I won’t name names but the three companies represented rhymed with Cream Thistle, Plate Rakes, and Blamstergram) and I was somewhat surprised at what we all came up with (and, as you can imagine when arguing with three people who are passionate about/directly involved in the creation of beer–completely outnumbered in my point of view).

Ultimately the conversation was about how an understanding of what you’re drinking will lead to an enhanced enjoyment of the beer. I think this is a point most can agree on and it was the concession we were all willing to make. It stands to reason that if you understand what makes up the basic characteristics of a stout, for example, you’ll enjoy drinking stout that much more. “Mmm, stouts should be rich, and have coffee and chocolate notes and this stout does, therefore, it’s a good one.”

Where we differed however, was when I said that, regardless of a perfect adherence to a style, a beer has to taste “good,” objectively.

That is, to use the example above, I’d argue that the true test of a good beer (in this case a stout) would be the ability to put that stout in front of someone who’d never had a stout before and have them drink it and say, “Mmm. This is a thing that tastes good.”

The arguments in opposition to mine where what you might expect (as well as loud and plentiful): not too many unintitated people would sit down with a sour beer for the first time with no knowledge of what makes a sour beer and think, “Mmm. This is a tasty beverage.” A little education though, the argument went, could go a long way. Teach that same fella (or dame) that the beer tastes the way it does because it was pitched with wild brettanomyces yeast then aged in a pinot noir barrel with local raspberries and that person might say, “Mmm. That is a great sour beer.”

It’s a logical argument, and one to which I retort: Bullshit.

I can appreciate that some things are an acquired taste (few, I imagine, love their first slug of scotch, but after a few tastes it quickly becomes the thing you need at the end of every day just to quiet the demons in your head…er, just me?), but there is a difference between an acquired taste and a thing that simply doesn’t taste good but was produced through a laborious /cool process.

The argument was actually made that if you didn’t know you were drinking a Geuze, for example, you might actually send it back, asking if it had gone bad. I would argue that if you’re questioning whether or not the beverage you’re trying has spoiled, you’re not drinking an enjoyable beverage.

Now perhaps I’m revealing too much about my [sacrilege alert] distaste for sour beers, but why do we let beer get away with things we wouldn’t let food get away with? What I mean is that, I am willing to try new and interesting foods about which I have no knowledge, but if I don’t like the taste of it, I don’t like the taste of it. End of story.

Consider a hypothetical scenario wherein a man tries steak tartare for the first time and decides he doesn’t like it.

MAN: “Ew. Not for me.”
MAN’S FRIEND: “What’s wrong with you? That’s a great example of steak tartare.”
MAN: “Yeah but I don’t like it.”
MAN’s FRIEND: “Dude, that’s local cattle with fresh capers and a farm-raised egg yolk.”
MAN: “But I…don’t like the taste…in my mouth. So…I don’t care how it was made.”
MAN’S FRIEND: “You just don’t appreciate food.”

It sounds a little crazy,right?

So why do we do it all the time with beer?

Clearly, as someone who’s read this rambling blog post this long, you understand that I am a person who gives a shit about beer and how it’s made and you obviously do too, but that should all be secondary to how it tastes. Obviously, I am also a fairly vocal opponent of the massive, foreign-owed breweries that currently dominate the market in this province and I would much rather give my money to the small local guys when I buy beer–but I’m really just lucky that the small, local guys make great-tasting beer because, to be honest, if the local guys made shitty-tasting beer and the big guys made interesting, bold styles of beer, I’d be the first fucker in line for the bus to Bud Camp.

Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy the beer made and sold by the people with whom I was arguing, and I agree they make valid points about added levels of appreciation, but I feel like when we start talking about beer as something that can only be enjoyed by people who “understand” beer, we enter dangerously snobby territory and we lose sight of the whole idea of beer, which to me is that taste is all that really matters.

2 thoughts on “When it comes to beer, all that really matters is taste

  1. To your point, when I first starting drinking lambics, I had no idea what they were, I just like them. My favourite pop growing up was wink when it was a bit more bitter and sour and tasted of grapefruit. I also tried a sour beer that tasted like vinegar and knew it was bad even though it was an attempt at a style I didn’t know.

    Having said that, there is something about expectations that change what you are tasting. If someone goes in with an idea of how a beer is supposed to taste and it surprises them, often surprise breeds contempt.

    Being a person who likes new tastes, sometimes it is helpful to understand what you are tasting. The grissette from Plate Rakes is an example where I am not sure what I am tasting. I am on the fence about the brew and maybe an explanation can help me rationalize my experience but it won’t change the fact that I am on the fence. Maybe it is just the style and not the taste, and that is what the education gets me. It doesn’t make me like it more.

  2. Great article and very true! This is exactly what’s wrong with competitions based on BJCP judging…

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