Friday 18 June 2010

Style: I don’t get it

This week I had one of those ah ha moments. One of those moments when all of a sudden I got it. I've had a couple before this one: first there was Orval, then it was lambic. Now it’s tripels, a style I've previously never understood. To me they were just strong blondes; not something I'd drink to quench a thirst, not something I'd drink when I want something bigger, tasting vaguely metallic, strangely spicy and oddly hoppy. They were just not something I ever chose to drink, ever ordered or ever bought.

It was two separate revelations: Westmalle Tripel then Chimay White. Beers I've ignored until now, overlooked. I had them at an excellent Trappist evening at the White Horse. We tried a beer from each Trappist brewery then sat down to dinner paired with each of the Chimay beers. A trio of rabbit with the Red, salmon and asparagus with the White and Chimay cheese with the Blue. It was the White which stood out. What I got with the White, and with the Westmalle before it, wasn't what I expected: bold and hoppy, lively, clean, delicious. The previous conviction of it being boring and ‘just strong’ was gone. Each mouthful was different, each was interesting, each was exciting. I loved the big hops (it was the hops that did it), their aroma, their bite, the fruitiness of them, the peppery kick. I loved the fullness of body, the richness of flavour. And above all else I saw how they belong next to a plate on the dinner table. I finally got it.

There are inevitably styles which aren't quite your thing. Some don't like smoked beers, some don't enjoy gueuze and lambic, some don't like fruit, some prefer dark to light, some prefer strong to weak. Maybe they are styles which you actively dislike, maybe they are just styles which you never choose to drink. My particular 'meh' styles are Belgian blondes, strong Belgian blondes, Flemish reds, bocks and rauchbier. I just don't particularly enjoy them, in general (although a Taras Boulba is enough to turn anyone on to a feisty blonde). Until last night, tripels also fell into this category.

But the question is this: what styles do you either not like or rarely drink because they don't really do it for you? What don’t you get? What style could disappear from the beeriverse without you even noticing?

I think, and this applies to all styles, that it takes a eureka moment for everything new. The first DIPA, the first imperial stout, the time you realise sour beer is okay, the time you switch from lager to bitter, the moment you discover that Orval is meant to taste like that. This isn’t limited to esoteric styles, this works with everything, it’s just that some styles take a bit more work than others.


  1. .... and the time you switch from bitter back to lager when you realise that bottom fermentation, cold beer and carbonation are not necessarily the great satan and that there is more to beer appreciation than the real ale that you have quite conservatively stuck to for thirty years. Steve

  2. Mark,

    As you have now "got" lambics, it can only be amatter of time before you get Flemish reds with their excellent sweet-sour character (some rather more sour than sweet). Try Verhaeghe Vichtenaar and also their Duchesse de Bourgogne, especially after you've cellar aged it for a year or so.

    There are some fantastic bocks around, too - although the term bock seems to cover a wide range of styles. The Dutch-commissioned SNAB Ijsbok is fantastic stuff.

    Belgian blond(e)s also come in a variety of interpretations so don't write the all off - De Dolle Arabier is fab, as is Het Kappitel Blond, Rulles Blonde and let's not forget Westvleteren Blond with its elelgant but quite punchy hopping. Kerkom's Bink Blond is also superb.

    With you on rauchbier though - I've realy tried to like this stuff but after 10 years of trying I've now given up. Perhaps it might be more enjoyable in Bamberg.


  3. Belgian Wits are one family of beers that don't do a lot for me. I think they used to, but I just went off them. I think a lot of it is to to with time and place. Strong Belgian Blondes are also not doing a lot for me recently, but I used to love them. I'm not sure it's a case of not "getting" them, but maybe more a case of them not "doing it for you", checking the taste boxes, if you know what I mean :D Being a beer whore, I suppose I will never write off a whole grouping of beer, but yeah, there are probably types that I would bypass if there was something strongly hoppy on the menu.

  4. Apologies for not knowing the technical description, or even if there is a recognised type of beer that i am about to describe - but the Scottish 70/- & 80/- beers from my time in Scotland.

    I am happy to give anything a shot on the bar i've not yet tried, but never found one of those that i enjoyed or would want to buy again.

  5. Well rauchbier is my dislike. And I have tried. I think the Schenkerla pub in Bamberg is a world classic, but the beer sucks big time. I doubt if JC would like it any more there.

    Most other stuff I can manage, though strong pale lagers when poorly made can be very headachey and cloying.

  6. I love rauchbier and geuze (not together, although that could be an interesting experiment...!), does that make me odd? I don't think there's any particular style that I dislike, just beers within each style that I've tried. I can definitely take or leave boring mid brown British bitters, though.

  7. Rauchbier with a (subtle) smoked cheese and crackers/bread is delicious. I think it's one of those that works better with food than it ever does on it's own.

  8. Isn't it just possible that some societies, some communities have a long and storied tradition of making beer that actually sucks? I like geuze well enough but do think dry lambic is a decades long practical joke.

  9. I can't think of a beer style per se that I don't like, but I can think of plenty of expressions of a given style that do nothing for me, especially when it comes to Pilsners, but that is a guess of nothing ever coming close to a proper Czech pilsner.

  10. I could quite happily drink nothing but Rauchbier for the rest of my days. You're all mad.

  11. I actually struggle with pilsners, despite enjoying the taste of some I often find them bloating. A few simply taste too funky to be enjoyable and it's easier to switch to a cold lager or a cool pale pale for refreshment.

  12. Not sure wether it's 'getting' or personal taste - I simply don't like Rauchbiers. I like smoky notes in beer, but i've never been able to stomach the full-strength stuff. I also view ultra-high ABV beers as a bit of a novelty... But that's just me!!

  13. I'm afraid gueze and lambic I find absolutely undrinkable, despite repeated attempts. English strong ales I find a bit unpalatable lacking the subtlety of Belgian strong beers.

  14. JC, we'll see about the Flemish Reds... the Duchesse is ok, but I'd never choose it over something else. and of course there is wide variety within a style, so it's a little reductive just ruling them out, but in general there are similarities.

    Barry, Belgian Wits is another that I rarely drink, it's kind of a cloudy, spicier Belgian Blonde... there's other things I'd choose first.

    Chris King, 70/- and 80/-, I guess, is just like finding a good pint of cask bitter.

    Tandleman, strong lagers can be headachey, yes! I've had a few which just taste like ethanol. Horrible things.

    ChrisM, a smoked gueuze... Mmm, there's an idea!!

    Alan, you might have something there! :)

    Lots of mixed feeling overall for rauchbier - I guess bacon-flavoured beer is a marmite kind of thing!

  15. English Brown Ale. And most of the American ones, too. Sweet, heavy, dusty, simple. Often brewed with adjuncts. I don't get it.

  16. Most traditional milds; might as well drink dish water.

    Mind you, there are some fantastic milds out there, so it's not really the fault of the style, just the fault of the traditional brewers.

    However "I could quite happily drink nothing but Rauchbier for the rest of my days. You're all mad." I concur with that.

  17. I think it is possible to find a beer you like in pretty much every beer style. But I agree that it is indeed a lot more work within some styles. Not necessarily because those styles are acquired tastes (though this is certainly true of old gueuzes/krieks, at least if you have acquired your taste for bottom- or top-fermenting beers first...), but because you have to drink a lot of beers you don't like/don't care for until you find the few beers of that style that you like.

    My last time in Belgium was during wintertime, so that I finally got to try a lot of seasonal winter/christmas beers. Most were much too sweet for my liking, as expected, but give me the chance to drink Rulles' "Avec Les Meilleurs Voeux" again, even outside the season, and I will take it!

    I usually don't care for the darker beers, especially English or American Brown Ales or Belgian Dubbels or german Schwarzbier, and I do not share some people's obsession with stouts, but I can still appreciate their quality and would not turn them down at a beer tasting.

    There are, however, beers I heartily dislike, tough I am not sure if I'm prepared to call them "beer" at all. This applies to sweetened gueuzes/wits with syrup and aroma (like the Chapeau stuff).

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  19. I really do hesitate to answer, because I'm sure it indicates my ignorance in the beeriverse, but I'm just not into crazy-hoppy beer. They always smell wonderful, like perfume! But the really pale, light IPAs knock me over with bitterness. Of course, I'm in the U.S., maybe my palate hasn't been exposed to enough beer. I just would rather have a wheat beer or stout. (And I'm discovering Belgium browns!)