Tuesday 16 November 2010

Ten Words Beer Bloggers Use Too Often...

...Or use too loosely when describing beer!

It’s too easy to use – ‘Mmm, this beer is so hoppy!’ – but what does it mean? Is it aroma hoppy, bitter hoppy, all-round hoppy? Is it juicy hoppy, earthy hoppy, floral hoppy, fragrant hoppy? Is it good hoppy or bad hoppy?

See above. ‘Mmm, this beer is very malty’. But is that caramel or chocolate? Bread or coffee? Toast or toffee? Is it full bodied or not? Is it sweet or not?

Citrus?! Oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit count in the citrus bracket. If it’s citrusy then in what way – juicy, bitter, sharp? Does it smell like a grapefruit skin, pith, juice or flesh? Does it smell like lime or taste like it? If it tastes like it then is it a sourness or just a flavour?

What does earthy mean? What does it actually taste like? Like mud? Like stones? Like brick? Like leaves? A herby bitterness? Coffee grounds? Vegetal?

Tropical Fruit
Abundant in American hops but which fruit is it specifically? Pineapple, mango (what variety?!), kiwi fruit, passion fruit, papaya, guava, lychee... each have their own specific flavour so what do you actually taste?

Another generic hoppy term along with citrus, earthy and tropical. What flower does it smell like? Is it elderflower? Roses? Fields of daisies (whatever that smells like)? Spicy floral, orange blossom or even the tack of spruce or pine? This one is harder than the others to nail and get accurate.

‘It’s got a lovely crisp finish.’ What the hell does that mean? I write it all the time but now I’m looking at it properly I don’t get it... It’s a quenching finish, maybe a little dry, definitely vague.

But it is like milk or dark? If it’s dark then how dark? Is it creamy or bitter? Subtle or full-on? Does it taste like actual chocolate you’ve eaten before or is it just kind of roasty and chocolatey?

Dried Fruit
The reserve of the winter warmer or hidden in a nice stout, but you can dry almost any fruit, so which is it? Are we talking generic raisins or perhaps the tang of a dried apricot, maybe even the candy depth of a dried pear?

Ah, now this is a big one. A catch-all for anything a little different. Struggling to pick out what was in that Belgian blonde, the word spice goes in the note book and I’m almost satisfied, but what spices are they? The ting of metallic clove, the pungent heat of ginger, the tonsil tingling crack of pepper, a festive dusting of cinnamon, fruity green chilli or fiery dried seeds, is the coriander orangey and floral or dry and freshly ground. This is the one I chase around the glass trying to work out what that spice is.

There’s 10 to start with but what else is there? I nearly used the words Awesome, Great and Delicious but pulled them out before posting and replaced them. I'm definitely guilty of all of the above and I'm sure I'll continue to use them, just maybe I'll try a little harder to get the right word from now on!

Picture from here.


  1. Great post. I'm guilty as charged! Especially for the first two!

  2. The words you've listed above are just syntactic sugar - they carry no meaning but I do not think that this is the intent. You missed the most overused phrase of all: "I'm getting". As a reader I couldn't care less about what you're getting, what individual flavours you are getting, what aromas you pick apart, how refined your tastebuds are. I only care about two things: 1) Should I care about the beer? and 2) Can I get the beer?. Number 2 is easy to describe, number 1 comes across from your language rather than your use or misuse of individual words.

    So I would not argue that you should try and be more specific but it's more that everything should be more contextual. Spice is good, Metallic Clove spice is more specific but "A good balance of spicing" is best of all. Telling me that an imperial stout is chocolatey is tedious, telling me that an imperial stout has hints of a creamy chocolate is amusingly tedious but telling me that a stout has a strong chocolate taste that makes it superior to other stouts is more interesting. Then telling me that said stout is available in Sainsburys is best of all...

  3. As I've only got as far as using about half of those words when burbling on about beer if I could expand my vocabulary to include them all it would be a step forward!

  4. Great comment Anon. The intent with the post is to have a little fun with the words beer bloggers use most often and to see how effective they really are. This comment is really good advice and takes it to the next level - I've made a mental post-it note to remember 'why should the reader care' when writing about specific beers! Cheers.

  5. Most boggers don't do detailed tasting notes. In general, if you are speaking in broad terms, there is nothing wrong with keeping in straightforward. It gives the reader a rough idea. On the other hand if you have a serious beer tasting blog, well, you aren't serious at all if that's all you can come up with.

    It's horses for courses really, but you should have included awesome though! That truly is meaningless.

  6. We shouldn't be too hard on beer writers who overuse these words. Flavour is a hard thing to convey. And writing about beer (to borrow a phrase) is like dancing about architecture. But we should look for new ways to describe beer. One way, rather than deny the subjectivity of taste, is to embrace it, and write about beer a bit more figuratively.

    So in my latest 'A Week in Pubs' post, for example, instead of describing Tom Wood's Jolly Ploughman as malty or chocolatey, I call it "a deep, dark night of a pint, smooth and soulful, with – no, that can’t be an undertone of rum, can it? My maritime imagination is running away with me".

    It isn't precise and it doesn't pretend to be. I write like this because I think it can give the reader a more vivid or even useful impression than lazily overusing the 'correct' terms like hoppy or floral.

  7. Great post. I'm often guilty of such vague, generic descriptions of beer and I aim to improve.

    But I also agree strongly with the above comment, that what really matters to me is - should I care about this beer and where can I get it? I'm happy with a generic 'hoppy' if I also know what is it about this beer that should make me search it out, rather than reach for another bottle/pint of a 'hoppy' beer I know I already like. If it's nothing special, give me an example of a better beer in it's class so I know what the benchmark is.

    As I said, I'm guilty of not doing this either, so thanks again for prompting the discussion - cheers!

  8. Guilty to most of those. Also to "Fresh" and "Tasty" - usually together. Must try harder. Steve

  9. There's nothing wrong with those words other than they can reflect too high a degree of abstraction in a lot of cases. Dried fruit should be further described like raisin, fig and date which then can be broken down into thompson or sultana, etc. Unless you can only honestly say dried fruit - maybe that is all people get. You have to spend a lot of time at the whole foods store to learn enough about the varieties of dry fruit to build up your tasting skills. Not everyone cares to but they should.

    Anyone who tries to describe a beer like Bernardus Abt 12 without using malty, spice and dried fruit does the language a disservice though someone who stops at them may be doing themselves one.

  10. Depends on the audience as to what words you might want to use. Brewers will understand DMS, astringency and the effect of brettanomyces but your average punter might only want to know if it tastes like John Smith's smooth or not. And then there's everybody in between.

    And of course honesty, you can only write what you 'get', as Alan says if you can tell the difference between raisin, fig, sultana and general dried fruit then great. If you can do that consistently, methodically and scientifically with only your mouth then you deserve a medal.

    Personally, I find, as with most things, context is crucial to meaning, not just the words alone.

    Rich has a similar debate about food words, although he did include delicious.

    Anyway, guilty on all charges!

  11. I'm quite guilty of using 'bitter-sweet', 'really good flavour' and lots more things like that which all sound good but do nothing to actually describe the beer I'm trying.

  12. There are dozens of beer books out there Dredge, most much of a muchness and like each other. A beer thesaurus is what you need to write, to propel you into the world of the proper beer writer.

  13. Hmmm....when a beer blogger delves into a flavor profile citing flavors of lychee, rose petals, freshly ground coriander, and brick-like earthiness in a beer, I'm afraid my bull shit detector starts twitching. Not that those flavors can't be detected, or shouldn't be written about. But not everyone can detect all these flavors, and so many things can alter the flavor of beer, so distinguishing between a "Daisy-like floral character" versus an "elderflower floral character" (whatever an elderflower is) may simply may not be possible. But this does not stop everyone, and I find often the actual taste of the beer does not in the slightest reflect the impressive sounding review that requires a dictionary to fully understand, suggesting the blogger is making it up as he goes along.

    And while writers should push each other to be descriptive as possible, a slight admonishment to those that don't launch in a full botany of floral characteristics or have an Asian market full of tropical fruits in their beer descriptions may be rather counterproductive.

    Simplicity and accessibility in writing is not a bad thing.

  14. "Earthy" is one I struggle with describing in any greater detail. It's always just "Earthy" to me.

    I always associate it with the flavour of brazil nuts when they still have the papery sking on them.

  15. Yes, this happens for me quite a bit, but I love the first comment and will try to implement both your suggestions and anon's suggestions into my writing from now on. I love using a thesaurus when I write normally, why not try to expand my vocabulary about beer as well?

  16. It's your birthday today, so I'm going to give you a pass on this one for the most part. But still, what words you use and how detailed you get as a writer, you must admit, depends heavily on both audience and word count. That a brown ale is "nutty" is certainly enough to trigger interest in the average punter, without going into details about which specific nuts. Ditto citrus and dried fruit and chocolate.

    When I have all of ten words to describe a beer, including the name of the thing, I'm not going to waste verbiage on "Mandarin orange and lemon" when "citrus" will do nicely.

  17. I'm with Tandleman - although I understand your points, I think it depends on the audience. Does for me anyway. If I'm going to get as many people interested in beer as possible, then I will shoot straight down them middle and use terms they can latch onto. I agree that, for example, 'Hoppy' means nothing, but saying 'citrussy hoppiness' and 'spicy/earthy hoppiness' means another. Beer Writers (and I do make that distinciton - ie not Bloggers) should be aiming higher - totally - but then again the person buying thier book should be 'into' beer anyway - not the casual observer. AFter all, we don't want to become the cliche of Jilly Goolden - annexing Wine nerds away from the rest of those who simply wanted a pointer of which wine to drink.

  18. Are you trying out topics for the UK Blogging conference??

    Like many others, guilty as charged, and if i dont get something i'll say, but always willing to learn.

  19. Great observation. Here's a few I'd add to your list:

    1) robust
    2) floral
    3) piny
    4) nutty
    5) tasty

    BTW I am guilty of using all these in abundance, too. I think Jessica from Draft had a point when she said to get a thesaurus.

    Great blog BTW. Hope you had a chance to try the Upright Four Play (the one with boobies)

    Angelo http://brewpublic.com

  20. I'm glad this one has provoked some comments!!

    It is all about the audience, I completely agree, even if it doesn't say so in the post. For me, a good description is one which evokes thirst and a desire to drink whatever is being written about. However, it's nice to pull out a few recurring words and make a point of their presence!

    Mark - Earthy is the one which provoked this post. I always write it but I don't know what it means and I can't define the flavour of 'earthy'; it just is.

    Angelo - I loved the boobies beer :)

    Brewers Union - good one, I completely forgot that. I think it could be a post of its own 'What does balanced mean?' and then see a fight start :)

  21. Missed any? Yes... 'Blog' 'Blogging' 'Bloggers' all bloody awful and irritating words. If words could be dickheads then they'd be these.

  22. The best on I have heard of is Vinegary notes - hmm, its infected - FAIL

  23. I am certainly guilty of some of those...

  24. Well I've now got them all in a single post. Beat that!

  25. Hahahaha. How about a list of 10 words we should use instead?

  26. You left out some words:
    Chug, shotgun, guzzle...just kidding, of course I "savor" beer!

    Hows it going, London!

  27. True, that. Although you could compile a similar "cliched" list for commentary in any specialty field--wine, BBQ, automobiles, Beanie Babies, movies, porn.........

    I've also had the experience of meeting at least one beer blogger whose youthful exuberance--he fancies himself a "cheerleader" for craft beer--could handily be replaced by a parrot squawking "Awesome!! AWESOME!!" repeatedly......... in person or in type.