If one word defines the way my taste has evolved this year, then it’s ‘clean’.
Beer is perpetually in motion. Always evolving. And drinkers move like a school of fish around it, swaying one way and then another with the current. Right now feels like we’re at a launching point (though it seems like it’s felt this way forever, already). But there’s things between now and next.
A lot of the beer we drink tastes obvious. American Pale Ales, IPAs and Black IPAs are the styles which continue to grab attention. But I think IPAs are elevated in status simply because they have big flavour, regardless of how great that flavour is. And the flavour is obvious. A sniff is like slamming your face in a bowl of over-ripe citrus. That’s fine, good in many cases, but it’s easy. And it hides a lot of problems.
Which is another issue: there’s a lot of average, bad or faulty beer sold in the UK. There are over 1,000 breweries in Britain now. That’s a lot. Maybe even too many. And the quality isn’t high enough in many. I’ve had too many beers with diacetyl, sulphur and acetaldehyde in them. A beer with no faults that tastes a bit bland has become more appealing than an over-hopped beer that is badly brewed. It seems like the search for impact has forgotten one of the key elements of beer-making: time. Just a little extra time and these beers could be better.
So my taste is towards clean beers. I want simple done well, I want subtlety and depth, I want to have to work with the beer not just sit back and let booze or hops beat me up. I think too many beers are obvious tasting – they are one dimensional and exaggerated in their flavour profile as they slam into your senses. The photo above is all the beer on tap at Odell's taproom. If you want clean, full flavour, then that's the place to go.
Clean, to me, means technically faultless, it means a clarity of flavours, an articulate, precise kind of taste in which you can drink it and experience all the elements in a clear way and not a riot of flavours which overpowers or a muddiness which means the ingredients are making a noise instead of playing a fine tune. It’s about elegance.
And you can absolutely get clean elegance in full-flavoured beer. The best IPAs have got structure, depth, hop flavour and aroma yet you can precisely taste everything, but they have this flavour from using the right amount of hops, at the right time, not simply by using lots of them.
The best Bitters I’ve had this year have had that see-saw brilliance between chewy malt and dry, bitter hop. The best lagers are defined by their clean depth of flavour. The best stouts have texture and that bittersweet mix of pale malt, dark malt and hop. The best sour beers sway between tartness, funk and something holding it all together. Think about the best beers you’ve had. What made them stand out? I bet it was the way in which all the flavours just worked wonderfully together and they left a beer which had a real clarity of flavour.
Clean beer. That’s what I want. Beer which is fresh, flavoursome, but considered. Most of all I just want beer which is well made, beer which has elegance and a clear, clean precision of flavours. That’s what I’m looking for in 2013.
I'll tell you what Mark, that just nails it for me. This is something that transcends fashion and arguments about method of dispense etc - it's about fundamentally good and well made beer.ReplyDelete
Funnily enough this ties in with a new hobby horse of mine. Last night shared a bottle of de Dochter van de Korenaar Belle Fleur IPA with friends. Wonderfully hoppy but at the same time elegant and precise. Far better than some of the aggressive hop bombs which get easy applause from the cheap seats.
I was forced into a journey like that when I moved to Germany. At the time, (only 4 years ago!) it was difficult to get madly hopped beers, so I relearned to appreciate the subtle. Well worth doing.ReplyDelete
I have a problem with clean, it says something like Veltins which is a great beer but I want some swagger in my beer (that chucks out a lot of the cask beers from the hordes of micros out there) — I also like dirty though, something I felt about Kernel when I first had their beers, bit like music, when I was writing about it there would be greatly crafted songs from bands like Microdisney but then you would have Sonic Youth who were as dirty as hell. But I don’t want to be dirty all the time. Unpredictable in a good way. William Burroughs rather than Jack Keoruac perhaps.ReplyDelete
Yep, I get that. I like some dirtiness, too, but only if it's interesting/good/exciting. Or meant to be that way. A kind of controlled dirtiness.Delete
Clean dirtiness perhaps? In a similar way to good bad?Delete
I applaud you for writing a well-articulated and detailed post, using several analogies and metaphors about the type of beer you are after, all the while avoiding the term commonly used to describe it: "balanced." I imagine that was intentional given its negative connotations around beer geeks. That said, I feel you.ReplyDelete
I tend to jump around in the style of beers that I prefer, much in the same way that I go from Sigur Ros to CAN to Fela Kuti on any given night. Flaws are a separate discussion in my opinion. I have actually experienced a decline in flaws with beer, while at the same time seen more and more brewers trying to outdo one another. Some of those attempts work, but most do not and end up cloying or one dimensional. I think that's what you were getting at, but I won't attempt to put words in your mouth.
It's not necessarily about balance, though it is important and good beer needs a certain amount of balance to it. Though I don't think that's a negative word in the same way that I don't think clean is a negative word.Delete
Clean for me is about a clarity of flavour, whatever the style. Something which has clearly been well made.
Balance can be a euphemism for "dull" (and I know of one family brewer head brewer who often bangs on about balance and makes reassuringly dull beers) but I fully understand the context in which you use it. Totally agree re"clean" too.Delete
Well that rules out Brodie's wonderfully filthy beers!ReplyDelete
What exactly do you mean by "filthy beers"? I ask because as far as I can see the words "dirty" and "flithy" in connection with food and drink are becoming hipster words of the moment and i really think that's something we need to avoid, otherwise it does all become a tad pretentious don't you think?Delete
Dubbel - Sometimes you just need a proper slaggy beer with hops all over the place! I like the way Brodie's do it, though.Delete
John - My connotation of filthy is nothing to do with hipster or fashion or anything like that. To me, a filthy beer (not that I've ever uttered those words...) is something that's just a bit naughty in its hoppiness. A bit aggressive or brutal in a good way, one which makes you smile or laugh.
Entirely get your point - and wholeheartedly agree!
Glad to see it's not just us tiring of 'Hop Pop' mania. Are hops becoming the new brown? Thank you for saying what needed to be said... Here's to a more subtle, complex and well-crafted 2013!ReplyDelete
I agree with you and John C. I have been beating this drum for years.ReplyDelete
You are probably fighting a losing battle with some though.
Hi Mark - hope you had a great new year. Remember when Mark and I popped in to see you before the guild dinner and we were all marvelling at the 'cleanliness' of Camden's beer , brewery-fresh? You know we feel the same way - it's the same as a chef creating a meal of different parts yet bringing them into a cohesive, harmonious whole on the tongue. Count me in; I don't buy that 'clean' means 'dull'.ReplyDelete