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Oakes Weekly - July 17, 2003
The New Styles
July 17, 2003
Written by Oakes
<P>Many of you know that I really enjoy debating beer styles. You may have seen my <a hrefhttp://www.netcom.ca/~jdoakes/styles.html>Beer Style Master’s Thesis that I wrote a few years ago. You’ll probably also know then why the beer styles on Ratebeer appear as they do – as in why they don’t look like what the GABF, AHA or anybody else does.
<P>One thing about the beer style universe is that it is ever-changing. Style definitions change, new styles emerge and old ones fade away (and are sometimes subsequently reborn). As an example, look at Anchor Liberty Ale. This is a beer for which a style was never specifically announced by the brewery. Five years ago, this was a benchmark IPA, along with another beer from England called Worthington White Shield. Both are subtle, hoppy beers of considerable character. But the style has really mutated and it is difficult for some beer lovers to accept a beer like Liberty as a benchmark IPA anymore. It just isn’t hoppy enough – maybe it would be a great American Pale, they say. I tend to agree, but the point isn’t what style of beer Liberty Ale is, but rather that styles mutate, and the range of hoppiness in IPAs keeps drifting upwards. The range for alcohol in milds drifted downwards over the first sixty years of the 20th century. Styles change.
<P>New styles emerge. They manner in which they do so can be likened to music styles. Sometimes it’s gradual – like the evolution of stout or rock ‘n’ roll. It did not happen overnight, but after a while people realized that a new style had emerged. Other times, it happens in an instant. Heavy metal was formed out of nothingness on February 13, 1970 when Black Sabbath released their first album. Likewise, Pilsner appeared on this Earth fully-formed on October 5, 1842.
<P>Sometimes experts and observers cannot even agree on a style’s existence. And that’s not to speak of beers that don’t fit any style particularly well. But these are all reasons why we have different versions of the beer universe. What I do is I mix in classical styles that are universally accepted, add a few tweaks of my own, and then use a number of “categories”, like American Strong Ale, which are not styles at all, but loose groupings of otherwise stylistically vague beers. I also attempt to promote a more global viewpoint, in contrast to the dominance in the beer press and festival circuit of the Anglo-American viewpoint (bearing in mind that particular viewpoint is the one most Ratebeerians are born into).
<P>I will be making some changes to the styles here on Ratebeer in the coming weeks. I am also taking this opportunity to open the floor to a little debate on the matter. So here’s what I am thinking of doing:
<P>Split German Wheat into its three logical constituencies – Hefeweizen, Kristalweizen and Dunkelweizen. I’m not 100% on the Hefe/Kristal split but it seems by my ratings that the yeast adds more to the beer than just a different look. It adds to the fullness of body and flavour as well. Still, it opens up the floor with regards to other filtered/unfiltered beers, especially the whole cask/keg debate, which is something I don’t want to re-open. Thankfully, Kristals and Hefes are marketed under different names, which makes life easier from my point of view.
<P>Split Imperial IPA from American Strong. I think this type of beer has become a little more established now, and is starting to really dwarf the other beers in the American Strong category. I don’t like jumping on bandwagons, proclaiming each flavour of the month a new beer style, but Imperial IPA has been around for a while now, and popular for a few years, and seems to have moved a little further into the microbrewery mainstream. I don’t expect much argument on this one.
<P>Institute a Foreign Stout category. Now, not every foreign stout is a Foreign Stout, but I think that experienced beer tasters know the difference between Foreign and Sweet or Foreign and Imperial. It’s a fun style, too, and one that deserves a little more exposure.
<P>There is also the question of Oatmeal Stout. Like a lot of specialty-grain beers, some are obvious, others are not. This kind of makes it tricky. Take the two best Oatmeal Stouts – Sam Smith’s is obviously made with oatmeal, St. Ambroise…you wouldn’t know if the label didn’t say so. Plus, where does this leave other sweet stouts (not all of which are milk)? If you take Foreign and Oatmeal out of the mix, there isn’t much left, really. For now, this is a change I’m hesitant to make, although I could be convinced.
<P>Another one is Abt…aka Quadrupel. There are starting to be a few more of these beers now than just Westy 12, Rochefort 10 and Chimay Blue. Trendsetting brewers like Southampton Publick House and Dieu du Ciel are making the style, and the availability of St. Bernardus Abt will only further the cause. This many examples makes it easier to build a framework for what the style actually is, as well. I see this style hitting widespread popularity in the next year or two. It’s time to give the big boys their due.
<P>Lastly, and probably most contentiously, barrel-aged beers. I was supposed to engage in a point-counterpoint on this topic, but that has yet to happen. What I will say is this – this method of finishing is the most distinctive of all, even more distinctive than nitrogen injections. But I still view it as a method of finishing, not a style. Moreover, while it is very trendy this year, it hasn’t really established itself. A large proportion of examples are produced only occasionally, in the most minute of quantities, and released only for special events. That is not “established”.
<P>However, it does make comparisons easier to have them grouped together. After all, many barrel-aged beers have more in common with each other than with the base beer upon which they are built. Recent changes to the way the database works have made it easier to implement all those silly little one-offs as well, which has loosened my stance on the subject (at least in terms of its application to Ratebeer).
<P>I especially would like to know the average Ratebeerians thoughts on this last topic. Also, if there are other style suggestions, let me know.
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