The Session #33: Framing Beer

session_logoHow do you know when you’ve had a good beer? You’ve poured your glass, taken in the aroma and color and have a measure on your tongue. How is it judged and ranked compared with other beers? The single most important factor affecting this determination is how the beer compares to what was expected.

Example: you just got in a trade a bottle of a rare Bavarian hefewiezen. But even after the swirl, it is still brilliantly clear. The color is right but the aroma is flat, missing key yeast character. This sounds like a really bad beer! Except the brewery forgot to switch labels on the bottling run and in fact you’re drinking their world-class lager. I’d hope I would notice immediately that it’s a lager. But is it that easy? I can see myself simply chalking it up to a single yeast fault manifesting itself in the appearance and aroma. I might make some sarcastic remark like “this would make a great pilsner”.

Is it possible to drink a beer without making this sort of judgement? I don’t think you can become a truly blank slate. Even in competition judging the beers are framed by the style of the flight. Actually, especially in competition is a beer held to the standard of a particular frame. These frames are not the world however, even though we view the world through them. That means we should be working to remove the frame, to get closer to the world beyond.

What was the world like before 1977? What would it be like if we stopped using styles? Chaos? Modern beer competitions are so intimately tied with the definitions of style. We adhere to a few historic (or not) ideals for each kind of beer and shove everything else into a “specialty” category. But I can say with a good deal of certainty that, even after decades of weird homebrew experimentation, there are more kinds of beer that have never been made than all the kinds that have.

You still have about twelve hours by my reckoning to post your contribution to The Session #33. The prompt is located here, along with submission instructions.

The Session is a monthly beer blog carnival. I am hosting this month, #33. For more information about The Session inquire here.

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