Monday, July 9, 2012

Guidelines must go!

In response to a previous argument for the benefits and necessity of style guidelines within the brewing industry, I present an argument as to why those guidelines are unnecessary:

As far as the brewing industry is concerned, style guidelines are a beginner's game and marketing tool. Quality should be of utmost importance to a brewer, not fitting into a set of characteristic guidelines.

Those new to the brewing industry, or to brewing in general, may find some benefit in style guidelines. Those with more experience, however, should not need a set of guidelines to brew a proper beer. The most important aspect of the production process should be, ideally, quality. So long as a beer is made with care and from high quality ingredients, style labeling should come as a secondary issue.

Also of importance is marketing. "Style" often serves simply as a marketing tool. "Brewed in the 'X' tradition" might spark the memory of some readers and drinkers. Whether or not a beer conforms to its labeled style is not strictly governed by law. So, a brewer is free to mislead a consumer simply to sell beer.

To the credit of fans of style guidelines, there are some advantages not mentioned in any previous arguments. Many, if not most, brewing competitions are judged by people certified under the instruction of the BJCP. As far as competitions are concerned, style guidelines are absolutely necessary. If there were no guidelines, judges would be left to voting based on personal preferences; this is the exact opposite of the goal of the BJCP and detrimental to both brewers and consumers. However, the BJCP is not enough of an argument for the importance of style guidelines. In reality, competitions are simply another marketing tool, as they tell consumers which beers to buy regardless of the consumers' personal opinions.

As a counter to style guidelines and their subsequent labeling, apt descriptions of beer should be of utmost importance. The consumer deserves to know which characteristics to expect in a beer before the buy. Colorful ad copy is not necessary, simple descriptions (aroma, flavor, IBU, etc) would suffice.

 At the end of the day, quality ingredients and a well made beer (see: process control) are paramount; guidelines take a back seat. The craft beer movement dictates that drinkers should choose a quality pale ale over a poorly made IPA, and a perfectly made brown over an imperfectly made porter. Quality may be somewhat objective, but is for the most part recognizable across the spectrum of drinkers.

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