Monday, July 2, 2012

Style Guidelines, thoughts, questions

I was bored last night, so I wrote an essay on the benefit and necessity of style guidelines in the brewing industry. This is not to say that there is no current direction for brewers. My frustration arises from past experiences of purchasing a beer that says "pale" and finding what would better be described as an "amber", or an IPA that lacks discernible hop character or is overpowered by the malt profile (regardless of historical malt profiles of IPAs, I cannot and will not support an IPA that does not lean toward the hops). I am, I think, in favor of basic guidelines pertaining to style characteristics (appearance, aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, etc).

Comment if you have feelings on the subject. Keep it civil, and remember that I wrote this in a fever of annoyance mixed with boredom and tempered by restlessness. As I proofread the paper I found myself second-guessing myself. But, without further delay:

An Essay on the Benefit and Necessity of Beer Style Guidelines

For years the brewing industry, as well as the consumer, has been plagued with a problem: lack of specific style guidelines for brewing. Beer style characteristics are largely a matter of personal preference and experience; one drinker's pale ale is not another's, much as one brewery's pale ale is not another's. This is not to say that all brewers should brew the same beer. On the contrary, variation is key to satisfying all drinkers' palates. The problem arises when beers are stylistically different in reality, but appear the same on paper. For now, style guidelines will be defined not through recipe composition, but as characteristics typical of a style, regarding appearance, aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel. Basic style guidelines are a necessity for the brewing industry for a variety of reasons, among which we find clarity, consistency, and an experimental foundation.

As brewers continue to label beers with styles not perfectly suited to that particular beer, the concumers loses focus of what to expect. Clarity, on the consumers' end, lets them know what to expect when a beer is labelled with a given style. Clarity, on the brewer's end, gives guidelines within which to brew a particular style. Knowing what to expect based on a labelled style (since many brewers do not offer descriptions of particular beers) will decrease wariness on the part of the consumer and drive sales. The issue, however, does not rest solely on clarity. Rather, we must look at consistency to get a fuller understanding of all aspects at play.

Currently, beers styles lack consistency between brands. While there would be little benefit to all brewers brewing identical beers, consistency amonst style characteristics would provide better comparability between brands. With the current lack of style guidelines, some comparisons between two similarly labelled beers are as good as comparing apples to oranges. Additionally, even if style guidelines might seem to restrict the individuality of a brewer, differences in equipment and process control would ensure noticeable differences in the finished product. Once again, this is not the only pertinent reason to adopt style guidelines. These guidelines also provide a foundation for growth within the brewing industry.

Experimentation is key to the evolution and continued success of the brewing industry. Without experimentation, there might be no such thing as pale ale, IPA, or Russian Imperial Stout, to name a few. Many styles might not exist at all. Style guidelines, if implemented, would provide a foundation upon which to experiment and build new styles or variations of existing styles. Knowing how to make a pale ale within guidelines would provide the proper foundation from which to build a double pale, or a pale with previously unsused ingredients.

Opponents may argue that style guidlines would restrict a brewer's creativity and make every beer the same. As mentioned earlier, differences in equipment and process control would prevent this. Additionally, these guidelines would not be strict rules or recipes, simply a framework within which to brew a given style. Wary consumers would no longer have to take a chance on whichever beer they are buying. Brewers would not have to make guesses as to what chareacteristics their finshed product should employ. Overall, style guidelines would be of great benefit to the brewing industry as a whole.

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