Saturday, 20 February 2010

Drinkability

I've always been a fan of stronger ales, ever since I first tasted Old Peculier many years ago. For me the fuller richer flavours of these beers are far more satisfying than standard beers. Strangely, I can stomach more volume of such beers without feeling bloated and uncomfortable than a standard bitter for instance, although admittedly I've never actually measured that, so the reader would be best advised to take my assertions with a large pinch of salt.

I entered into a debate on twitter earlier this day. I believe there were several contributors to the debate and although we probably reached a satisfactory conclusion, it is perhaps a shame that by the nature of twitter it is fast to be lost into some unreachable archive very rapidly indeed. So, I'm going to poke that one back into life again in the hope that the contributors might post some comments here, and finally help to put this one to rest.

Of course everyone is different. Everybody has different preferences in their tastes. For me I like to try something different, something that challenges my perceptions, perhaps I just get bored easily. What ever the reason I do often despair when people talk about the drinkability of a beer. It would seem some want to defend a boring bland beer because it has drinkability and moreover this is a facet of a beer often overlooked, or so we are told. I'll have to confess I normally switch off as soon as a writer decides to give a beer that accolade. To me it immediately tells me the person is trying to defend a beer that is actually boring and unimaginative. A beer that in fact I'd drink if I had to, but I'd find so boring that I wouldn't drink more if I could find an excuse.

But then the crowd on twitter got me thinking. What is drinkable for me? Sure, there are some eminently drinkable session beers. My own Light Cascade at 3.4% might just hit the bill, although I find it a little bit thin and watery to be honest. But it has been accused of being drinkable. How could I argue with that? But I do get disinterested if all I have is 4%, or there about beers. For me drinkability is about satisfaction and enjoyment. I could go down the supermarket and get a few cans of lout, for goodness sake, if I wanted drinkability. If I wanted to do my internal organs in that fast, with binge style consumption, then why bother looking for interesting beer?

I've just bottled my most recent and strongest ever beers. One is a stout that has been in a second hand oak cask. I'm not entirely sure what was in the cask before I put beer in it, but its come out tasting a lot like a good Islay whisky. If I knew it had a good islay whisky in it then there could be all sorts of trouble due to some such process called grogging. I didn't think it mattered, so apologies to Zak Avery because I didn't believe him and thanks to John Keeling for shattering my illusion.

I'm not sure how to deal with this small problem as it seems HMRC tie themselves in knots if you try to be honest about the fact. However, a hypothetical beer that was made in such a way would possibly taste really nice. I believe my ÆtherBlæc has a flavour similar to a beer that would have spent 4 and a half months in a Caol Ila cask.

The Barley Wine, called Granite, I'm also pleased with. I find both beers eminently drinkable, although I suspect many other people wouldn't. Still, I also like Paradox, Tokyo* and Tactical Nuclear Penguin. I've got another beer, with an unmentionable name, on it's way. I expect some drinking to occur on Friday when Andy is here. We will probably find many of these beers drinkable. There really is no accounting for taste.

And would you believe it, whilst going over to Andy's site to copy and paste the URL, there is another post on the subject. I do hope he brings a spare liver when he visits me, apparently he can't drink barley wine all night, light weight.

15 comments:

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

First of all, you took my blog topic.

Secondly, whaddya mean you can't pump wort into a fresh whisky/maderia/wine/bourbon barrel and extract the goodness inherent?

StringersBeer said...

I am NOT a lawyer, but "grogging" seems to refer to something done for the "purpose of extracting any spirits".

Whereas Notice 226 seems to cover the case of flavouring carriers, where
the spirits added to the product and which form a part of the finished product, are of such a token amount as to make them completely insignificant (that is, the spirits added to the beer are of such a small quantity, they do not lead to a recognizable increase in the alcoholic strength of the beer).

If you're concerned you should deffo speak to the nice people at HMRC

Back to session beers. Drinkability is the minimum I'd expect from any beer. It's simply not there in some generally highly regarded beers. And of course some are just jokes.

I had a lovely pint of [...] porter the other day. At least I thought it was lovely at first. Rich roasty, great body, slightly sweet with balancing bitterness. You know. About half way down the glass, it began to pall. Another mouthful and I'd had enough. Session beers are really hard to do well.

In about 15 minutes I'd gone from "I wish I'd made this" back to "They should have tried drinking some of this, rather than just tasting it."

StringersBeer said...

P.S. nice looking bottles Dave. Have you asked you friendly neighbourhood Trading Standards Officer to look over your labels? The one who called in on us gave us lots of "helpful advice".

John Clarke said...

Umm - why are you apparently happy to make and sell a beer that you cosnider the be "thin and watery"?

ZakAvery said...

Drinkability is a fascinating topic. Aside from factors inherent to the beer itself, factors such as temperature and carbonation must also play a part. What a minefield!

Re: barrel-ageing vs grogging: Although HMRC deny it,there is huge local and regional variation in how the rules are applied.

The big problem is that it is almost impossible to put a beer in a whisky cask and not end up with an increase of 2-3%abv. And it's a tough argument to make that you're not interested in the whisky character. I guess you could grog the cask first and then use it for ageing, that would massively reduce the residual spirit in the wood.

BeerReviewsAndy said...

Cheers dave, first time I've been called a lightweight, I better cancel the coast to coast training and start training for my visit...obviously in a responsible manner

Tandleman said...

Since I'm off to the pub soon, I'll just make one observation for now about meaning. I think you are mixing up your idea of what drinkability in a beer is, with what most beer drinkers would perceive as the meaning. Most drinkers mean you could drink a lot of it, you seem to imply it is an blandness thing.

It is difficult to separate "drinkable" and "drinkability" in this context, as both likely mean the same. "This beer is very drinkable" and "this beer has great drinkability" are in effect the same.

Neither means "drinkable" in its meaning of "able to be drunk" or "potable" as such. It means to most, I submit, that you could could drink a lot of it, though there could be a minority argument (yours?) that it means enjoyable to the individual and therefore "drinkability can apply to a beer that you can drink only a little of due to strength etc. I'd say this is a minority view.

I rather think as a final point, that your assertion that a beer has drinkability means it is bland, is based on a misconception, as is an implication that it means a beer is flavourless and boring.

It is admittedly difficult to define, but being able to drink a fair bit of it is surely at the root of its meaning, at least in the majority view and in the case of its most common usage.

StringersBeer said...

Of course, if you're worried about "grogging", you could use chips. Soak them in your favourite malt to extract their woody goodness if you like. If you can show the Excise that the quantity of spirits is insignificantly small (probably not more than a few hundred ml per barrel?) you'd be laughing. Or suggest that customers tip in a dram?

Customer [indicates freshly drawn pint]: Barman, could you fit a whisky in there for me?
Barman: Certainly sir.
Customer: Then why didn't you fill it up with beer?

Tyson said...

I have to agree with Tandleman as to the meaning of "drinkability". In fact, I was somewhat surprised to hear your concept of it, as that use would have never crossed my mind. As there was a bit on Twitter about it yesterday, I mentioned it to a few drinkers and they confirmed my thinking.

I also think Mr J.C has a point. You're not doing yorself any favours by describing one of your beers as "thin and watery". Back to the marketing table:)

Brian, follower of Deornoth said...

As the estimable Gilbert Keith Chesterton put it, "when a man has walked a long way on a hot day, he will discover what beer is for". I hope to do that on my way to your establishment come the spring, and hope you will perhaps have something 'thin and watery' on.

That way I can wash the dust off before getting started on the beers you've been grogging over the winter.

[Grogging - WTF? Haven't these people anything better to worry about?]

Woolpack Dave said...

An interesting collection of thoughts. It seems, of course, to come down to personal preference. There are extremes and I'm reasonably happy to accept I'm at one extreme.

To defend my original post, I feel there are beers that are bland and apathetic that are defended by the fact that they are highly drinkable. Once such drink I hear is a perfect balance of flavour and refreshment. The fact that these highly drinkable beers sell huge volumes must mean I'm wrong and simply have an extreme view.

Equally, it worries me when the main quality of a beer results in the ability to consume huge volumes. Something feels wrong about that. Beer, or indeed any alcoholic beverage deserves enjoyment and savouring. Sure, you should be able to enjoy several serves of the beverage, but perhaps necking at great rate of knots is not what we should be about.

Unless you are hot and dusty on a sunny day.

Still, if that sounds a little too high handed then I'll have to say that the way most of the commentaries put it here have it about right. So I should just shut up.

The thin and watery was really a reference to comments about other beers I actually quite like being described as such, even though I understand why such comments are made. I was hoping somebody who has drunk the said beer was going to jump in and defended it.

Why do I make it? Because it's highly drinkable and people like it. Unfortunately, on my little brewery, making lots of session beer is not cost effective. Making stronger beers is. Hence I'd rather promote somebody else's session beer and promote my range of stronger beers.

Crown Brewer Stu said...

I think "drinkability" is measured by how much you want to drink another one. I found Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale to be very drinkable along with there Torpedo IPA & Orval(as soon as I've swallowed I want more)(oh er matron). these are just the beers that spring to mind now, I have also had experiences with session beers at 3.5% - 4.4% that I've wanted to drink and drink and drink and some I've found to be hard work and not had another. I sometimes find the same beer not as drinkable one day as I did the day before, I actually find this to be the case with my own Traditional bitter, it depends on mood and what I've already drank/eaten had already.

"Drinkability is the minimum I'd expect from any beer. It's simply not there in some generally highly regarded beers. And of course some are just jokes.

I had a lovely pint of [...] porter the other day. At least I thought it was lovely at first. Rich roasty, great body, slightly sweet with balancing bitterness. You know. About half way down the glass, it began to pall. Another mouthful and I'd had enough. Session beers are really hard to do well.

In about 15 minutes I'd gone from "I wish I'd made this" back to "They should have tried drinking some of this, rather than just tasting it." "
Stringerbeers, you hit the nail on the head there for me I've had the same experience!

I believe the only true way to keep HMRC happy is to use a barrel that has been taken apart dried out and put back together. you still get all the flavor but no extra alcohol. I'm told coopers in Scotland offer this service.

Dave, you can think your own beer is watery and thin as long as enough people like it and drink loads of it!

Tandleman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tandleman said...

"Equally, it worries me when the main quality of a beer results in the ability to consume huge volumes. Something feels wrong about that. Beer, or indeed any alcoholic beverage deserves enjoyment and savouring."

Dave, what worries you has nothing to do with the common definition of drinkability. What you say doesn't address your own question. Not that it isn't valid, just not relevant in context.

Cooking Lager said...

Drinkability is a simple concept. When you take a swig of lout you think "ummm lovely lout" because it is drinkable. When you drink a pint of pong and you gag and think "urgh, get out of my mouth" thats undrinkable.