Yesterday I touched upon my theory of beer politics. I'll expand upon it today and demonstrate why Leon is your man.
Let's start with an existential question. What is a beer style?
I see it as a consensus between brewer and drinker, a shorthand to describe the essential features of a beer and its relative alcoholic strength. Neither absolute nor immutable, a beer style is in constant flux. At least it should be.
"Give us some examples you loud-mouthed git." OK, I will.
Porter is the perfect test case having the widest distribution (combining both time and geography) of any style. How do we define Porter? Let's start at the beginning.
The first Porter for which we have hard evidence (from Richardson's early experiments with the hydrometer in the 1770's) had an OG of 1071 and was brewed from 100% brown malt. What happened over the next 150 years? I'm glad you asked that. The figures are at my fingertips.
I said that I had the numbers at my fingertips. Not quite all of them. I got confused in the archive over Barclay Perkins "new brewery" documents and consequently have a few decades missing. Next month. Mikey says he'll drive me to London next month. The gaping chasm of 1862 to 1937 will be filled then. (The numbers above are all for Barclay Perkins - who else? - except for 1770.)
Note how the malt bill wanders all over the place. And the hopping rate. Which one is authentic? I plump for 1856. An entry for my Homebrew Challenge matched the 1856 Porter and Imperial Brown Stout. I've tasted two recreations of the 1856 Imperial Brown Stout in the last year. Both were outstanding. Has beer ever been better?
Beer styles, living in the real, unstable and sometimes volatile world, need to adapt to survive. The 19th century is characterised by a rapid change in the ingredients used, especially malt. In the 20th century, strength varied enormously. (I'm talking only of the UK here. Elsewhere, the story differs.)
I've been accused to being a traditionalist because of my opposition to the gulags set up by the BJCP and their like. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Stalinist precision of their style guidelines - like a five-year plan deciding the number of toothbrushes to be produced - stifle natural evolution. That's why I despise them.
Permanent revolution - as Trotsky advocated - is far more applicable. Beer styles change because society, legislation and economic circumstances change. I haven't even started on the effect of geography.
Compiling an all-inclusive, detailed set of style guidelines is a Stalinist fantasy. Every time a brewer successfully jumps over the wire, a new style is born. Pursue that path and you end up with hundreds of beer styles. In 2006 the GABF had 69 categories. Who wants to bet when they will hit 100? Will they stop then? I doubt it.
So what are you - a beer Stalinist or Trotskyist?
I vote for the beard.
Tomorrow I'll explain how Mao fits in.
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