Thursday, 22 May 2008

I didn't bother listening to your argument

Apologies for bothering you more with this. What am I saying? No apologies. I don't apologise!

RateBeer. Wankers. German Ale. You know what I mean.

There was one bloke who got particularly unpleasant and nasty. I had a suspicion that he hadn't been listening to what my argument was, so I asked him this : what did you think the point was I was trying to make?

This is his reply to my mail:

"If I had to reduce your initial posts to a single argument, then I’d say you argued that kolsch was categorically a lager beer. In terms of modern codefied brewing science, this is technically different from saying it’s a lagered beer."

Right. I'd actually been arguing that calling all top-fermented beer Ale wasn't a great idea. He obviously wasn't listening.

His arguments follow. I'll make a couple of observations first :

  • he doesn't seem to have bothered to understand what I was trying to say
  • he uses the swamp-your-opponent-with-technical-detail that you hope he doesn't understand approach. That's it's all irrelevant to the argument that I was proposing seems to have passed him by.
  • when all else fails he resorts to insults

" Wow. This has got to be one of the biggest collections of misinformation I’ve seen in a while regarding Kolsch.

Let me start by stating the following:

Saccharomyces cerevisiae = ale yeast, which is top fermenting.
Saccharomyces pastorianus (aka s. carlbergensis) = lager yeast, which is bottom fermenting.

These are two separate subspecies of yeast and are discrete biological designations. Ale yeasts can ferment cold, but usually perform best warm, about 65-70 deg F on average. On the same note, lager yeasts can ferment warm, but usually perform best at 50-55 deg F on average.

The term lager can be taken to mean the beer was fermented with a lager yeast strain, but in the more general sense, it means the beer went through an extended period of cold conditioning before being served. This period can be from several weeks to several months and varies depending on the style and the brewers preferences.

Kolsch, like altbier is traditionally fermented with an ale strain (s. cerevisiae), but often at lower temps for an ale (60-62 deg F). This reduces the production of esters by the yeast, which is why kolsch usually has just a subtle fruitiness. The long period of cold conditioning post fermentation (lagering) gives the yeast time to settle out and reabsorb may by products of fermentation, leading to a clean flavor profile.

I have been a brewer for over 10 years and kolsch is a style I am very familiar with. The kolsch ale yeasts that are available to most brewers in the US from both White Labs and Wyeast are ALE yeasts. And all the professional kolsch brewers I’ve spoken to from Cologne refer to their house yeast strains as ale strains.

In the colloquial sense, kolsch (and altbier and steam beer) are often referred to as "hybrid" beers because they are fermented outside the typical temperature range for the yeasts used.

There were so many off-base ignorant post in this thread that the world’s supply of kolsch would run out in the time it’d take to address them all. Have any of you bothered to read the BJCP, AHA, GABF, or WBC guidelines for kolsch? Have any of you read "Principles of Brewing Science" by George Fix, Ph.D? Many of the issues that have been brought up in this thread aren’t really debatable - they’re clearly defined scientific/biological terms. If you think otherwise, you might as well start calling it the "theory of gravity.""

"So let me summarize: kolsches use ale yeasts and are fermented on the cooler end of what the yeast will readily tolerate. This leads to reduced ester formation during fermentation, which results in a beer with a mild fruitiness. It is then lagered (cold conditioned) for an extended period (a few weeks to a few months). This allows the yeast time to reabsorb many biproducts of fermentation, adding additional "flavor clarity" to the beer."

"Yes, the top fermenting vs. bottom fermenting thing can be misleading if you don’t have a full understanding of how yeast(s) perform during fermentation. In reality, when yeast are fermenting, they are in suspension, evenly distributed throughout the wort.

When yeast are done fermenting, they all eventually settle out of suspension to the bottom of the fermentation vessel, regardless of whether they’re ale or lager strains. Some yeast strains are quicker to do this than others. But before this settling occurs, ale yeasts generally flocculate at the upper surface of the beer, whereas lager yeasts tend to flocculate in the lower levels in the fermentation vessel. Even with ales, after the yeast flocculates, these dense clumps will settle out of suspension to the bottom of the fermentation vessel.

Grain bills have nothing to do with whether a beer is categorically and ale or lager, neither do serving temperatures. It’s irrelevant how MJ might have colloquially used the term "ale." Scientifically it has a specific meaning. I thought my argument on this was clear.

Are you a brewer?"
Great insult at the end there to one of the best beer writers.
"Apologies? A challenge to "conventional" thinking? C’mon, there’s no contrition in this statement. Only more condescension. You’ve made a lot of bold claims in your posts that would purport a technical understanding of beer and brewing science, but are in fact way off base.

A few examples:

1) "Kölsch is top-fermented, but it isn’t an ale because it’s a German beer."

- So a beer can’t be an ale if it’s of German origin. Wow. Do you want me to tell you about the rabbits? WTF are hefes, roggenbiers, and weizenbock, to name a few?

2) "Not even all British top-fermenting styles are ales"

- Thanks for the hot tip. I never would have guessed that Harp Lager was actually a lager.

3) "And exactly what is an Ale? Just any top-fermenting beer? That’s a very Anglo-centric view. "

- WTF are you talking about here? You just wanted to say "Anglo-centric," which by the way is not hyphenated. Your use of the term is nauseating.

4) "Saaccharomyces Cerevisiae does not = Ale yeast."

- Try telling that to a biologist. S. Cerevisiae is necessarily an ale yeast. This is a specific scientific appellation that is not subject to debate.

5) "I’m such an ignorant twat. "

- I wholeheartedly agree.

6) "Why bother reading original source material when modern American homebrewers know so much better."

- I’d be willing to be there are a lot of accomplished homebrewers who do know better.

7) "Yeah, I really need to educate myself. "

- Yes - on how to get laid.

It never helps when people are full of boastful arrogant crap, especially when it has no technical merit. Better "check yo-self before you wreck yo-self.""

Total wanker.


Detchon said...

personally i don't trust anyone who argues about a subject but cannot even be bothered to spell that subject correctly. Every time I read 'Kolsch' it sends me into a vague rage which makes me unable to take any of the arguments seriously......

Stephen Beaumont said...


I must first confess that I couldn't be bothered to read all of your antagonist's argument -- only so many hours in the day and all that. But the reality is that, said antagonist's verbosity aside, there exists a massive chasm between how Europeans, or more specifically, continental Europeans, view style and the way North Americans do. Most NA'ers, including pretty much all homebrewers, advocates and ratebeerians, have a set of style standards set by the BA, the BJCP and, before all of them, albeit unwittingly, Michael Jackson, which they just can't get beyond. This plus the sense of cultural dominance in all things that many Americans feel, brings us to your "debate."

I admire your arguments and respect your views, but at the same time, as a beer educator, I confess that I espouse the conventional North American text. (Don't hate me; I talk only that way to newbies.) I've been wrestling with the European view for some time, struggling to come up with some set of style distinctions that encompass both (all?) views, but to date I have failed. It's a tough nut and one I have yet to crack.

Truth be told, your writings, as entertaining as they may be, are bloody awkward for those of us preaching the beer gospel to wait staff, bartenders and restaurant managers, since you rather inconveniently turn much conventional thinking on its head and do so with frustrating conviction. Fortunately, koelsch is such a minor style in these parts, and altbier even more so, that I am able to skirt this particular issue in most instances. Still, the question dogs me: "For how long, Stephen, for how frickin' long!?"

Mark Andersen said...

This was my personal favorite comment:

"- Thanks for the hot tip. I never would have guessed that Harp Lager was actually a lager."

It would be sad if it weren't so funny.

Lew Bryson said...

Years ago, I said that homebrewers, far from being the magic spark of cretivity and good things that they are so often credited with being, are the albatross hanging about the neck of American craft-brewing. I mean that in the most Coleridgian of ways: they were the luck and the lead of craft brewing, but now they drag it down with this obsessive attitude about style categories and prizes and numbers, always with the frickin' numbers!

Years ago, I said that, and said it was time to sever the ties, and said that it was time to re-write history and the present day. I was told to shut up.

Piss on it. Multiplying style categories are throttling creativity, not encouraging it. This whole mindset is a blockage and keeps outsiders away.

impymalting said...

I confess I skimmed the quoted argument, but in my experience this pedantic hostility is this guy's thing, and not something indicative of American homebrewers. At least the circles I know have a healthy humility for European brewing tradition, but aren't afraid to mix things up and be flexible and even playful in their take on beer. (I can honestly say also in a larger sense that I have no American friends or acquaintances who feel they are culturally dominant to the rest of the world-- it is, heartbreakingly under the current administration, quite the opposite.)

Mike said...

While I agree with Lew's comments, the problem seems to be two-fold: 1. home-brewing (and professional?) in the US has become a competitive contest and 2. the competition is not who makes a good beer, it is who makes a beer that meets a (oftentimes) fictious "style guide."

The emphasis is on the brewer, rather than the drinker and the goal of the competition is not to produce good beer.

This can give (home)brewers the false impression that they are "stars." The immature people who use sites like ratebeer, beeradvocate or imdb, take this all (including themselves) too seriously and the result is the immature, bad behaviour Ron describes.

Forget styles, just make good beer.

Sid Boggle said...

Lew make a very point.

I see your protagonist references GABF as a guide to style definition. That sums up quite a lot of the mindset in American brewing, I think.

If there's a lazier body in the beer world, I'd like to be introduced. What was it at last count? 270 medals across 90 styles? Absurd, and they keep adding 'em. When the institutions become party to this style inflation, then there's a credibility problem on the way.

-- Anglo-centric Boggle

Tom W said...

I don't see any real chance of severing the ties between craft brewing and homebrewing as long as you-know-who is heading up the Brewers Association. I think you're right, though. It makes little sense to me for the AHA and the BA to be under the same umbrella.

I'm a relatively new homebrewer, but a long-time craft beer drinker. I see a number of different perspectives from homebrewers, and a lot of it comes from the reasons that people are brewing. Since the original reason to homebrew - to be able to drink something that wasn't BMC - no longer applies, people have found different reasons to continue the hobby.

I'm always shocked to see people who are obviously savvy enough to post a message to an internet discussion forum, but appear to have no idea how to use the internet to discover anything on their own. I think these people are harmless to anyone but those who drink their beers. A lot of these people are looking for a source of cheap beer.

Then there's the "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" brigade. The ones who don't know how little they know. They think they've gotten enough information from the internet and a few homebrewing books to be able to hold forth on how Things Should be Done.

The next step up are the True Believers. They have absorbed the canon of Western Homebrewing Literature and they wield their holy books to smite beers that come before them. BJCP! GABF! To style, my brothers, to style!

I think these last two are the people who use numbers as a weapon when talking about beers and brewers: "The IBUs are all wrong for an ESB." "Original Gravity is far too high." "Oh my! Diacetyl! Terrible flaw." I think these people are the albatrosses who do more harm than good. They've hooked onto the competitive and analytical sides of homebrewing as a reason to keep going.

I think there are a lot of homebrewers who are just interested in making something good; that brew because it feeds their creative or engineering side. If they talk about numbers it's because they want to know more about the process and how that could help them. A lot of them know that knowledge of a subject can never be captured in its entirety, that there's always more to learn. These people enjoy beer and brewing. I think there are more of these type of homebrewer than we think, because they are less vocal than their pedantic brethren.

I think you can tell the difference by their attitude when talking to a professional brewer. If they go in and immediately start giving criticism and advice, then they are most likely a homebrew twat. If they go in and start asking how they do things and take the opportunity to learn, then they are most likely not.

At least that's the way I see it, but I'm as full of shit as anyone. But as a Brit living in North America, I know well enough not to get into a debate about German beers.

Matt said...

“check yo-self before you wreck yo-self."

Although I always enjoyed Ron’s rants against BJCP guidelines I always thought they were a bit over the top as I viewed the BJPC as ballparks and a convenient short hand to describe beers and what one was drinking. I must admit that early on I also thought they were based on brewing history. I would have thought the same about the Kolsch debate if it wasn’t for the fact that people completely ignored Ron’s point regarding calling a top fermented German beer an ale being a bad idea and how we would be better served by letting German’s define “their” styles rather than doing it for them from across the Atlantic. The refusal to recognize the issue is astounding. The venom against a different way of looking at the style (never mind the apparently more accurate way from the German view) was simply shocking.

It seems a pretty humble and simple concept if you truly want to create style guidelines that match the names your assigning to styles then go to the original sources in their home country. If not then name it style 11 or whatever.

In short Ron’s rants on BJCP become clearer now that I see the BJCP pronoucements are not used as guidelines but as commandments - a big difference.

A couple of my favorites:

In terms of modern codefied brewing science

"Not even all British top-fermenting styles are ales"

- Thanks for the hot tip. I never would have guessed that Harp Lager was actually a lager.

Finally where is the outrage about the misclassification of all these so called ales that are infected with the noxious hop weed!

Baums said...

Would it be much different if the word "fanny" were at issue?

"I say it's the back!"
"I say it's the front!"
"My father went to Harvard Medical School, and he says it's the back"
"It certainly wasn't the back in 1904--check out this limerick I found scrawled in the margin of the Barclay Perkins ledger:
A Liverpool man was uncanny..."
"Well, it means the back now. Hugh Hefner says so."
"What about Chaucer? You're going to take Hugh Hefner's word over Geoffrey Chaucer's?"
"Who's Chaucer? Whatever. Twat."

Kristen England said...

I hate all the bullocks that go with these type of people. Preaching about stuff they have never read for themselves. Ron and I had a really good conversation about what beers actually tasted like in the mid-late 1800's. Ive read numerous treatises, brewing journals, etc and never once are the beers described as being 'dark' or 'stinky/sour'. What I first and foremost recognize is the fact that they preach sanitation over and over and OVER to keep from getting 'sick ferments.' Its funny to read in a lot of newer brewing rags about how bad the beers were and how great we are today. Seems ever generation thinks they are the end all.

As for the styles, BJCP/GBBF/whatever, they very much need to be taken with a grain of salt. The biggest problem is that people don't want to learn for themselves. They want to be told what to know and memorize it. If its written on the internets it MUST be true. If you are going to have a 'style' based on history, it damn well better be right. Its something completely different to 'make up' a style. The US craft brewers love doing that. I just judged a competition with two of them. I really like an American pale ale that had about 40IBU and had a wonderful aroma. They said, 'Needs more hops.' I said it was wonderful and featured a great citrus nose without being overpowering. They they said, 'It doesnt taste anything like a West Coast pale ale!' I almost say STFU. West Coast Pale ale apparently = a pale ale that some mook chucks a ton of hops into. WTFever...

I have a good Irish friend that was actually trained as a brewer, brewed a Guinness and now brewers professionally in the US. We've had numerous talks about the 'twatitude' of these people. Needs more hops and more alcohol. Wait wait, now its a Northern West Coast Reddish Brown IPA. Holy Im all antsy.

Luckily a brew pub in town has a very nice which I am on my 3rd pint. Must pee (repeat ad nausium)

Anonymous said...

I don't understand the argument. You're saying that because it tastes like a lager, it's a lager? Or because it uses ale yeast, it's an ale?

I don't see the problem with having things divided into ale and lager, based on the type of yeast used. It's as good a classification as any, arbitrary as they all may be.

Ron Pattinson said...

Thanks for all your replies. I had started to wonder it really was me who was crazy.

Stephen, I worry that the North American way of defining styles will spread over to Europe. That's the main reason I try to provide an alternate view. I'm not trying to make life difficult for people like you. That's just a happy side effect. :-)

Lew, I'm beginning to come to the same view. It's a real shame that there's so much dogmatism and obsession with competition in homebrewing circles. I think you're a brave man to have suggested what you did. There's a scarily large group of people whose only response to a view differing from their own is hatred and vitriol. I can only face these discussions once or twice a year. Any more often and I start losing the will to live . . .

Sid Boggle, it seems that creating ever more styles - and with them more medals - may well suit some brewers, but I can't see what Joe Drinker gets out of it. When will they stop adding new styles? When there are 300? A 1,000? In another discussion someone quoted the number of new styles and the length of the BJCP and BA style guidelines as evidence of progress.

Matt, it was quite disturbing how everyone just ignored the points I was making abd argued about something completely different. One thing I've learned is that you had better have a pretty good reason for ignoring the way brewers and drinkers in another country describe and define their beers. That's why if you look in my brewery guides, I usually give a brief description of styles as they are perceived in that country. It's a matter of respect, really. I wish the style nazis could learn a little humility. All the "authorities" that were quoted back at me were English language. Not a single German one. Very sad.

baums, lovely analogy. Thanks very much for that.

Kristen, it's not only that people don't want to learn for themselves, it's that they refuse to accept evidence that contradicts their "belief". It's like some sort of religious sect. They have their sacred texts which cannot be questioned. And then I get accused of spreading "misinformation". Scary. I'm glad that I've managed to get some support for my views. For a while it seemed like it was just me against everyone else.

anonymous, I hope that you're joking. I really do. I did summarise my argument at the start of the post.

Lew Bryson said...

Tom W sez: "I think you can tell the difference by their attitude when talking to a professional brewer. If they go in and immediately start giving criticism and advice, then they are most likely a homebrew twat. If they go in and start asking how they do things and take the opportunity to learn, then they are most likely not."

Brilliant quick test, and wholly accurate, from my experience.

beowulf6561 said...

Hello Ron, discovered your blog a few months ago while researching historical German styles. I always appreciate your diligence in researching original sources, and in uncharacteristic fashion compared to other fora on the internet, the comment section is value additive.

A craft beer newbie friend of mine has asked me to do a few "beer style school" tastings with her to help her learn more about beer and to navigate the dizzying array of beers available here in the US. This discussion in the comments section has given me a lot of food for thought. I appreciate everything you and your followers post.