Saturday, 13 November 2010

De gustibus non est disputandum

Even though we spend an inordinate amount of time talking about good beer, it’s impossible to define it. 

People have tried — the best known rules for making beer are the Bavarian Purity Law, the Reinheitsgebot; and on the other hand, CAMRA’s definition of real ale. And both have the same Achilles heel.

The Reinheitsgebot tells you what you can put in your beer; CAMRA tell you how you can condition and serve it. Neither attempts to determine whether or not the beer tastes any good.

Producers of beer complain that these are inadequate as guarantors of good beer, and of course they are correct. You only have to drink a glass of Beck’s to recognise that you can make crappy beer within the Reinheitsgebot.

But it’s no accident that these ostensible measures of quality are so defined. They’re objective and measurable. Do you put sugar or potatoes in your beer? will get a yes or no answer. As will Is this beer served with extraneous CO2? On the other hand, Does this beer taste nice? depends on the drinker and his or her preferences.

Until this dilemma is solved, which it won’t be, there’s no point adopting new terms that have exactly the same weaknesses as the old ones. Beer is good or not good. That’s it. It’s not objective. Life is hard.


  1. Not a lot to disagree with there. Weaknesses abound. Unless it is broke, don't fix it. Is the reinheisgebot broke? Probably. But maybe not. We just can't say for sure about that, or most things beer wise.

    But it is mostly fun discussing it.

  2. I'm surprised you missed an opportunity to quite Lew Bryson

  3. What should I have quoted him about?

  4. Oh I get it now. GOOD or SHITE!

  5. No argument here, if I like it, it's good. And the same thing goes for everyone, all that stuff about Purity Law, Real Ale, Craft and what have you means absolutely nothing when someone is drinking a beer they don't like.