Beer Writing Made Easy

As I labor to put Astoria to (digital) ink, I see that Bill from It's Pub Night has made my job a lot easier. Or rather, put a spotlight on an issue beer bloggers and writers suffer every time they sit down to describe a beer.

In one of the more clever posts I've seen in recent memory, he's put together a little engine that spits out generic descriptions of beer you could apply without modification to just about any beer. One example:
Pours a translucent dark chocolate color with a thin head. A tiny bit of lacing. Beautiful tart aroma, with overtones of grapefruit and lilac. Intense hoppy taste, with notes of apple and circus peanut. Thick and chewy mouthfeel and dry finish. Score: 4.15/5.
He has really gone to some effort to create some nicely satirical language, and the point is made. So many beer reviews say a lot but tell you nothing. (I particularly like that some of his parameters don't require you to choose whether the beer is good or bad, or even what style it is. It's true: sometimes you read a review festooned with adjectives and you have no idea whether they're intended to praise or excoriate the beer.)

But also: pity the poor reviewer. The bell-curve reality of beers dictates that most are average. They are indistinct. They have generic qualities of malt and hop. These are the worst beers to have to describe, but, proud reviewer that you are, you give it a shot. Pretty soon you're inventing adjectives ("hint of old cloves," "musty maple leaf") to try to inject a bit of pizazz into your description. Even very good beers may not offer you a lot to hang your hat on; what distinguishes them is not their distinct elements, but a totally vague quality of harmony produced when all those elements come together. How do you describe that?

I miss the mark more often than I hit it, but this post reminds me of a directive I try to use when writing about beer. Don't write to impress, write to communicate. How would I tell a friend about a beer so that she would get what I was trying to say? It's useful to include adjectives, but they should reveal the beer, not conceal the reviewer's inability to describe it. When I was drinking an Old Peculier, I held it up to the light to get a good look (knowing I'd have to somehow have to describe it later), and my friend Shawn said, "it looks like iced tea." Perfect. "Mahogany" doesn't tell you anything, but iced tea instantly brings to mind an image we can all relate to.

Another element often overlooked is to give some sense of the experience of the beer. Indians have a philosophy of art in which every artistic expression can be categorized by the emotional mood ("rasa") it delivers. This is perhaps an unnecessary idiosyncracy of mine, but I strongly relate to the experience of the beer, not just its characteristics. I drink beer to accommodate or augment a mood. I don't identify this quality in every beer, but the very good ones seem to suggest a rasa.

But anyway, enough of my babbling. Go check out Bill's post--it's a must read.