Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Simple Math

While I disagree with the core of his argument--that the quality of beer should be judged by its "gulpability"--Rick Ball (a mathematics professor in Denver) makes a compelling case for the virtues of a well-made lager:

A good beer cannot be sickly sweet, and it also can't be overwhelmingly bitter. That's what I have against a lot of microbrews. You can't gulp them down all at once. Frankly, I think microbrewed ales have been promoted and become popular mainly because they are easier to make. Ale yeasts also are more finicky—they don't digest all of the sugars, so they leave all these sugary notes hanging around in the final product. The flavor of an ale tends to be very complicated, while a lager is cleaner and more dry. It's easy to get bedazzled by the spectacle of a busy, full flavor. There's a lot going on. But there is greater virtue in simplicity. You can make a mediocre ale and no one will notice; with a lager, there is nowhere to hide.

Personally, I prefer the more complicated flavor that ales provide. However, the great thing about beer is that you don't have to choose one or the other. As much as I enjoy a well-hopped ale, I also appreciate the crisp, clean flavor of a quality lager such as Pilsner Urquel. You can have your ale and your lager too.

And I do think that there is some merit in Ball's criticism of certain microbreweries for their tendency to always equate more flavor with a better beer. Again, I love a hoppy, bitter beer, but I also want it to be balanced and well-rounded (which I think the best craft beers--from top-notch brewers like Surly and Bell's--are). There is such a thing as too much and microbrewers would do well to remember not to forget that drinkability is one of a beer's key qualities.