Let me preference this post with a brief disclaimer. The opinions herein are only opinions; beer drinking is subjective, and strict adherence to style guidelines is a choice not a requirement.
Ah, the beer style guidelines. Called guidelines, not rules, for a reason, these beer style descriptions are so often a point of contention amongst brewers and a source of many debates and arguments amongst advocates and connoisseurs of all different self-proclaimed skill levels. What is my opinion on beer style guidelines? Well, I’m glad you asked.
The good: Beer styles in general are very useful, especially as a way to compare beers, discuss beer, or recommend beer when no previous knowledge of said beer exists. For example, when someone asks “What is a French ale?” My answer is “It’s a lot like an American Amber Ale with a little more fruitiness.” Ninety-five percent of the time this answer aids customers’ understanding of an unknown beer style. Style guidelines are also an effective way to preserve the quality and consistency of an historic style (although it can also be used to misrepresent an historic style as well). The main use of style guidelines, though, is to compare similar beers for the purpose of judging, which leads me to the “bad” aspect of guidelines.
The bad: All too often people tend to criticize a beer based on whether it’s accurate to style guidelines not whether it tastes good. Style guidelines were created to help beer judges, not to criticize brewers. When you’re brewing to win awards, the guidelines are the rules; if you’re brewing to satisfy passion and creativity, the guidelines don’t matter
The ugly: Style guidelines represent the past, not the present, and definitely not the future. If a brewer focuses too much on the past, they neglect the present and short-change the future. Do you think Flemish brewers 1000 years ago were trying to brew Oud Bruin and Lambics to meet style guidelines? The answer is no! Without creativity or innovation the Reinheitsgebot would rule, there would be about 90% fewer beers styles, and the whole world would be drinking pale lagers… Oh wait, they already do. The point is, without breaking rules or guidelines things become boring and stagnant. The future of beer is in the present, not the past. We must innovate in order to elevate the character and quality of beer. Which brings us to…
The indifferent: Basically, who gives a shit. Don’t over think it; buy or brew what you love. If the shoe fits, wear it, and if the beer is good, drink it.
a Votre Sante
P.S. The following pictures have nothing to do with the blog post, enjoy.