Tasting notes are boring

It might seem odd for a beer sommelier to write this, but I am growing increasingly bored of reading tasting notes about beer, or worse yet watching people deliver them live on video, stopping to slurp and chew their way to the next adjective. Perhaps that’s why I haven’t posted any on this blog for over a year now. (You noticed that, right? Of course you did.)

So many beer reviews I see online are not at all useful. They deliver little about how it really feels to drink the beer, but rely instead on a laundry list of fruity comparisons, concentrating with a grim inevitability on the hop flavours and little else.

Just because you can pick out flavours — well done, by the way, for recognising guava in your NEIPA — it doesn’t mean that someone else reading your notes while drinking the same beer will.

It could be they won’t taste that flavour at all. Or maybe they’ll pick it up and make a different association. Not guava but papaya, perhaps. So who’s to say, in that case, who is right and who is wrong? And what use was it to the drinker to know that you tasted guava?

(I think some of this stems from the same frustration that led me to stop using Untappd.)

It doesn’t help that a lot of the reviews I come across all seem to be for yet another in the endless procession of hazy fruit-forward beers that passes for beer culture these days, but that’s a rant to save for another day.

Tasting notes still have their place, but they’re much better when the writer works harder. Here’s a recent example from Adrien Tierney-Jones writing in Pellicle Magazine about Pivovar Kutná Hora’s Zlatá 12˚ pale lager. He invites us to tumble acrobatically into the glass with the following description:

It is golden in its ambition, gleaming in the glass, a smile from the Czech lands, a reflection of the way that beer inhabits every warp and waft of the country’s fabric, part of its nature, its soul and the way the world is interpreted. The aromatics rising from the glass merge Moravian malt sweetness with Saaz hop spice, an earthy herbal note redolent of the fertile lands in its northern Bohemia home.

Let’s take a gulp, for this is the kind of beer that we drink with the heedless greed of a thirsty traveller. There’s that assertive spiciness again, a light daub of citrus and an elegant sweetness—the lamb of the malt lying down with the lion of the hop. A crisp dryness alongside a winsome bittersweetness serenades the finish. Your glass will be empty very swiftly.

Yes, it deals with some concrete flavours and sensations: spicy hops, sweet malt, crisp dryness. But — to me, at any rate — this speaks more about how the beer makes you feel, about what it’s like to drink the stuff. There is no procession of nouns masquerading as adjectives, no reduction to ‘juicy banger’ or ‘crispy boi’. Instead there is an emotional response. It is evocative. It is immediate. It is enticing. It makes me want to drink some Zlatá 12˚ right away. And that’s the point, isn’t it?

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