abominable winter ale
Willamette Week Delves into Beer Reviews, Fails Miserably
It is disheartening that local print publications such as the Willamette Week and the Portland Mercury devote no space to craft beer columns in their home of Beervana. So when I saw WW actually post a real beer review on their website for Logsdon’s Farmhouse Ale, I was excited. However, after reading said guest writer’s “review” and yesterday’s joke of a post on Hopworks Abominable Winter Ale (the A-Bomb), I was nearly irate.
First off, the proliferation of beer blogs and the success they have enjoyed has proved that the public has an interest in reading about craft beer. In light of this, why do these print publications treat the industry like a joke and spend more words talking about PBR? It is practically spitting in our face to see such a pretentious yet uneducated review of craft beer as the one I read on Logsdon’s Farmhouse Ale, which drops lines like:
“…the anachronistic Walloon style’s survival, but Belgophiles rallied and saisons are now on full swole.”
The writer goes to describe Dave Logsdon’s new brewery as “the eponymous label from Full Sail’s original brewer (who is apparently either ignorant or contemptuous of Le Googlez).”
I could not help but feel the writer was consulting his thesaurus on ways to sound intelligent on beer while dancing around the subject of an actual beer review. When he finally does get to talking about the actual beer itself, he can only muster up one and a half sentences, describing it with full on beer-douche level terms:
“the beer pours the muted yellow of a pale daffodil with a big, rocky head. A long farmhand-style swig shows the bright, nipping nose precedes lots of lemon zest and blooming rosiness.”
How many ounces exactly is a “farmhand-style swig”? I wonder if the massive carbonation on this bottle resulted in the writer falling over coughing or at least swallowing a mouthfull of bitter yeast from this heavily bottle-conditioned beer.
Now fast forward to yesterday’s attempt at a winter/holiday ale beer review of Hopworks Abominable Ale, which in my opinion is one of the finest local “winter” brews. It is here that they really prove they have the knowledge of a novice after contending:
“Though winter ale and Christmas ale are fuzzily defined styles, this hop-heavy West Coast pale ale just doesn’t fit, despite the cute cartoon yeti on the label. Winter ales are spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg or the like—stuff you’d find in cookies. “
While I have heard many repeat this misconception that winter beers are all spiced, most of us know it is not so. While Anchor Brewing‘s Our Special Ale is a well-known example of a spiced winter beer that may have single-handedly started this misconception, the vast majority do not have spices. The style of winter or Christmas ale is a fictional one without guidelines. Many of our local favorites and flagships of the season, like Sierra Nevada Celebration, Deschutes Jubelale, and Full Sail’s Wassail and Wreck the Halls do not use spices at all. At best, you could argue that spiced beers belong in their own category, but how can you judge a NW beer against something like an Anchor OSA based only on the level of spicing? The writer defends himself in the comments section, linking to a 2008 BJCP style guideline for Winter Spiced Ales, a category that no longer exists in 2011. Even accepting the 2008 style guidelines, Abominable Ale is clearly not a spiced ale and would not fall in that category. A whole ‘nother post could be written on seasonal beer “styles”, but suffice it to say, I do not believe that seasons dictate styles. Seasonals are created to market beer and nothing more; they have never been actual styles of beer, nor should they be, lest we find ourselves only drinking fucking Shock Top Orange in the summer and Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Spice all fall. God help me if the only kind of beer I can drink during the winter is a fucking spiced ale like Anchor OSA (not that there is anything wrong with that).
The review ends with this line: “Pick a season, HUB, and add the appropriate spices.”
Breaking news to the Willamette Week writer: there is no such thing as appropriate beer spices for a season. Pick a beer writer, WW, one who knows a bit about beer and does not spread misconceptions, adds the appropriate knowledge, and subtracts the wordy pretentiousness.