Friday, 13 June 2008


One of the most effective methods of censorship is to scare writers into avoiding topics you don't want discussed. Not just oppressive governments employ the tactic. It's a favourite of religions and large corporations, too.

This particular form of bullying stifles debate, which is, of course, the idea. There are plenty of organisations that don't want an open discussion of their beliefs, their finances, their actions or their secrets.

Why am I bringing this up in a beer blog? Something happened this week that made me realise I've been bullied into abandoning a full expression of my views. And it's rather disheartening.

I'd wondered why my post "Is Kölsch an Ale?" had suddenly received a couple more comments. They immediately struck me as a little strange, especially as it was apparent that at least one of those commenting hadn't read the related posts. He wouldn't have put in all that technical stuff if he had.

A link to "Is Kölsch an Ale?" had been placed in RBPMail. Someone had then copied my article and posted it as a new thread on BeerAdvocate. Slightly annoying, because there was no reference to me or this blog. (On my request, the inital post quoting the whole article has been replaced by a link to my blog post.)

I'll be honest with you. I haven't read through the whole thread. Depressingly - since my article tried to explain my rationale behind not referring to Kölsch as an Ale - the conversation followed very similar lines to the one on RateBeer. Basically that top-fermenting yeast = Ale yeast, ergo Kölsch is an Ale. Either that or abuse.

The discussion (if you can call it that) was disheartening enough first time around. I can live without a repeat. Head and brick wall situation. Last time it did feel really good when I stopped, but that isn't enough to get me banging again.

It's no wonder that conversations on beer forums are limited to "Watcha drinkin'?", "what's your favorite barrel-aged German Quadrupel?" or "Is XXXXX over-/underrated?". Anyone trying to make a serious point that doesn't agree with current homebrewing orthodoxy is likely to be greeted with a stream of hatred and abuse. At least, that's why I don't bother any more. You need either a very thick skin or to conform. A bit sad, really.

Am I the only one who's been driven away? Maybe I'm just a sensitive soul. Is it inevitable that a small clique of verbal bullies will come to dominate any forum?

In avoiding discussion I'm censoring myself. And, in doing so, helping to reinforce ideas which I beleive to be false by not challenging them. It's a sobering thought.


Unknown said...

Someone posted a very long and well reasoned defense of your position which was dismissed out of hand by internet a-holes.

Kristen England said...

Mooks are mooks anyway you cut it. Some people just like to poo poo stuff b/c its way over their heads.

Also, Ron, it is completely your fault. Thats what you get by bucking the tide. Over the last 3 years Ive done the same with decoction mashing. All these home brew 'experts' says it does nothing. I argue otherwise. Here I am 3 years later having won more homebrewed lager medals than anyone in the country by far. I really don't argue anymore. I just point to my stack of medals and say, 'You look with your eyes, hands off!' ;)

Yeah and that douche talking about pushing German beer culture...that was pretty funny stuff. Its not like saying, 'Wang Xing Chui, Im going to call you Bob from now on.' I guess some things are just to difficult like changing someones name b/c its easier for you to use. Asshats...the lot of them.

Anonymous said...

Although I'm not 100% with you on the "Kölsch in not an ale" argument, I fully relate to your being slightly depressed by the kind of abuse one gets when challenging homebrew dogma. Been there, done it, got the t-shirt, on another site, in another language, on other beery topics, but the patterns are very much the same anyway.
Looks like doubt and uncertainty are something some people just can't stand. Oh well, let them die in ignorance if they wish to. ;o)

Anonymous said...

Well, when either side of this 'argument' believes there actually is an objective "right" or "wrong," you're gonna end up with some head banging, I'm sure.

Historically/Culturally/Linguistically-based definitions suit your needs as an historian.

BJCP definitions serve the needs of competitions (which in turn are sort of about showing process control).

Industry-definitions serve the needs of marketers


Spencer said...

I gotta go with Ethan on this. People make up definitions that "work" in their small world, and trouble comes when they try to apply them to the whole big world.

That said... Before reading your earlier posting, I would have said "of course, Kölsch is an ale -- it's fermented with 'ale' yeast." But you made me think about the cultural context from which that statement was coming. I definitely see your point, and will not be calling Kölsch an ale from here on.

At the risk of being pedantic, I think that it is also true that within the US homebrew community, Kölsch-style beers will continue to be referred to as "hybrid" beers. And that is also correct to that community. Besides, you can't brew a Kölsch unless you're in Köln, so whatever it is that we're brewing here in the US isn't a true Kölsch anyway, right?

I'm off to the American Homebrewer's Association conference in a few days. Maybe I'll try to start some "lively discussion" by insisting that Kölsch style beers are really lagers and not ales. Might be fun. Especially if we've all had a few homebrews to before we begin the "discussion."

Ron Pattinson said...

I should stop whinging.

Kristen England said...


Ill be at the NHC. Im giving a seminar. Come find me and we'll have a pint. If funny when you talk with these people face to face how much they actually listen and back down. Can't be an 'email tough guy' face to face. :)


Yes, stop whinging and start whining (and using spell check). ;)

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of forums are dominated by people who think they're the alpha males and know everything. Doesn't matter on the subject.

The aggravation to me is that most of these supposed homebrew experts would also argue that more info about styles (history, ingredients, methods, etc.) benefits everyone. The problem is that they want to be the experts to disseminate the info and get territorial when someone else posts it, particularly

As a BJCP wanker homebrewer (with a beard and jeans, no less), it really bothers me. I thought the whole idea of the BJCP was to educate people, not to eradicate contrary views. I love your site because I learn things, and I'm aggravated by people who think they know everything because it's in a poorly researched homebrewing text.

This site provides reliable, quality info from respected sources. Please don't self-censor because of a bunch of morons. The rest of here appreciate what you're doing.

castempress said...

You're right. Every online forum eventually becomes dominated by a small group of people who post more than anybody else. Either they have more time or they just love the sound of their own typing.

Anybody who takes the time to put together a cogent argument is immediately swamped by the rest of the crap.

Anonymous said...

But whinging is a lager! From Dortmund!


Anonymous said...

Although no one has mentioned it, I don't know how else to describe these people as other than "style nazis". It's not a phrase I like, but it certainly describes them well. Not coincidentally, it is the same sites (ratebeer and beer advocate) and the bjcp that has given them life and support. It's a real shame these organisation don't really understand beer.

Anonymous said...

um, how is it even conceivable that "the BJCP doesn't understand beer?"

Maybe they have a different understanding than you... but those who write the style guidelines aren't exactly nincompoops, IMO. And yes, obviously I'm a certified beer judge, so I have some bias I suppose.

Also, as the generalized/Goodwin-esque use of "Nazi" bothers you (as it should), you could just label them, I donno... "Style Purists" or something.

Anonymous said...

Ethan, I understand Ron's frustration. He's pointing out that the BJCP classifies beers from an American cultural bias. If that were it, no big deal, but there are a lot of people who cling to the BJCP classifications as if they were set in stone and flawless (and historically accurate). The real frustration is the inability of people to listen to a contrary point of view when it's backed up with historical facts.

I'm a BJCP National judge but I realize that the guidelines aren't perfect. I like getting info that expands my understanding of different beers. A god example is the controversy about Koelsch. Because Americans think of Koelsch as an ale, as opposed to a top fermented lager, most American Koelschs are made as ales and are very different from the real thing. We've imposed our own cultural idea of beer vs ale onto a native German style and then brewed something that doesn't resemble the real thing, because we're relying on our own bias of aht te style is. How is that being a "style purist?" It seems to be a way of creating new, bastard styles that are different from what they were modeled on.

I don't think that everyone at the BJCP is ignorant, but there are a lot of historical and factual inaccuracies in the guidelines and we need to realize that and be open minded to information that contradicts the BJCP. The frustration is when people say "BJCP says it's so" and thinks thats the end all/be all of style.

Ron doesn't claim to know everything about every style of beer (read his post about not really knowing much about Belgian beers), but clearly he's an authority on the history and brewing methods of English beers and continental lagers, among others. Moreover, he presents the source materials to justify his statements. Some of his info (OK a lot of his info) contradicts what the BJCP says, but if we read it with an open mind, we can learn things and become better judges as a result.

Ron Pattinson said...

It's good to be reassured that I'm not wasting my time. I'll continue to sort through the minutiae of brewing techniques, But maybe I'll give beer forums a miss.

Anonymous said...

Ethan, I completely stand by my comment that the three organisation "do not understand beer". And, yes, you being a member of one of these organisations does sound like bias.

Regarding the bjcp: beer should not be defined by style (which is often temporary, not universal and, in the case of the bjcp, often not even correct), but rather by taste and quality. Secondly, by encouraging homebrewers to brew to style guidelines, rather than quality guidelines, they have contributed to an industry mostly concerned with copying foreign beers (the more exotic, the better, apparently) rather than being creative.

I can't comment about the style guidelines for all countries, but for the countries I know, the bjcp guidelines have indeed been made by nincompoops. What else would you call someone who does absolutely no research then publishes guidelines?

Anonymous said...


"He's pointing out that the BJCP classifies beers from an American cultural bias."

Then I'd argue more people from other countries should get involved in the organization; I believe they are welcome, right? As I wrote elsewhere, it's not really a cabal out to Americanize the world of beer. If it is American-centric, it is not inherently so.

"there are a lot of people who cling to the BJCP classifications as if they were set in stone and flawless (and historically accurate)."

That's the fault of the people, not the guidelines; the BJCP certainly doesn't make that claim.

"there are a lot of historical and factual inaccuracies in the guidelines"

It is a work in progress; it will perpetually be so, if it's at all useful- like a dictionary. So, hopefully, inaccuracies will be corrected on some iteration or another.

"you being a member of one of these organisations does sound like bias"

That's why I mentioned it; it's not possible to be unbiased. What is honorable, though, it to make your bias clear. So, that's all I meant to do. My hope, though, is that I try to overcome my biases.

"beer should not be defined by style (which is often temporary, not universal and, in the case of the bjcp, often not even correct), but rather by taste and quality."

Well, I think that really depends on what you want your guidelines to do for you. Defining beers by style, however, is what most brewers do, so I don't see how you can protest so much.

As for making the industry uncreative, that's not because of guidelines, that's a consequence of marketing, economics, politics, geography, history and a host of factors, possibly in addition to guidelines. Single factors rarely capture all the variance in a data set.

However, style guideleines notwithstanding, there is plenty of creative brewing going on at the homebrewer and craft/micro/artisan/whatever level. I myself brew all kinds of beers that are high-quality, tasty, and not to any BJCP style. So, I don't enter them. Whatever. I still make them, drink them, share them, enjoy them.

As for no research going into the guidelines- um, you must have missed the huge, though obvisouly not exhaustive, list of references that goes with them... you should read the FAQ Again, maybe every one of those sources you dispute, but that is not the same as saying the guidelines are "unresearched."

Lew Bryson said...

"Understand" beer? I think that's a bit harsh. After all, almost every homebrewer and beer twat I know -- and the aggregate is a depressingly large number, I'll admit -- drinks and enjoys beer. Put a glass in their hand and bring up another engaging topic, like baseball, or football, or sex, or smashmouth politics, and they'll get stuck into the pint just like anyone else.

The issue here is whether they are willing to listen to something that challenges their information heirarchy, though, and on that count, I definitely agree that they fail, high, wide, and often. Open up your heads, learn, think! Don't declare, question! Or just shut up and read.

Ron, cheers to your obsession. I'm really sorry we missed you at Zythos, because if we'd found you, I'd have made sure you didn't have to buy another beer the rest of the day. You've earned the respect of every serious beer student in the world...if only they knew it.

Ron Pattinson said...

Lew, that's the sort of talk I like to hear. Not having to buy any more beer. Any plans to visit Europe this year?