Monday 13 May 2013

Gentle notes of floral bullshit

Flowery twats: let's cut the crap and just enjoy the beer
Succinctness is a quality much admired here at Beer Advent Calendar Towers, not that you'd have noticed if you've read some of the more recent long-winded posts, mind. 

And sometimes, you stumble upon something that sums up in around 500 words what you've been alluding to gently for the past six or seven years; to wit, that tasting is subjective, fallible and not something in which you can genuinely claim to be an expert.

I've long believed the litany of flavours trotted out by wine and beer 'tasters' to be somewhat dubious and to a large extent nigh-on pointless. What I believe blackberry tastes like could quite easily differ wildly from what you think it's like, so how can I reasonably suggest there are hints of it in a deep red wine or Belgian trippel, for example?

The answer, thanks to a terrific article posted on, is that I can't. Not reasonably anyway. Entitled 'Wine tasting is bullshit: here's why', it witilly picks apart the extraordinary claims of so-called experts and makes a mockery of those who would have you believe they've tasted 'chippings of barbecue-charred giant redwood' in their Imperial Russian Stout.

Which is kind of why I've tried to rely more on some kind of oblique description of the taste sensation in my reviews rather than focusing on flavour profiles. I've not always succeeded, granted (so please don't write in pointing out where I've mentioned 'fresh guava', OK?).

According to the article. you can only really pick up a maximum of four different flavours in anything, no matter how 'complex' it is.

Taste, it argues, is the weakest of the five human senses. Yet in wine and, increasingly, beer reviews, we're routinely bombarded with flavour descriptors that range from lightly fanciful through outright ridiculous to sneering one-upmanship. An aroma redolent of freshly shaved Alba madonna Piedmont white truffle isn't helpful to many people; it's just showing off.

A couple of years ago, I imagined there might be enough bullshit in the tasting world to write a book about it, but that article nails it for me, so I won't bother.

I'd like to think the evidence referred to in that article will make people think again about what they claim to have tasted, but I doubt it will.

What it has done, though, is encouraged me to continue drinking beer and describing how it makes me and my tongue feel. Nothing wrong with that.

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