Monday, January 19, 2015

Top 10 Most Annoying Beer-related Terms

We all have our pet peeves and sometimes you’ve just gotta vent about them. Now, there are plenty of trends, behaviors, shady business practices, laws, and other items of action that have happened or continue to happen in the industry that annoy me to no end, but for now I’m just [literally] arguing semantics. Here’s a list of words, phrases, and idioms  specific to the beer community that annoy the hell out of me. It’d be nice if we could either eradicate these from the vernacular or at least use them properly.

DISCLAIMER: I will readily admit that I have said or written these things myself over the years, and chances are very good you’ll see me use them in the future as well. It should also be noted that they are just pet peeves, not things worth losing my temper over. I’m not trying to make any enemies or friends over this list. If they don’t bother you, that’s cool – but please don’t hurl profanities my way just because we disagree over rather trivial semantics (but that’s the subject for another sermon).

10. The improper use of palate, palette, and pallet
I discussed this about a year ago, but it bears a quick repeating:
  • Palate = your tongue/your personal sense of taste.
  • Palette = a comparable range, quality, or use of available elements (e.g. “a palette of flavors”).
  • Pallet = a portable platform for handling, storing, or moving materials and packages (as in warehouses, factories, or vehicles).

9. The overuse of the word “Dog”

I searched breweries with the word “Dog” in their name on and it came back with 64 results! Some of the most notable examples include: Brew Dog, Dogfish Head, Thirsty Dog, Sea Dog, Hair of the Dog, Flying Dog, Laughing Dog. There were too many results of individual beers with the word “Dog” in their name for it to give me a complete list.

I don’t know why this bugs me so much. I don’t hate dogs, I just hate unoriginality.

8. Whale

The term beer nerds use to refer to ultra-rare/exclusive/limited release brews that are renowned for their scarcity. When this term was limited to beers that truly are whales – Westvletern 12 for example – it made sense. Now, beers like Troegs Nugget Nectar and Bell’s HopSlam are apparently whales too.

SkaCanFinal.ai7. Hop puns

All you have to do is walk into a bottle shop and you’ll no doubt be inundated with beers bearing names with hop puns, such as “Hopportunity Knocks,” “Hop Gun,” “Hoptimus Prime,” “Hoptical Illusion,” etc. etc. etc.
I guess it depends on whether you think puns are funny and cute or corny and stupid. I only appreciate a pun when it comes when I’m not expecting it and it’s actually clever and funny. Over saturation and unoriginality are an annoying combination.

6. “India” as a synonym for “hoppy”

Beer writers have been saying this for years, so this can’t be news to anyone: what we call an “India Pale Ale” today in America (or even in Europe, for that matter) bears very little resemblance to the original IPAs of the 18th and 19th centuries. I think what happened was, when highly-hopped pale ales became en vogue, brewers starting calling them IPAs as a way to capitalize on the “throwback” culture. And back in the 1980s and 90s, when IPAs were few and far between, it was cool and kitschy.

But the style exploded in popularity, especially in the U.S., so much so that the American-style IPA wasn’t enough to satisfy hopheads’ demands, so other hoppy styles were born, such as: Black IPA; Red IPA; Session IPA; India Pale Lager, etc. Even other styles upped their hop content dramatically and slapped “India-style” either in the name or the description of the beer (a great example of this is Upstate Brewing’s highly-hopped pale wheat ale “I.P.W.” which stands for “India Pale Wheat”).
That “India” became a synonym for “hoppy” really baffles me. It would seem that the more direct, honest adjective – hoppy – would be easier for the consumer to grasp. I’d imagine a lot of retailers, bartenders, and food servers have had to explain to countless non-beer enthusiasts that even though a certain beer has “India” in the name, it is not brewed with chutney or curry and was not shipped all the way from the country of India.

I suppose it’s rather futile complaining about this trend at this point since people who know beer know what “India” means. Most of us probably don’t even think about it anymore, since it’s an automatic response. Still, when we take the time to ponder the situation, we realize that it really is absurd using the name of a country as a way of saying a beer contains a lot of hops.

I can’t help but wonder if people in the actual country of India are aware of this apparent worldwide trend. Does it bother them, or are they indifferent?

5. Artisan/Artisanal

I can’t help but find this particular word to be rather pretentious in origin. The implication seems to be that the beer is not just a product; it’s art. And while I would agree that beer is art and brewing is an artform, the same can be said of pretty much any product that involves craftsmanship. Additionally, just because a beer or a brewery bears the word “Artisanal,” that doesn’t mean it’s higher in either objective quality or subjective taste. At the end of the day, it’s just another marketing term. To wit:

4. “Local” as a synonym for “quality”

Another topic I already discussed in depth a while back. You’ll notice some of the entries on this list are here because they’re one term purporting to be another. “Local” as a synonym for “quality” is probably one of the most widespread of these false equivalencies. Thankfully, other beer bloggers are waving a B.S. flag on this term.

3. Session Beer

The debate over where exactly to draw the line on what is and what is not a “session beer” is not one that looks to be resolved anytime soon. No one can agree on where to draw the line – 4% ABV? 4.5% ABV? 5% ABV? But at the end of the day, does it really matter? It would seem logical that “session beer” is a relative term, not a standardized one. It’s just basic physiology that a person heavier in weight can handle higher alcohol and in greater amounts than a lighter person. What’s sessionable to one person is a single serving to another. So I guess it’s not the term “session beer” that annoys me as much as it is people arguing over an arbitrarily-defined limit. It just seems so silly to say that Beer X at 4.5% ABV is a “true session beer,” but Beer Y at 4.6% ABV is not. Oiy.

And once again, this is another example of something that had originally been a term by, for, and among the people that has been co-opted for advertising and trendiness. We can disagree over what’s a “sessionable” amount of alcohol for us individually, but we can all agree that slapping the term on a beer label is becoming a little condescending. Drinkers seasoned enough to know what “Session Beer” means are also smart enough to recognize obvious marketing ploys when they see it.

2. Hipster

Probably the reason this word annoys me so much is due to the fact no one can seem to agree on what it actually means. As far as I can tell it’s a derogatory term and an insult, though not to the point of being politically incorrect or an all-out slur.

I think “hipster” is a cheap, lazy, and safe way to disparage a large group of people, but without getting too specific as to call out anyone in particular. The best example of this is the kerfuffle that ensued recently when an article about Jim Koch being left out in the cold by the craft beer industry went viral. You never saw the word “hipster” thrown around as a catch-all insult as you did in all the various blogs and comment sections chiming in on that story. It was also at that point that the term had officially lost whatever meaning it had left.

Much like IPA, “hipster” did have a specific meaning at one point, but was overused and abused so as to become meaningless. If I were to poll 100 people on the definition, no doubt I would receive 100 different responses.

If you want to insult someone, then use a word that truly is controversial or at least specific to them. Calling them a hipster is a form of self-censorship.

1. Craft Beer

Considering all the entries on this list, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that this would be the number one selection. It epitomizes the theme running throughout this blog: a term that had real meaning at one point, but was overused, misused, and exploited for financial gain. And with the advent of the Brewer’s Association (and individual state beer lobbies), “craft beer” has now become a political term as well. When a term that was originally used by and for hobbyists and small businesses becomes a source of political power you know it’s jumped the shark.

Today, the term “craft beer” only seems to indicate one thing: a beer that is not made by a few of the major conglomerate macro breweries. It doesn’t matter if the brewery makes lousy products that no one wants, as long as they’re small and independent, it’s “craft” beer.

That we feel the need to use that designation to refer to our usual beer of choice seems to indicate an inferiority complex of some sort. Why do smaller breweries making supposedly “better” beer need the “craft” moniker? Why can’t we compare apples to apples? The pesto oregano lemonpeel double dry hopped saison being made by the local nanobrewery is as much beer as Bud Light is beer. Sure, their ingredients and brewing methods are vastly different, but it doesn’t change the fact they are both beer.

And though the “craft beer” share of the entire beer market is still a small minority, it has proliferated throughout the culture at large so that even non-beer drinkers are aware of its existence. If you tell someone you’re a “beer enthusiast,” most likely they’re going to assume you’re a craft beer enthusiast and not an alcoholic. Do we really need that designation anymore?

There’s also a lot of false assumption about the craft beer section of the industry. People assume that all breweries are buddies and don’t think of each other as competition. And while it may be true that certain breweries are friendly with each other, at the end of the day they’re all still businesses competing for your dollar. As we learned from that Jim Koch article, at some point even craft breweries grow too big to maintain their cache. Additionally, craft breweries are even suing each other over petty issues. Lastly, the notion that “craft beer” equates to “good beer,” is just patently false. There are plenty of craft breweries churning out poor quality suds and few people call them out on it because they’re “craft.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sick of the word by now. And no, using an alternative like “artisanal,” or “gourmet,” or “top shelf” isn’t the answer because it will become just as played-out, misused, and over-marketed as any other term. Let’s just call it what it is: beer.

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