Sunday, August 07, 2011

Rename or not to rename, that is the question

As a beer enthusiast, one of the things that I find slightly annoying, and somewhat confusing, is the reluctance of certain breweries to call a 'regular' beer a different name when it has clearly been brewed using different ingredients.

Two of the four ingredients in beer are often subject to yearly changes. Hops and barley are both at the whim of the weather, some years they have better harvests than others and subsequently some times there are more available than other years, or the price, in a poor year becomes prohibitive for the brewers to use them. Others are then substituted. Often the beer name is unchanged and there is no information that the ingredients have changed. All we get are drinkers saying that their beer does not taste like it did, either for the better, or worse.

The other ingredients may also change. Yeast is often used from one brew to the next, building up its own taste and giving beers from certain breweries a distinct flavour. To lose a yeast strain is a devastating loss for a brewery, and again the change of yeast changes the beer character.

Water is the fourth ingredient. We all know breweries who have moved brewing a beer from one part of the country to another, and the resultant beer is nothing like the original. No doubt there are changes in the water supply to some breweries too, that may be they are not even aware of, and I have little doubt this will subtly change the taste too.

My concern is mainly with the first two changes that the brewers try to hide from us. Let me try to explain. A beer is made one year with hop or barley 'a', this suffers a bad harvest and is unavailable the next year and 'b' is substituted in its place. Surely this is a different beer, but often they retain the same name. Even without any reference to the change at the point of sale. Is this misleading the drinker? I personally think so. But maybe the marketing man for the brewery has different ideas. He spends thousands of pounds promoting a beer, only for the taste to change. Will he start a new campaign for the new taste? I doubt it.

Is the answer to give every beer in which there is something different a different name? It is not an easy question. It depends on the brewery and their outlook and marketing. Some breweries will name most beers differently, others steadfastly retain their time honoured beer names despite how different they taste. I must admit I prefer the former method, but there again I am a 'ticker'. At least that way it is transparent that the beer is different and it saves any doubt over a change of taste. I suppose the idea of brewing is to make money, and whichever way suits the brewery best is the way they take whilst drinkers have to accept that, no matter what we feel about it.

And please don't get me started on the same beer name with different abvs, or the same name for the beer moved around the country, life is too short!

1 comment:

Udders Orchard said...

Some years ago Red Mill removed artificial additives from it's Onion Rings changing the flavour profile drastically. Does that mean they can no-longer be called Onion Rings.
The brewer uses skill and knowledge to reduce impact of ingredients changes over time, because as you say, the qualities of ingredients change year to year. Water changes week to week even when the brewery doesn't move.
Normal customers will comment on flavour changes and the brewer, if that message is fed back, will try to adjust accordingly.