by Stephen Beaumont
It all began, innocently enough, with a morning scroll through my Twitter feed. As ever, it was a mix of people’s family stuff, politics, beer porn, brewery and bar promos and, it being the week following the Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville, still a few stray photos of hot chicken. (It’s a Nashville thing; look it up.)
My scrolling came to a screeching halt, however, when I happened upon a picture of a very peculiar looking glass of beer. Instead of being gold or amber or black, it was as orange as Donald Trump’s face and as thick and creamy-looking as a food court smoothie, with nary a bubble or trace of foam gracing the lip of the vessel.
Now, I’ve seen such pictures before, mostly posted by Old School beer curmudgeons bemoaning what they clearly believed to be abominations of the brewing arts. But this particular photo was different. This one was posted in promotion of a new beer, by the brewery that produced it!
Before I go on, let me note that this is definitely not a column of the “you kids get off my lawn” variety. I may have been covering the beer beat for damn close to three decades, but I maintain a mostly open mind – I hope! – and have enjoyed more than my share of turbid New England IPAs, kettle soured goses, session IPAs, Imperial this-and-thats, and even a few pastry stouts – you know, all the beers we old cranks are supposed to hate.
I am also aware that the aesthetics of beer have changed over time, with colours lightening and darkening, clarity prized and then dismissed, and some styles like hefeweizen historically accepted as cloudy while others, such as kölsch, have been required by convention or rule to be crystal clear. But despite all of this, beer has for thousands of years looked like beer – different colours and different clarity and different carbonation levels, yes, but still connected to the broadly accepted norm for ‘beer.’
The reason this is important is because people drink with their eyes before they do with their mouths.
If you’re sceptical of this fact, try an experiment for yourself at home. Take two bottles of the same beer and pour one very slowly so that no foam arises, ideally into a slightly dusty or greasy glass, and then more vigorously decant the second into a beer-clean glass. Look at them, assess them – one with no head, looking flat and dull, and the other with a lush collar of foam and vibrant carbonation – and decide which you would rather drink. Unless you’re a most unusual North American drinker, you’ll likely want the latter.
So when a brewery illustrates a new beer with a photo that not only shows no head, but has a countenance more akin to that of radioactive Extra Pulp Orange Juice, I have to wonder if things have finally gone too far. For me, this sits in the same category as green beer on St. Patrick’s Day or the current micro-rage for ‘glitter beer,’ that being unappealing aesthetics irrationally applied.
Then again, I may be wrong and beer that resembles a neon smoothie will be the next big thing. It’s happened before and will, no doubt, happen again. I’ll be fine so long as no one tries to glitter-ize my pilsner.
A corner dedicated to bringing you insight from industry author and beer connoisseur, Stephen Beaumont.