We’ve used the word clean to describe beer in the past without necessarily giving a lot of thought to precisely what we meant by it; and Tandleman has been demanding clean flavours for some years. Then, this week, Mark ‘Pencil and Spoon’ Dredge announced his conversion to the cause of cleanness and tried to unpack what it really means. As this all makes a pleasant change from trying to define ‘craft beer’, here are some thoughts from us.
Does clean always sound positive? To some, it might at first imply industrial, roboticised precision — even sterility. It might suggest ‘dry’, as in Asahi Super Dry — something with no obtrusive yeast character and no lingering flavour. A synonym for bland. (But isn’t Sharp’s Doom Bar somehow both muddy and bland…?)
There’s such a thing as ‘too clean’. In recorded music, people spend a lot of money on gadgets and processes to stop things sounding shiny and digital — ‘warming them up’. Instagram and the like are all about ‘de-digitalising’ photographs by imbuing them with pleasing flaws.
What’s the opposite of clean? It might be dirty, but we’re not so sure. How about organic (small O), funky or natural? (Scrumpy cider is sometimes known as ‘natch’.) To describe a piece of funk music as ‘nasty’ is a high compliment. ‘Grunge’ was the musical buzzword of our teenage years.
The important word in Mark’s post, from our point of view, is ‘muddiness’. We’ve had some beers this year which were presumably created with the intention of complexity — lots of different varieties of hop, many types of malt, complex yeasts, a touch of this spice or that, and flavourings. But, when you mix all the colours in the paint set, you end up with a murky brown.
How does this look? (Ten minutes work, and subject to change as we continue to ponder…)