Beer Writing Clichés: Call for Submissions

Mr Naylor makes a good point, we think, and we thought it might be a good idea to compile a list of beer writing clichés as part of our very occasional series of posts on writing style.

Clichés are units of language that, however clever they seem the first time you hear them, have ceased to seem interesting or even meaningful because of endless repetition. They’re a sort of tic or habit — the opposite of careful writing.

We use clichés all the time, to our shame — The Beer Nut rightly picked us up on ‘wet their whistles‘, for example — but would really like to get out of the habit so this list is a reminder to ourselves as much as anything.

Here are the ones that popped into our heads — feel free to suggest more in the comments below. (But not just words are phrases that might annoy you — ‘real ale’ isn’t a cliché; ‘a foaming pint of ale’ is.)

  • a good time was had by all — as said of pub crawls, brewery tours and other social events.
  • avid homebrewer as flagged by Joshua M. Bernstein.
  • belies its strength
  • black as ink/night/sin — of porter, stout &c.
  • cosy atmosphere — said of pubs.
  • dazzling range/selection/array of beers
  • enamel-stripping/tooth-stripping — tasting note often applied to sour beers.
  • fish guts — for isinglass finings; after some consideration, we think this has become a cliché.
  • fizzy piss — descriptive of mainstream lager or keg bitter.
  • flowed over the bar — drink in one direction, money in the other.
  • Greedy Ker-ching — for Greene King; expired around the same time as ‘Tony B. Liar, more like!’
  • ice-cream/whipped-cream/shaving-foam head
  • metric/imperial fuck-tons/butt-loads — typically describing the hop content of a beer but also applied to, e.g., cocoa nibs.
  • mine host/mein host — an example of Pub-bore-ese.
  • much [X] was quaffed
  • relaxed vibe — said of bars.
  • summer in a glass
  • thirst-quencher
  • this is not your father’s/grandfather’s [X]
  • weighing in at — referring to alcoholic strength, as flagged by Adrian Tierney-Jones and Jeff Pickthall.
  • winter warmer — a cliché unless it’s a brand name.
  • zombeers — quite apart from the cask/keg politics this is another joke that’s passed its best.

126 thoughts on “Beer Writing Clichés: Call for Submissions”

        1. Get a shovel! 😉

          These words induce aggrandizement. I have every sympathy for those who work within the trade but puffery in language can corrupt the market. Being plain and accurate ensures an honest pint for an honest price.

        1. why not, the vicarage cat next door has been bedding down in the green house, I’ll nip down later and have a sniff before setting the dog on it.

    1. Not sure about that – it’s a fairly straight description, if occasionally overused.

      By the way, it’s never a bad time to draw people’s attention to the Myles na cGopaleen Catechism of Cliché, from Brian O’Nolan (aka Flann O’Brien aka Myles na cGopaleen)’s column in the Irish Times back in the day (oops). Some examples:
      http://cbladey.com/irish/HomePage.flann.html#Yes,More%20of%20It

      I occasionally try to blog stuff about local restaurants and stuff, but have mostly given up because it’s hard to go beyond “quite tasty” without trotting out the cliches.

    1. Hmm. But if the malt really does taste of biscuits, there aren’t many other ways to express it. I guess you could specify which type of biscuit?

      1. I try to…but maybe that just seems pretentious.

        I’m referring more to a specific writer’s use of the term in almost every beer description (though seems to have progressed past that period now)

      1. yeah but it’s ubiquitous enough to be a cliche imo and it’s a qualification that doesn’t make you a better writer ;-|

          1. I don’t think so, people do work for it, it’s fantastic for those in the trade but it doesn’t necessarily make you a better writer, which is all I am interested in. Those little badges that people get for tapping in beers they have tasted are the cornflakes boxes.

          2. “It” being what, ATJ? There are so many computer course certificates flying around I can’t keep track of what skills they are supposed to back up. Plus no one admits who got the “D” in the final exam.

        1. Nice one ATJ. I’d quite like to be considered a beer sommelier, but I’m sure I never will be, so I may as well dislike the term. But you’re spot on with the observation that being a being a sommelier would not make you a better writer, any more than doing the Knowledge would give you a better time in the London Marathon.

    1. That’s what we had in our first draft until Beer Nut kindly pointed out (by private DM, cos he’s a gent) that you whet your appetite but wet (no H) your whistle.

        1. Oh, right. Well, common typos and errors is probably for another post. (Palate/palette, for example…)

  1. I’ll stand up for “thirst quencher/quenching” because, really, some do that very well and others not at all. (It’s also the only one I think I’m decidedly guilty of employing regularly, although others do sneak through from time to time.) I will add:

    – ANY pun that references hops;
    – ANY reference to “suds” (although that’s a this side of the pond thing, I think)
    – this or that “side of the pond”
    – and another from North America — which I profoundly hope has not hit UK shores yet — “dank.”

      1. a) Is that what it means? It just makes me think of wet grass & undergrowth.

        b) What on earth have you been drinking?

          1. No, that’s a given! I’m wondering what on earth tastes like that in the world of beer.

        1. Yes, on the other side of the pond ‘dank’ means like a bag of weed – or maybe a hopsack. I think they get equally confused when we write about dank cellars or whatever.

        2. In my experience Phil, Columbus hops smell very much like cannabis, and this shouldn’t be surprising given that they’re closely related. It doesn’t really translate into taste, it’s strictly an aroma thing in dry hopped beers – particularly beers that use fresh Columbus hops. In my experience at least.

      1. Only if the assumption is made that the sole reason for drinking is thirst. It is obviously not.

        1. Which I take as a Beaumontian agreement given the adjectival phrase ought to describe the experience. If the reason for drinking is not the thirst then you have nothing to quench.

          1. Oh, Alan, you contrarian, you. One may drink a beer for thirst and pleasure and any number of other reasons, then have another for an entirely different set of reasons. Possibly even a third for a whole new set of reasons. And so on.

          2. ‘This I who seeks agreement in these mists. Which makes me agreeable. 😉

            And I agree. You have proven the point. They each may cure separate ills in order. The first may quench, the next relax and the third cast the mind where it would go. I back you. Thirst-quenching is no cliche.

  2. “well balanced”.

    Describing bog-standard and downright unpleasant beers as “approachable”, “accessible”, or “easy drinking” despite decades of evidence that the majority of the country find them anything but.

    Describing the flavour of beer with a series of items that happen to share the same colour as the beer, so all pale beer tastes of lemons and grapefruit, all red beers taste of nuts and forest fruits and all dark beers taste of chocolate and coffee.

    Except they don’t, its just that people are incapable of thinking beyond the colour in front of them.

    1. Those might be habits you find annoying but I’m not sure they’re clichés. If a writer thinks something tastes of citrus (rightly or wrongly) there are only so many fruits they *can* mention.

      1. “Well balanced” probably counts, though. Everyone uses it, often to mean “I can’t think of anything specific to say about this beer but I quite like it”, but it’s basically meaningless without further qualification – literally it could mean that the subtle English hop flavours are well balanced by a slight nutty sweetness, or it could mean that the MASSIVE WAVES OF AWESOME CITRUSSEY HOP AROMA are “well balanced” by the EQUALLY MASSIVE WAVES OF AWESOME PINEY HOP AROMA.

  3. I’m all in favour of variation of language and imaginative expression, but I’ll just leave this here as one to ponder:

    “The reason that clichés become clichés is that they are the hammers and screwdrivers in the toolbox of communication.”
    – Sir Terry Pratchett

    Sometimes a cliché might be exactly what you do need, if it gets the point across succinctly and with the minimum of fuss, no?

    1. It’s easy to be too puritanical about it — they have their place, I guess — but some of those we’ve listed above really are just used out of laziness.

  4. Definitely agree with “curate” – sets my teeth on edge every time…utterly pretentious.

    Another, when referring to a strong beer is “dangerously drinkable” whcih seems to crop up all over the place as an alternative to “belies its strength”

      1. That’s a paraphrase of ruinously drinkable as coined by Zak Avery about 4yrs ago, the juicy banger of its day…like beer styles beer cliches are replicated en masse then forgotten about

        1. Think it goes back rather further than that, just a quick google search finds references in the 2000s also in respect of wines and cocktails not just beer

  5. “Sample” – drink, but sounds more discerning.
    “Partake of” – drink, but more pompous.
    “Wickets” – handpumps.
    “Beer engine” – handpump. Technically correct, but still naff, as no one uses the term except in beer writing.
    “Brewster” – brewer (who happens to be female).

  6. I take the point about laziness, but it does feel like this might be a bit wrong… telling people how they should / shouldn’t write. I don’t blog much anymore, and less likely to if I’m looking over my shoulder at the cliché police. Actually is that a cliché? I’m not cut out for proper writing. I’ll just stick to my silly puns and 140 characters limit.

    1. Oh no! Sorry. I suppose we hope things like this might be encouraging rather than discouraging but I see what you mean.

      Too late to take it down but, just to be clear, it’s more important that people are expressing themselves than exactly how they do it. Here’s what we said in the bit on spelling/grammar in our ‘How to Blog’ piece:

      ‘Having said all of that, if the information you’re sharing is interesting, and your personality shines through, a lot can be forgiven. You’re not charging for it, after all, and fear of getting the niceties wrong or annoying snobs shouldn’t prevent people expressing themselves. And, anyway, the more you write, the better you get.’

      1. Yeah, I think that covers it. There could be some good stuff in and amongst the clichés.

    1. unfortunately curate makes me think of eggs and fusty vicars with trembling hands who fancy a turn in the lion’s cage in 1930s Norfolk.

    2. Curate is a selection based on high qualification and understanding. It suggests a topic worth academic research and achievement. In lesser hands on a lesser topic, it’s just vacuous vanity. Makes the user look doubly the fool: once for not knowing the word’s proper application and again for not knowing one’s context.

      1. Agree with you on that one if not on ‘it’, by which I mean the UK Beer Academy’s Beer Sommelier course, which is a good thing for those in the trade who sell beer for a living, but then I’m a journalist and I sell words by the pound.

    3. You should only use “curate” if you are creating an exhibition or maintaining a museum.

      1. Off the top of my head I’d say “curate” is usually used in relation to beer menus.

        Building a good beer list, especially for a restaurant, is about making a set of intelligent decisions about beer in the context of the specific venue.

        What better word than curate?

        (Also, I’d never even realised the verb and the noun were spelt the same.)

  7. “Dangerously drinkable” and “belies its strength” are overused for a reason. They’re alternative ways of saying “doesn’t taste as strong as it is”; they’re quicker to write and – even more importantly – they sound positive, whereas anything beginning with “doesn’t” is likely to sound like a criticism. If we’re going to abandon those phrases as cliches we’re going to need an alternative.

    Not sure about “well-balanced” – it means something, otherwise Gazza Prescott wouldn’t have said that if your beer was well-balanced you were doing something wrong (or words to that effect). Agreed that it’s not very informative, though.

    “Winter warmer”‘s a perfectly good style descriptor IMO. As for “shaving-foam heads”, I only refer to them when I see them – and I don’t go to Hartlepool that often.

    Pub crawl writeups are full of the kind of thing you could call jargon if you’re being charitable, or cliche if you’re not – “Our intrepid band sallied forth in search of a welcoming hostelry”, “Atmospheric conditions forced us to beat a hasty retreat”, “The merriment continued late into the night”… A lot of this stuff is autodidact-ese – the language spoken by self-taught blokes who’d picked up a few long words but didn’t take it too seriously. It’s a bit of a dying language now, although I suppose Russell Brand’s doing his bit to revive it.

  8. It would be interesting to come up with a list of non-cliched ways of expressing the same point. “Dangerously drinkable” is a good example – yes, it has become a cliche, but it does describe a noteworthy attribute of some beers that needs to be put across somehow. Likewise “cosy atmosphere”.

    I’d say in a sense “cask beer” has become a cliche. Nobody outside of the industry and the beer writing community ever uses it – ordinary punters always call it real ale. In writing articles aimed at the general public I deliberately try to use “real ale” by preference.

    “Fish guts” is a classic example of a derogatory descriptive term. If someone uses it to refer to isinglass finings you immediately know they’re not a fan.

      1. It’s not really. Most oxidised beer one encounters in the real world is oxidised enough to be unpleasant, but not enough so to have reached the reminiscent-of-cardboard stage. So “wet cardboard” is not very helpful in learning to recognise when a beer is past it through oxygen.

  9. I think you need to put descriptors and true cliches in different piles. It’s true we all say things like “citrusy” and “biscuit,” but that’s the fault of our language, not our use of it. There are only so many ways to describe certain flavors and aromas. Once you start substituting them for esoteric metaphors, you fail at communication, which should be our central goal.

    My submission: “pours out” as in, the beer pours out an inky black (there’s a twofer example, to boot).

    It’s a great discussion. There ought to be a core list of maybe a dozen words/phrases we can all agree never to use again.

    1. I’ve seen “pours out” often written as just “pours”, but both cases are equally aggravating introductions to a beer’s appearance when “is” would be much more straightforward.

    2. Yes, this!!

      Really important point: the language of flavour is incredibly limited because it is subjective and comparative. As this thread has proven, you could take any flavour descriptor term and call it a cliche, because there are more beers and more tasting notes than there are words that can accurately and meaningfully describe flavour.

      I’d call for a special exemption for flavour descriptors, but the rest is open season. The difficulty of describing flavour and use of cliche in beer writing are two different topics, I would suggest.

  10. I’m not sure of other people’s objection to curator/curated, but my main one is that it doesn’t simply mean “selector/selected “. If it did, those who use it in the ‘decided-which-beers’ context would as easily use the words “chosen”, “selected”, etc & not “curated”, which has connotations to do with art/artifacts & the profession of curator.

    OED – “A keeper or custodian of a museum or other collection.”

    My other point is this – I love good beer, and I’m keen to see its continued success & I hope that it’s appreciated by as many people as possible, but I also like the beer world’s general lack of pretension. I’m not sure “curate” helps with this.

    http://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2011/01/curate.html

  11. Noting that a particular beer exhibits the characteristics of its style … There should be no such thing as a “super-hoppy double IPA,” for instance. There can be a “mildly bitter double IPA”… Only note if beer different from style. Especially if you’ve just explained the style!

  12. Great topic. I’d add “Hop Bomb” relating to IPAs or any other over-hopped beers.

    I’ve used “summer in a bottle,” but, in my defense, I was describing a light saison that I had in December.

  13. Just to be a pain, I would abolish references to the style guide in describing taste. It’s tainted evidence. Tasting only occurs in the mouth and the mind of the individual. Describing those sensations in that one experience takes education and articulation. Whether it aligns with this month’s text of some style guide is a matter for the parroting branders and consulting curates only.

  14. You should try travel writing, it is full of cliches, I have on the wall opposite a sheet from one newspaper with about 90 banned words and phrases including spa heaven, vibrant, family in tow and the Bounty Ad; on another magazine I write for my editor is Torquemada-like in hunting out cliches in my copy, especially when it comes to writing about hotels and restaurants. I thank him for it — anyone who writes about anything should be on perpetual watch for cliches. All that matters is good writing.

    1. Haha. Similarly, having written travel copy for a good while now it’s amazing how many there are. Every view is ‘breathtaking’ – it’s a wonder travel writers can breathe at all, sometimes.
      Every city is a ‘city of contrasts’, every souk is ‘bustling’, and of course ‘a feast for the senses’. ; )

      1. Someone pointed out that everywhere is a “land of contrasts (try and think of somewhere that isn’t). If you ever see that phrase or words to that effect, you can assume the writer was running on empty.

  15. The one that’s been doing my head in for the best part of 30 years drinking beer, a favourite of local CAMRA newsletters, beer that is found to be in ‘Tip-top condition’… Argh! Stop it.

    Just as irritating, though for much less time, Protz and his habitual use of ‘Juicy Malt’.

  16. Looking at the list, I’m guilty of a couple of these at least, though I think for my non-CAMRA, mainstream, non-sommelier, (wo)man on the bus audience, describing a beer as a “winter warmer” tells it like it is. But if I ever write “a good time was had by all” (except in an obviously ironic, post-modern, uber-clever, metrosexual, northern powerhouse sense) just shoot me.

  17. I too hate “pour” used as an intransitive verb (“the beer poured copper-bright”). It’s the craft equivalent of “The Pride is drinking well”.

  18. Westy, for all the lamebrains who use it because they can’t spell , or pronounce, Westvleteren.

    1. Inclined to agree but can forgive that and ‘impy stout’ in Tweets where characters are limited.

  19. I’d also stand up for ‘well-balanced’ so long as it’s being used meaningfully, and the writer also points out when it doesn’t apply. Beer flavour is made up of potentially antagonistic tasting components and getting these into the sort of proportions where they complement rather than shout at each other is a large part of the brewer’s art. In my experience most of the best brewers value balance above all as the key to great beer. But then all these tasting terms need to be used meaningfully.

    And while on the subject of balance, it applies to language in beer writing too. Some of the terms above, although they’ve been perhaps over-repeated and misapplied, arose from a genuine desire to raise the level of discussion about beer, and that’s something I approve of. There’s a school of thought that kicks against this sort of thing as ‘pretentious’ , like the 1980s CAMRA activists concerned that the adoption of tasting notes would see them “laughed out of the public bar”. But it’s only pretentious if it’s being inappropriately applied by someone who doesn’t know what it means and is merely attempting to impress. ‘Curate’ is a good example — it suggests a much higher level of knowledge, thoughtfulness and care than ‘choose’ or ‘select’ and there are occasions when it seems absolutely the right word to use. If you think beer is just something to be swilled down uncritically of course you are going to find the notion of a beer list being ‘curated’ puzzling or amusing, but I don’t think that applies to most readers of this blog.

    There are a few things here that are dialect things, N American v British. ‘Pour’ is one of them. In the US it’s quite common to say ‘Bar X pours beers from brewery Y’ rather than ‘stocks’ or ‘sells’. But in British English it’s common to use ‘pour’ as a transitive verb too, as in ‘Shall I pour the tea?’ (assuming you’re still civilised enough to make it in a pot…)

    I confess to using a few of these terms including some of the Americanisms for the same reason we all do as writers on a specialist subject — we’re always looking (or should be looking) for new ways to talk about the same things. There’s only so many things you can say about the flavour of most beers, the character of most pubs and bars, the practices of most brewers, so when someone happens on a new word or phrase it’s like a rare new colour in the paintbox and perhaps we then start splashing it around too liberally.

    As always good writing is about being in control of your language, not letting it control you.

  20. Blimey what a lot of navel gazing. Nobody is going to be encouraged to write after reading these assembled comments of the thought police.

    There are one or two sensible nuggets (Mike McGuigan and Darren T) otherwise it just seems so negative. “Don’t do this and avoid that.”

    Picking the bones out of it all (another cliche I’m sure), the underlying message seems to be “Don’t write about beer unless you follow “these” rules.”

    Quite dispiriting as none of it seems either constructive or, better, done for amusement.

    1. surely the whole point about writing about anything, whether it’s beer, film, music, travel or the building industry, is that you do the very best you can. Unless you’re a beer sommelier or movie curator (that’s a joke btw)…

    2. Totally agree with Tandleman. Nothing to encourage beer writing here at all. As it happens I’m probably launching a blog in the next week or so and will feel free to litter it with cliches – and if any of this lot don’t approve they can just sod off.

      1. It would be well-night impossible to write up the average “Stagger” without resorting to cliche. “As we left the karaoke was just about to begin” 😉

    1. If you think about “curate” a bit it’s the one word that takes it all a bit too far. Any word may have its place in a well thought out short personal essay, but the adoption of that concept suggests any claimant deserves a higher level of respect. Dealing with experts in other fields daily, I can think of only a handful of people in beer who might curate a selection of things within a defined topic. Stan could curate a series of seminars and presentations on hops. I have written for over a decade. I wouldn’t use the word for my activities. I have watched Craig Gravina participate in the curation of things but he is a reasonably well placed staffer of the NY State Museum. Given how few candidates there are for its application it comes of as inflationary. An abandoned metaphor sitting there uncomfortably.

  21. Cliche words that come out of breweries:

    “Award-winning” when the alleged award isn’t declared.

    “Traditional”, “fine/finest” and “choicest”.

    I’d ban them all.

  22. What about any reference to hops physically assaulting you?
    – The hops punch you in the face/slap you round the cheeks etc?

  23. Apparently burning hops smell just like standing downwind from a Rastafarian convention: unsurprising, of course, since cannabis and Humulus lupulus are botanically close relatives, and it makes more believable the use of the word “dank” to describe some hop aromas.

  24. Maybe you could curate a special session of deliberately clichetastic beer writing?

    PS: I like a lemon biscuit. Any recommendations for beers at once both citrussy and biscuity? A juicy cruncher, perhaps.

    1. Demand that the type of biscuit is specified. I had a beer last night with a distinct aroma of those sponge fingers that people make trifles with.

      1. I’ll, er bite. “The curator’s passion sang from each note in the glass, that good bite of citrus giving it away. Due to being well-balanced – well-balanced yet still extreme – the beer shows it was lovingly made by a true artisan. As my British friends say in the pop-up bars under the railway arches, it’s a cracker of a drop!”. 🙂

        Gary

    1. No, it’s definitely ‘wet’ – it’s in Chaucer.

      I don’t mind hops smacking you in the face – if only because it so rarely happens, even in these IPA-happy days.

  25. And the point made by some commenters that cliche cannot be avoided in writing about beer is of course true. We’re just having a bit of fun. 🙂 It is perhaps a reminder to us all to try to find fresh ways of speaking, if only to ensure a more receptive ear…

    Gary

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