Tasting notes can sound pretentious because much of the traditional language is borrowed from the world of wine, and refers to a lifestyle with which few of us can connect.
Last Friday, in the wake of this post, we pondered aloud on Twitter about whether ‘piney’ is really a useful tasting note.
What we meant, of course, is that, although we’ve used it from time to time, it isn’t especially meaningful to us, and apparently refers to a set of aromas (and flavours?) that we find better evoked by references to vegetation (weediness) or fruit.
Many people stepped up to defend ‘piney’, but what struck a particular chord were those responses which were variations on this statement:
Now, the nearest we’ve ever been to a Californian redwood forest is watching Return of the Jedi, but everybody’s cleaned the bog, so Harpic, to us, is far more resonant.
This got us thinking about how, without really having made a point of it, we’ve been drawn towards using ‘social realist‘ beer tasting notes for some time.
The standardised language gives us ‘tinned corn’ and ‘baby sick’ to work with, of course, but we’ve also found ourselves referring at various points to:
- Pub carpets.
- Tinned peaches.
- Sweets — rhubarb and custard, Opal Fruits (aka Starburst), Fruit Salad, Black Jacks, Parma Violets.
- Roll-up cigarettes.
- 2p coins.
- Juice from the bottom of the wheelie bin.
- Bingo markers.
- Gripe water.
The problem is, those are just as meaningless as ‘horse blanket’ to anyone who doesn’t share our cultural or class background. (Hell, we don’t even share quite the same cultural or class background as each other — Bailey’s never had gripe water, and Boak grew up in a cigarette- and bingo-free household.)
And, however sincerely dragged from the sense memory, we suppose they might sound pretentious in their own way, too.
Perhaps it depends what you hope to achieve with your tasting notes: if it’s universal understanding, and you’re not bothered about rhetorical flourish, then get scientific; if you want to speak fluent ‘Jacksonese’ to other beer geeks, then stick to horse blankets and sherry; but if the notes are really for your own benefit, with the hope that they might occasionally resonate all the more deeply with at least one other reader, then you have to find your own language.
At any rate, we think a good rule of thumb is probably to avoid describing flavour or aroma by referring to things you’ve never tasted or smelled — “This beer’s aroma is reminiscent of the aroma of a different beer that Michael Jackson once described as piney” is a bit naff, isn’t it?