What’s the difference between a beer that’s subtle and one that’s bland?
There are quite a few terms used in beer writing which are imprecise.
The one that I agonise over most is “subtle”. There are some beers which, to me, have little or no flavour — certainly not a flavour worth trumpeting. They’re bland.
And yet I read articles by well-known beer writers waxing poetical about the subtle brilliance of the very same brews. Sometimes, the fine flavours are apparently so subtle that they only emerge when accompanied by, say, a particular type of bread, or at a certain temperature.
So, I think Commercial Lager X is bland; Big Shot Beer Writer thinks it “beguiles with a clean, malty palate, and a subtle hint of spicy hop in the aftertaste”. Huh?
Is my palate at fault? Perhaps. You might recall that it took a concentrated effort for us to discern what was, to us, a subtle distinction between Koelsch and bog standard lager.
Another possibility — could it be that these writers feel obliged to be nice about certain beers for political/commercial reasons? Possibly.
Most often, though, it’s probably just that most of us know when we like or dislike a particular beer and set about using words to justify our judgement.
So, what’s the difference between a beer with low-carbonation, and a beer that’s flat? A beer that’s subtle and one that’s bland? Or one with “crisp hop bitterness” and one that “is dry and astringent”?
Maybe nothing except that the critic likes the first beer, but doesn’t like the second.