Small Details Add Up

Small detail from a brewery logo.

We’ve written about the variables in beer before, but this post on beer styles by Jeff ‘Beervana’ Alworth made us think more specifically about the tiny variables. These are the things that, on their own, might not be missed but which, together, add up to a unique fingerprint for a beer.

You can measure a beer’s attributes and replicate them and declare it ‘technically the same’; and you can categorise a beer and brew something which matches the ‘profile for the style’; but it’s the sometimes barely perceptible contributions from people, process, place and ingredients that make it what it is.

Chemists can synthesise strawberry flavour by breaking down its chemical components or make artificial musk for perfume. Technicians can replicate the sound of a violin or human voice with synthesis and samples. But, for now, what they end up with is something that works in the mix, if you don’t pay too much attention, and which will never satisfy someone who really knows their stuff.

Without the small details — flaws or wrinkles? — a beer can end up in the uncanny valley.

Could we honestly spot the difference between food-grade acid added to a beer and that which occurs naturally during fermentation and maturation? Honestly, maybe not, but we have tended to perceive added complexity in the beers made with the most roundabout, time-consuming, arcane processes.

But maybe that’s psychological?

Bonus points to anyone who can identify the brewery from the ‘small detail’ in the picture above...

7 thoughts on “Small Details Add Up”

  1. good post guys, but ive got to go for the bonus point cos im sure i recognise it! its not schlussel is it?

  2. It’s analogue v. digital music. It can never be replicated but it can be an acceptable substitute as long as you remain insensitive. Problem is, manufacturing insensitivity becomes a market advantage.

  3. Alan — or it’s the soundalike Beatles track versus the real thing — cleverly done, almost perfect, and would probably pass playing in the background, but still not the real thing.

    We think ‘soul’ (in music, beer or whatever) is a valid idea, as long as you don’t imagine it means, you know, *a* soul which will flutter up to heaven on little wings playing a harp when it dies.

    In terms of music, soul means the subtle timing differences, the tone of the bass guitar on the bottom string at the seventh fret, the creak of the piano stool caught on tape, the way the sound interacts with a specific reverb plate at a particular studio in 1966, the hoarseness of the lead singer’s throat after ten takes, etc. etc..

    Jeff — thanks!

  4. To me this is pretty simple. There’s blind tasting and there’s “maybe I could, maybe I couldn’t”. The psychological impact on the taste experience is huge, as shown again and again by both research and personal experience. But that doesn’t mean you can’t taste it. I also think I can discriminate in a similar way to what you describe.

    But until you’ve verified it in a blind tasting you don’t really know if you really can do it or not.

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