‘Balanced’, like ‘clean‘, is one of those words all beer geeks learn from their first primer (usually a book by Michael Jackson, Roger Protz or someone similar) — but what, exactly, does it mean? A bit of argy-bargy on the subject on Twitter got us thinking.
We’ve promised ourselves not to quote every nugget of wisdom from For the Love of Hops because it wouldn’t fair to Stan, but we can’t resist this new addition to the Tao of Keeling:
To have balance in the beer does not mean simply to go to the middle, bland flavours.
So, ‘balanced’ needn’t mean restrained, as long as its unrestrained in every direction at once? The yellow platform shoes will look better if complemented with a feather boa? That kind of thing?
The reason balance has a bad reputation in some quarters is, as Mr Keeling suggests, because some brewers of bland beer use it as a defence mechanism, implying that their critics have no taste.
And, as for the assumption that balance is best… well, yes, usually, it probably is. Most of the time, even if we want to drink an intensely-flavoured beer, we want it to present a Wall of Taste — a cohesive blend. Every now and then, though, a really sweet, bitter, sour, one note beer can be quite fun.
Is balance prized, at least in part, because unbalanced beers are the equivalent of an air horn, while balance requires virtuoso skill? That’s especially true of extreme balancing.