Beer history real ale

Smelling a Brothy Beer, 1975

Detail from a 1979 recruitment advertisement.
Detail from a 1979 recruitment advertisement.

In 1975,  Dave Bennett, a member of the Campaign for Real Ale, proposed a formalised ‘vocabulary of taste’ for beer to rival that used by ‘wine snobs’.

It seems to have been a publication of some sort, and we’ve put out feelers to confirm that, and perhaps get sight of a copy.

In the meantime, we’ve gleaned from the Daily Mail of 17 February 1975 that Bennett attempted to dodge accusation of pretension by suggesting that beer should have a ‘smell’ instead of a ‘bouquet’, and proposed the following rather down-to-earth flavour descriptors:

  • black treacle
  • brisk
  • brothy
  • clean
  • grainy
  • greasy
  • honey
  • metallic
  • rhubarb-like tooth-sharpening
  • viscous
  • warming
  • mousey
  • oily
  • watery.

Treacle, mice, metal and grease? Not so much French château as the two-up-two-down terrace. We rather like ‘brothy’, even if we’re not quite sure how it applies to beer.

It would take another ten years for anything like this approach to take hold within CAMRA, and then not without opposition (for more on which see Des De Moor’s essay in the 2011 anthology CAMRA at 40).

This post is something of an extended footnote to a passing observation we have made in the first draft of our book. Expect more of these in the months to come.

10 replies on “Smelling a Brothy Beer, 1975”

“Viscous” as a flavour descriptor? I cringe every time I use “dark” to describe the taste of beer (but still do it — I know what it means), but viscous doesn’t ring any flavour bells here.

Looking back at the article, it’s as a taste descriptor, and I guess ‘tasting’ includes ‘mouthfeel’ and so on.

‘Dark’ seems perfectly reasonable to me, but then maybe that’s because it makes me think of dark malts.

“Brothy” to me sounds meat-like, which could be autolysed yeast or other things. I think that’s perfectly reasonable, since it’s a flavour I pick up every now and then.

“Dark”, on the other hand, I don’t like at all. Dark isn’t a flavour, so strictly speaking one should find the actual flavour and write that instead. I’ve felt the temptation myself many times, so I can see the challenge.

As for “mousey” I have no idea what that should be.

“Rhubarb-like tooth-sharpening” stands out as roughly a billion times more detailed than any of the others.

“Dark” is an umbrella term covering all the coffee, treacle, burnt toast, chocolate etc that you get from dark malts. It’s not very specific, but sometimes specificity isn’t required when writing prose as opposed to, say, designing a flavour wheel.

I’ve never sucked, chewed, or swilled a mouse round my gob to the best of my knowledge so none the wiser on that one. And weirdly I think I get brisk – however this maybe because I drink too fast.

Meanwhile I have no issue with “dark” but I bet the artisan set would have liked to see “brown” as a flavour….. *

*I have used it with faux disparagement. So maybe I am part of the artisan set. Jesus wept…

Mousey reminds me of a woody flavour I get from all beers in certain pubs who have a massive line infection.

How bad was the beer in the 1970s? Most of those flavours would put me off.

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