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 thoughts on “Smelling a Brothy Beer, 1975”

  1. 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.

    1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

  3. Young Hardy’s ale when it was made by O’Hanlons struck me as beef brothy. What is greasy v. oily? What was this man’s diet?

    1. It was the 70s! Greasy = lard, oily = mar­garine…

      Brothy makes me think of my nan’s ham broth, thick and full of pearl bar­ley (and big bits of swede!)

  4. 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…

  5. 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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