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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