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Controlled Inconsistency

Spot the difference.

Might there be benefits to inconsistency in brewing beyond acting as a badge of ‘authenticity’?

As we understand it, the brain is wired to detect change and movement, so that which is new is stimulating, while repetition or stasis are irritating and/or boring.

We suspect that a beer brewed to exactly the same specification for many years will suffer the same fate: “It’s not what is used to be.”

Perhaps, therefore, barely detectable adjustment in the hop profile or malt bill might be just the thing to help a beer continue to stand out.

A change is, after all, as good as a rest.

9 replies on “Controlled Inconsistency”

I wonder. Bottle variation is accepted with good wine but in beer consistency is the thing. Yet, how often is it actually achieved. I had a pretty disgusting experience with a Oakham Citra the other day, a beer you have praised. I am sure it suffered in transit even if urine odour is a well known trait. Conversely, when a beer is spot on we know it. It’s not just handling of the product but the weather, the season and age of the beer that alters its flavour. Then there is the adage that a good brewer is the one who makes the same (or similar) good beer when the ingredients are not the best. All of which leads me to wonder if the slight variations that come with beer might be part of the neurological attraction.

Do you reckon Urquell have as near to total consistency as can be expected? We had PU in mind as a beer that might benefit from introducing some more-or-less imperceptible variation each year.

As someone who lives in PU land, I can tell you there are variations. There are a couple of good PU pubs I still go to and I’ve tasted differences, maybe it helps that PU is not one of my staples. (for some reason, I am assuming we’re talking about Pilsner Urquell). But the thing is, and this is the most important thing, that the beer still tastes like Pilsner Urquell, but John Keeling put it very well with the the “friend with a hair cut” analogy a while ago.

Anyway, though I’m willing to accept, and perhaps even welcome, some variation from batch to batch, especially in the products from small breweries that can’t afford lab equipment, sometimes this “inconsistency isn’t bad” thing sounds like an excuse for poor brewing skills. I believe it should be the goal of every brewer to try to make every batch as similar as the previous one as possible, even if aware that such thing might not be achievable.

That’s a good way of putting it – not aiming for inconsistency or even accepting inconsistency, but aiming for consistency and inevitably missing. Reminds me of a definition of artistic inspiration I heard once – trying to sound exactly like your heroes and failing. (Supposedly Pink Floyd, in their early days, were trying to sound like the Grateful Dead, despite never having actually heard the Grateful Dead. Fortunately they failed.)

Firstly you should always recognise the beer. Secondly the beer should occasionally delight you with something it doesn’t always reveal

I agree with Pivní Filosof (and John Keeling, for that matter). There is no virtue in inconsistency. But there are disadvantages to the pursuit of extreme consistency. It’s that striving for absolute consistency that brings us sterile filtration, pasteurisation, hop extracts, etc.

Pilsner Urquell does vary. Not by much, and nothing like as much as it used to in the Communist era, but it still does.

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