"Cask ale has great drinkability". WTF exactly is "drinkability"? The lack of barb-wire, sharks, or ebola in yr pint glass?
— Paul Staxx Spraget (@MarshallStaxx) December 1, 2015
That’s a thought-provoking and funny response to (we assume) this blog post by John Keeling of Fuller’s for Craft Beer London, in which he says:
[Beer] from kegs, cans and bottles has got a lot better over the last few years, they just don’t have that ultimate drinkability. That is cask ale’s trump card: if you’re having a few, there’s no doubt that cask ale is your best option. It’s better for flavour; a 3½ percent ale won’t work on keg but it can be superb on cask. For an occasion when you’re going to have four or five pints, cask is best.
‘Drinkability’ is one of those words that some people dislike, along with ‘refreshing’, ‘smooth’ and ‘creamy’, for reasons summed up in a post by American writer Bryan Roth last year:
Every beer, by virtue of being liquid, is smooth. But to declare a beer’s sensory characteristics simply as ‘smooth’ is no better than relying on its disgraceful cousin, ‘drinkability,’ which is essentially describing a beer as drinkable because it doesn’t kill you when you consume it… ‘Smooth’ is nothing more than word vomit, digested in the chasms of the brain, spewed from our mouths and flushed down our collective consciousness, only to reappear all around us, as if some form of contagious disease so easily passed from one person to the next.
But in the context John Keeling has used the word it seems to be a form of understatement along the lines of ‘very watchable’ to describe a popular film, or ‘danceable’ of a song to which it is hard to resist moving along. It means that it a beer is not merely possible to chug down while suppressing the gag reflex but that is easy to drink, or even difficult to stop drinking, even if there might not be much to say about it.
The opposite of drinkable might be ‘hard work’ or ‘challenging’, which can be applied to many truly great, interesting, complex beers that, nonetheless, we would not want to drink more than once a year, or in measures of greater than 250ml.
Whether cask ale is the most ‘drinkable’ type of beer is debatable — we’ve never had any trouble putting away cold, highly carbonated lager, for example.
At any rate, having given due pondering time to the challenge posed by Paul in his Tweet, we reckon drinkability is a perfectly decent, useful word.