What is a Twang?

Judge with beer.

Ever had a beer with a twang to it? A quality so subtle it transcends language?

The oth­er week in Birm­ing­ham we ploughed through many issues of the high­ly enter­tain­ing and par­ti­san Licensed Trade News. In the issue for 10 Decem­ber 1904 we found this sto­ry tak­en from the Dai­ly Tele­graph with some added com­men­tary, recount­ing events at South­wark Police Court on (we think) 6 Decem­ber that year.

A pub­li­can who was sued at South­wark for beer sup­plied said he returned some of the stuff because it was very poor.

Judge Addi­son: How did you judge of that?

Defen­dant: I am a prac­ti­cal brew­er.

Judge Addi­son: But did you judge it by its taste, because that is the way I should test it? (Laugh­ter.)

Defen­dant: Yes, and there was a ‘twang’ about it.

Judge Addi­son: That is some­thing we object to in people’s voic­es. (Laugh­ter.) What do you mean by a ‘twang’ in beer?

Defen­dant: It left an unpleas­ant taste in the mouth.

Judge Addi­son: That is what good beer does if you take too much – at least, that is what I am told. (Laugh­ter.)

Defen­dant: I thought it had a ten­den­cy to acid­i­ty.

Judge Addi­son: But what is this ‘twang’?

Defen­dant: Well, it did not go down easy. (Laugh­ter.)

Judge Addi­son: I sup­pose beer does not go down easy if you do not like it. (Laugh­ter.) It goes down easy enough if you do like it.

Defen­dant: If beer is palat­able it goes down easy. (Laugh­ter.)

Judge Addi­son: Yes, with most of us. (Laugh­ter.)

Defen­dant: You can’t drink a lot of it when it has got a ‘twang’.

Judge Addi­son: But why; What is this ‘twang’? If I had some here I could sam­ple it for myself. (Laugh­ter.)

Defen­dant: Well, it has an unpleas­ant taste.

Coun­sel: The ‘twang’, your hon­our, is so sub­tle that it tran­scends lan­guage.

What­ev­er would [tem­per­ance cam­paign­er] Sir Wil­frid Law­son say if the Judge put his very prac­ti­cal sug­ges­tion of test­ing the beer by taste into fact, and there and then quaffed some glo­ri­ous or inglo­ri­ous beer as the sequel might prove in the fierce light of a police court? One thing is cer­tain, viz., that Judge Addi­son is per­fect­ly sat­is­fied that it should be known that in the words of the old dit­ty he

Likes a drop of good beer.’

A few obser­va­tions:

  1. The pub­li­can is an advo­cate of easy-drink­ing ses­sion beer, evi­dent­ly.
  2. Said pub­li­can could do to go on an off-flavour iden­ti­fi­ca­tion course.
  3. Judge Addi­son doesn’t believe in tast­ing with eyes alone. Wise.
  4. His Judgi­ness was right to chal­lenge the word twang: did the pub­li­can actu­al­ly mean tang? That would chime with his men­tion of acid­i­ty.
  5. Look at tast­ing notes all over Untappd/Ratebeer – twang remains a pop­u­lar word!
  6. Either His Judge­wor­thi­ness had fun­ny bones or this audi­ence was eas­i­ly pleased. (Laugh­ter.)

18 thoughts on “What is a Twang?”

  1. 7. He likes a drop of good beer,
    He likes a drop of good beer!
    And damn his eyes who ever tries
    To rob a poor man of his beer!
    – music-hall song

    We can date this song quite pre­cise­ly, as it begins by hail­ing “King Bil­ly” (William IV 1830–7); it seems to have been writ­ten in 1830, to cel­e­brate the new King’s Beer­house Act. So it was an ‘old dit­ty’ by 1904.

  2. It’s a word I first heard used (in rela­tion to beer) at home­brew meet­ings, and it always referred to the oxi­da­tion off-flavour you get from some kits. I imme­di­ate­ly think oxi­da­tion when I hear it.

  3. Don’t you think it might just be the man using an incor­rect word? He pos­si­bly means “tang”. Mean­ing: smell, odour, aro­ma, fra­grance, per­fume, redo­lence

    1. If that’s for us then, yes, we do think that, more-or-less. (Bul­let point 4 at the bot­tom…)

  4. I use the word tang – not twang.
    A tang is in Shep’s Spit­fire – and that’s why I don’t like Spit­fire.

  5. Sure­ly a tang is good? What’s a juicy banger if not tangy? Or (per­haps hereti­cal­ly) some­thing like Staro­prame­nen Cool Grep (pink grape­fruit flavoured 2% beer).

    The twang as described how­ev­er I would sur­mise as the slight vine­gary sour­ness redo­lent of a cask sat too long: anal­o­gous per­haps to the taste and feel of ping­ing an old rub­ber band held between the teeth.

  6. Amen to point six. Sounds like the judge invent­ed canned laugh­ter. But see­ing as the judge is speak­ing direct­ly to the defen­dant who nev­er cor­rects him, it must be twang – plus I can’t think of any dialect that would make tang sound like twang.

  7. a bloke in my local used the word twang a cou­ple of months ago when the Prop­er Job wasn’t that good, and I took it to mean an unpleas­ant­ness in the beer, which there was. His ini­tial use of the word made me think of Duane Eddy.

  8. Twang” always struck me as “tang” gone wrong. Porter had a pleas­ant acid tang to Lon­don­ers at one point. Same taste to oth­ers or at a lat­er date may have twanged.

  9. Twang… an unpleas­ant tang?

    I’ve used this word for a long while, I can’t for the life of me remem­ber if it entered my lex­i­con as part of adopt­ing UK beer cul­ture or if it pre-dates this.

    A twang is not quite an acid tang, which even by the sound of the word *sounds* clean­er and brighter. Tangy fruits, tangy cit­rus… but a twang has more of the malt vine­gar about it, and to me a twangy beer isn’t quite acetic but has a cloy­ing sour­ness – it’s “on the turn” per­haps. It tends to make a beer sick­ly.

    It is a flavour in beer I have often pon­dered but have nev­er seen pinned down. It cer­tain­ly isn’t in any flavour-stan­dard kits I’ve come across!

    I tend to find twang in two sce­nar­ios:

    1) Home­brew from liq­uid extract, I’ve made “twangy” beer myself. Almost turned me off home­brew (albeit I did pack in home­brew ages ago)… but after I moved to par­tial mash and DME there was no more twang. But that may just be oth­er improve­ments in my tech­niques. I have often pon­dered whether it is a prop­er­ty of the extract, or some­thing more com­plex to do with water chem­istry.

    2) Old cask. And per­haps unique to old *fined* cask. And often an old cask that has a cast to it that won’t drop. I tend to attribute this to worn out fin­ings sus­pend­ed in solu­tion. But have absolute­ly noth­ing to back that up with.

    Is there a synaes­the­sia in this… a “twang” is a plucked string, often dis­cor­dant? (This word is used above.) It is a taste like an out of tune note, a feel­ing in the chest like nails drawn down a black­board. A shud­der of revul­sion.

    Beer that tastes like an Aus­tralian accent. (*shud­der*)

  10. Reminds me on the blog you did on us a while back. Twang is def­i­nite­ly a good descrip­tion.

  11. C’mon guys twang is in Thomas Hardy, don’t let up the side.

    (“Lumi­nous like a sun­set” etc etc. but lacked a “twang”. Mean­ing, no excess hop taste there. But in the court tran­script, I agree with Dvo­rak, it meant acid­i­ty).

    🙂

    Gary

  12. The two twangs I am aware of are “home­brew twang” and “Guin­ness twang.”

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