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Beer history

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 replies on “What is a Twang?”

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.

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.

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

“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.

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*)

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

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

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