A Dictionary for Beer Tasting, 1981

A page from the dictionary.

Here’s another find from the collection of Guinness-related material we’re currently sorting through: a 1981 dictionary of beer tasting descriptors by American brewing scientist Joseph Owades.

This is fas­ci­nat­ing to us because while research­ing Brew Bri­tan­nia we spent ages try­ing to find exam­ples of the kind of tast­ing notes we now take for grant­ed – horse­blan­ket, pine, all that jazz – and found noth­ing sub­stan­tial from before the mid to late 1980s.

This doc­u­ment, how­ev­er, lists almost 80 dif­fer­ent taste descrip­tors with brief notes on their mean­ing. Here are a few sam­ple entries:

cel­lary – usu­al­ly an odor, but some­times also a taste, pro­duced by micro-organ­isms which live main­ly in wood, and found in beers which have been kept in such wood­en tanks or bar­rels. Also found in beers which have not been in con­tact with wood, but with such micro-organ­isms; also musty or woody.

flow­ery – an odor which resem­bles a mixed bou­quet of flow­ers, usu­al­ly sweet and pleas­ant; most prob­a­bly derived from hops.

skunky – an odor, resem­bling close­ly that emit­ted by a skunk, pro­duced only when beer in a clear bot­tle is exposed to vis­i­ble light. The use of brown glass pro­tects from this effect.

It looks as if this par­tic­u­lar copy, typed and pho­to­copied on eight sides of A4, was a hand­out at some kind of con­fer­ence held at the Har­vard Club in New York City in Novem­ber 1981 and spon­sored by Anchor Brew­ing of San Fran­cis­co, and All About Beer mag­a­zine.

Owades is an inter­est­ing fig­ure, best known as the inven­tor of light lager, and of con­tract brew­ing as we know it today. The dic­tio­nary was pub­lished under the flag of his beer con­sul­tan­cy firm, The Cen­ter for Brew­ing Stud­ies.

Though the doc­u­ment is obscure (scarce­ly a pass­ing men­tion exists online) we can’t help but sus­pect that some key play­ers – writ­ers and brew­ers on both sides of the Atlantic – acquired copies, and were inspired by the lan­guage employed.

4 thoughts on “A Dictionary for Beer Tasting, 1981”

    1. Gah! Par­tic­u­lar­ly annoy­ing because we fixed that while proof­read­ing this morn­ing but the edit did­n’t save.

  1. Owades reminds me of the Apple engi­neers who made Steve Jobs’ visions a real­i­ty. It’s more than con­tract brew­ing, as a brew­ing tech­nol­o­gist he helped cre­ate the brews them­selves, iron­i­cal­ly in coun­ter­point to his light beer inno­va­tions. But after all that’s what tech­nol­o­gists do, they don’t advo­cate for any part of the spec­trum nec­es­sar­i­ly.

    Hence, his flavour vocab­u­lary may well have influ­enced some of the craft lex­i­con, espe­cial­ly “cel­lar” which Michael Jack­son used a lot.

    At the same time, it’s inevitably a prod­uct of his era and thus val­ue-laden. His cel­lar char­ac­ter was a cri­tique, as was the bac­te­r­i­al descrip­tion. Today those tastes are laud­ed for cer­tain styles.


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