Beer history

A Dictionary for Beer Tasting, 1981

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 replies on “A Dictionary for Beer Tasting, 1981”

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

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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