10 Words NOT to Use When Writing or Talking About Beer, Pt. I

1. “Authentic”: Means next to nothing. Is it a real beer, of “undisputed origin” according to the dictionary? Fine, it’s authentic, and so is every other beer not claiming to be something else.

2. “Genuine”: See above. (Ironically, the one place where this word is most widely used, by Miller for its brand commonly known now as MGD, its use is bogus, since there is little doubt that bottled beer cannot be “genuine” draft.)

3. “Traditional”: There is a brewery in Toronto where barley and hops are grown, wort is air cooled and all fermentation takes place in wooden barrels. THAT is traditional. The ale made on a gleaming stainless steel, computerized brew kit? Not so much.

4. “Cold”: Yeah, like that’s an achievement.

5. “Drinkable”: You know what’s really drinkable? Water! I drink it all the time, but that doesn’t mean I want my beer to taste the same way.

Pt. II will arrive early next week.   

30 Replies to “10 Words NOT to Use When Writing or Talking About Beer, Pt. I”

  1. And I think the one that matches #3 may be using those techniques but it is highly doubtful that they match any techniques actually employed during the “traditional” period claimed.

  2. You forgot “only the finest ingredients,” you know, to distinguish your brewery from the ones that use the crappiest ingredients.

  3. I find that bloggers usually use “drinkable” when the relatively easy-drinking character of a particular beer is a surprise given the style or, more often, the ABV. See Zak Avery’s phrase “ruinously drinkable”. In that context I think it’s useful.


  4. I think you need to define your terms. “Beer” specifically. And also “writer.” Maybe you don’t want terms like “traditional” used profligately, but they have real meaning to accomplish exactly what you’re talking about. If a brewery makes a sour ale and calls it a traditional lambic-style beer, we can ask: turbid mash, unmated wheat, wood-aging? If the answers are no, then it’s a misuse. If the writer is a PR flack, then it’s spin.

    However, if the term is applied to a brewery that does use those techniques–Cantillon, Boon, or Allagash–the use is correct. Journalists need a word to distinguish between modern methods that produce great beers and those that use, well, traditional methods. If we can’t describe Cantillon, Rodenbach, Samuel Smith’s, or especially Allagash (which spent a mint trying to hew to tradition), we’ve taken a critical concept out of our vocabulary.

    Traditional stays in mine. (Though you others are weasel adjectives deployed almost exclusively by ad men, not journalists and are fine to castigate.)

  5. Jeff. I think by that you mean “ye olde” not traditional as traditional techniques can only be used by those with a tradition of using them. Sam Smith’s has a continuing tradition. Allagash doesn’t even if it replicates the tradition of another. It’s an innovation to adopt the ye olde traditions of another.

  6. Alan, it seems like you’re not disputing the point about certain breweries like Sam Smith’s being traditional, so we’ll move along.

    Now, as to the question of whether “traditional techniques can only be used by those with a tradition of using them,” I think this is a semantic complaint. My Webster says nothing that would suggest its as restrictive as that. (The Latin tradutio- means “the action of handing over.”)

    Furthermore, I think the word traditional has a useful purpose in brewing, one you lose if you scrap it. There are different methods in brewing, some of them preserved from earlier eras. When we wonder how a given beer was brewed, when I say “traditional,” I mean in the manner of the living tradition as it is still practiced–as opposed to a way which may produce a traditional style but was made in a modern way. To take the word “traditional” out of the lexicon is to make it very hard for me to determine how anything’s made without going through a massive checklist with the brewer. Or worse, when writing about beer, to run through that checklist rather than just saying “traditional.” To say a traditional lambic is pretty clear.

    We are stuck with the language we have, and I think most people understand that usage when a writer–very different from a brewery flack–uses it that way.

  7. I don’t think “Drinkable” is too bad. I suppose if you can drink it without it causing death, it would fall into the “drinkable” category, but I think we can all use our heads and see what is really meant when we call a beer “drinkable.”

  8. Knew it. The “semantics” straw man. So let’s, as you say, move along.

    By your definition, Miller and Labbat is also “traditional” as they are following their tradition of relying on all available scientific advances. This is why it is vacuous generality if not given some restraint, if not used in the sense of continuing a craft with some sense of indigenous character tying activity to place. If that is the usage – and I think you agree that it is useful for this purpose – then it is good usage. If it is broader, it gets wonkier.

    Turn it around. What is wrong with saying adopted traditional techniques for the innovations of Allagash?

  9. Alan, “semantics straw man?” To return to the dictionary, my Webster’s calls semantics “the study of meanings” and “the historical study and the classification of changes in the signification of words or forms viewed as factors in linguistic development.” How on earth is that a straw man? Isn’t it, you know, the entire substance of the discussion? I suppose the word has acquired the taint of dismissal, but it shouldn’t have it when you’re talking about the meaning of words.

    As for the restraint point, I would say that “traditional techniques”are not an innovation; there is nothing new about them. They’re linguistically contradictory. I think the most straightforward reading of traditional techniques (which is an improvement on the more vague “traditional”) has nothing to do with the age or history of a brewery. I could be wrong, but my guess is that if someone wrote this sentence, its meaning would be clear, and the word traditional would be quite useful: “Allagash’s Rob Tod consulted extensively with Cantillon in order to build a traditional lambic system in Portland.” How would you communicate it?

  10. Poor “drinkable” (or “drinkability”). Shunned because it has been used as a marketing term.

    It seems to me that it might have some use because “not drinkable” or “undrinkable” do.

    1. Just for the record, Stan, I wouldn’t endorse the use those words, either. Unless, of course, something truly is so dreadfully bad as to be undrinkable. Otherwise, surely “unpalatable” will do.

      I dislike “drinkable” and “drinkability” because they convey no sense of emotion, as does, say, “quaffable.” There is a joy implied in quaffing a pint of something that is, IMO, absent in the drinking of the same pint.

      1. What the hell do you USE to split those hairs, Stephen?! I modify “drinkable” to suit my emotion of the moment — “wonderfully drinkable,” “barely drinkable,” “gloriously drinkable” — and usually leave “quaffable” to people who are writing about dwarves and elves…but that’s just me. Others write differently.
        Have you been reading someone’s advice on how to drive traffic by using lists? Because it surely is working!

  11. Straw. Man, Sorry, Jeff, but recourse to Websters for meaning is a bit junior high. Your comment on tradition / innovation might indicate you are wed to this analysis so, with respect, I am not going along with you. Me? Me, I communicate the excitement, the newness, the transfer of skill and all those good things but I have spent to much time in Portland Maine to think anything Allagash does is traditional – much to their credit and with no disrespect to Mainers.

  12. Alan, the recourse to a dictionary during a discussion about the meaning of words doesn’t seem especially juvenile to me, but I regret we’ve again wandered into a fracas.

    1. Yes we have. I am giving myself a time out. And a stern lecture. There is something very inefficient about comment disagreements. I bet we would speak through this in 45 seconds if we were talking.

        1. Now that you two appear to have reached some sort of detente, I will point out two important sentences from the original post: “The ale made on a gleaming stainless steel, computerized brew kit? Not so much.”

          My issue is the use of “traditional” to describe something like a pale ale or IPA “traditionally styled after the classic blah, blah, blah.” I see it all the time.

  13. I use Drinkable sometimes, but I use as a term of art, in generally refers to beers which I would want to drink again, or drink in quantity. For instance, I love Pliny the Elder – but I wouldn’t drink 6 bottles of it during the super bowl (even if I could afford it). Some other beers .. maybe. I guess I use it as a synonym for session beer.

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