The more we as a people  embrace postmodernism, the more aggressively we profess a disdain for rules and standards.  But deep inside, we know they can be beneficial and are meant for our own good.  They keep our roads flowing, our pockets less pick-pocketed, and our beer delicious.  That doesn’t mean that at times a rule or standard is above reproach and deserves questioning.

So when the Brewers Association emailed me with a press release that includes the 2011 Beer Style Guidelines, I took note.  After all, as Charlie Papazian, president of the Brewers Association and personal hero of this author, put it, these rules are meant to enhance beer and beer makers:

“These guidelines help to illustrate the growth of craft brewers in the United States and also offer insight and a foundation for helping appreciate the hundreds of beer types brewed for the beer lover,” said Charlie Papazian, president of the Brewers Association.

As a homebrewer and hopefully a future pro-brewer, these guidelines help me categorize my beer should I place a brew in a competition.  If I paid no heed to the rules, I might ignorantly enter a Hefeweizen into the Imperial Stout category.  That would be embarrassing, and perhaps career suicide.  And, as Papazian stated, knowing the fundamental building blocks and parameters of a beer enables a person to fine tune their palate and better appreciate a beer.

Unfortunately, though, the rules can be a bit overwhelming.  I mean, there are now 140 different defined styles, and many of these style over lap.  For example, if a beer is brewed within a certain ambiguous range of color, alcohol, bitterness, etc, it could easily be categorized as either a Imperial/Double IPA, or perhaps and American Style Barleywine.  This years new addition to the Beer Style Guidelines threw me for a bit of loop, and seemed to be the perfect opportunity for style overlap.  From the Guidelines (which can be downloaded here), the new addition, the American Style Brett Ale is:

American Brett ales can be very light to black or take on the color of added fruits or other ingredients.  Wood- and barrel- aged sour ales are classified elsewhere. Light to moderate and/or fruity and contributed by the Brettanomyces yeast. The evolution of natural acidity develops balanced complexity. Horsey, goaty, leathery, phenolic and light to moderate and/or fruity acidic character evolved from Brettanomyces organisms may be evident, yet in balance with other character. Acidity may also be contributed to by
bacteria, but may or may not dominate. Residual flavors that come from liquids previously aged in a barrel such as bourbon or sherry should not be present. Wood vessels may be used during the fermentation and aging process, but wood-derived flavors such as vanillin must not be present. In darker versions, roasted malt, caramel-like and chocolate-like characters should be subtle in both flavor and aroma. American Brett ales may have evident full range of hop aroma and hop bitterness with a full range of body. Estery and fruity-ester characters are evident, sometimes moderate and sometimes intense, yet balanced. Diacetyl and sweet cornlike dimethylsulfide (DMS) should not be perceived. Chill haze, bacteria and yeast-induced haze are allowable at low to medium levels at any temperature. Fruited American-Style Brett Ales will exhibit fruit flavors in harmonious balance with other characters. Original Gravity (ºPlato) Varies with style ● Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (ºPlato) Varies with style ● Alcohol by Weight
(Volume) Varies with style ● Bitterness (IBU) Varies with style ● Color SRM (EBC) Varies with style

Sounds delicious.  In fact, brett style beers are my absolute favorite.  I’m one of those fanatics who thinks brettanomyces would make a nice addition to just about any beer.  I’ve brewed with it and I’ve cultured it from other some big name breweries.   BUT…is this new category too broad?  Is it necessary?

I mean, according to this criterion, were Orval brewed in the Rockies instead of in a monastery in Belgium, would it be an American Style Brett?  And sheesh…aren’t ALL of Jolly Pumkin’s magnificent creation now subject to another classification.

When all is said and done, it really isn’t a big deal.  In fact, despite the tone of this article, it really doesn’t bother me.  I love the Brewers Association, and I love the fact that they care so much about beer so as to make it more understandable and enjoyable.  I guess, were I a member of the board, I don’t believe I would have thrown an AYE in the basket for this one and would caution against over-classification.  Besides, don’t we all love and cherish a certain amount of raw ambiguity?  I know I do…in fact, perhaps my favorite style might just be “Specialty Beer.”