Professor GG Stewart has helped fashion the brewing knowledge and attitudes of an entire generation of qualified brewers. Once said in a lecture he said “oxygen is death for beer”. He may have spent all of his adult life in search of knowledge about yeast and beer and been very successful in the brewing industry but Professor Stewart’s words would soon emphatically refuted by those who dedicate their lives to tasting different beers. Beers which the beer experts at Ratebeer have proclaimed to be the best in the world are made with no oxygen control and in the case of Striuse beers, pronounced oxidised flavours. Barrel-aged beers flavours are substantially derived from the action of oxygen and these are also widely revered amongst these connoisseurs. To Professor Stewart these beers are the undead, murderous brain-eating zombies from beyond the unholy grave.
Mainstream brewing has for centuries striven for clean, fresh, subtle and fruity tastes which appeal to humans on the basis that we have evolved to enjoy them because they offer sound nutritious sustenance. Humans shy away from old, bitter, sour and harsh flavours because they indicate that a substance will be dangerous to consume. Mainstream and for the most part, micro breweries are commercial organisations which need the money from customers to survive. In business it is safer to appeal to Mr Average than to Mr Enthusiast.
There are of course some innovators who have found an untapped market or breweries which have indulgent backers that can survive on the edge but the market for niche brands is by its very nature small and becoming increasingly crowded.
Beer, like love has different meanings to different people. To Professor Stewart it’s a cool crisp glass of high gravity brewed, post fermentation bittered Labbat’s Ice, to Mr B Geek it’s a 20,000IBU Imperial 45centigrade barrel-aged Indian Stout which is sliced rather than poured. Everyone else’s concepts are found somewhere on the continuum between the two. The painful truth is that the distribution of these meanings is log-normal and skewed towards Professor Stewart’s. There are two theories about why Mr Average and everyone he knows enjoy a clean tasting beer. One is a global conspiracy from those who shape the market, brainwashing people and prohibiting their access to extremely flavoursome beers. The other is that people are lazy and prefer simple, easy-to-enjoy things like McDonalds and Cola.
Maybe as we evolve we will desire to challenge our tastebuds rather than appease them and this distribution will shift across in the opposite direction. Or Maybe CAMRA and Ratebeer et al. will rise up in an unrelenting terror campaign against the capitalist fat cats, who for centuries have enslaved humanity’s tastes to their global fizz and free the world of this curse. Until then I will still enjoy both well made commercial and idiosyncratic beers while appreciating the science and art which goes into each. In my opinion beer’s not sick and anyone who claims to want to cure it needs a good going over. Anyone disagree?
This week’s beer is a celebration of the twisted relationship between beer and oxygen. Stock Aerated Ale goes further than just letting oxygen into the beer. With this beer it will be forced in warm through a sintered stone to produce vast dissolved oxygen levels and the kind of premature aging that would put Olay shares at the top of the FTSE and NASDAC. Care of course will be taken to not oxidise all of the alcohol to ethanoic acid. This beer is rotting flesh - walking death – a waking nightmare or an inspired oxygen-aged classic. It depends on where you are on the evolutionary ladder that leads from ape to geek. Sorry Professor Stewart.
Malt: Pale ale, peated and crystal rye
Hops: Apollo, Summit and Magnum