13 Sep 2012 @ 11:18 PM 
 

Balance and harmony in craft beer.

 

You know, I’m frequently pretty ranty on my blog as of late and a lot of that comes out of the fact that the blog is, in many ways, an outlet for me. But today I’m looking for an outlet for a whole different kind of piece. Today I want to talk about harmony.

So, for a long time, while I was starting up Mystery I was hounded by a certain someone in the local beer industry to continually define what made my beer different. The answer – at the time – was that my beer is, on average, balanced and a lot of beers really aren’t.

It was a bit of a stretch.. maybe.

“What the fuck does balanced mean?” he would counter, “When I put your beer in my mouth I taste hops and malt and all kinds of stuff. How do I know I’m tasting balance?”

At first, I kind of brushed this off thinking, “Ah, he’s just giving me a hard time. Who doesn’t know what ‘balanced’ means?” but the more I thought about it the more I ended up agreeing with him. What does balance taste like? How do you define balance to someone who doesn’t have it defined for themselves?

So, like most things do, this has been kind of percolating in my brain for months and this afternoon emerged as a fully formed moth, hell-bent on the destruction of all living matter. It’s not balance that I was trying to communicate, it was harmony.

I tend to think of beer in terms of art.

I’ve said before and I’ll say again – in order to be a good brewer you need to be a good scientist. In order to make great beer you also need to be a good artist. It’s a definite mix of the two. You can have very technically well-made, not-very-interesting beers and you can have very interesting beers that aren’t very well made. Both of those might be good, but a well-made, interesting beer is what transcends good beer into great beer.

A good artist, or a composer, for instance, knows how to use the elements of their medium in concert with one another to make them beautiful. Those things, however, might not be in balance. Harmony is a view of how all of the elements work together to make a larger, more perfect, whole. In certain types of art that might be achieved through cognitive or tonal dissonance, but the vast majority of harmony that we know and/or like works together, like the Greek root word “harmonia” which meant “joint, agreement, concord”.

This is it. This is what I want to achieve in beer – not balance, but artistic harmony. A beer that’s technically well-made and consistent and also beautiful and artfully crafted in the spirit of harmony: Those flavors that we’re putting in there? They’re all going to work together well. We want a beer in which the flavors harmoniously coexist. Our Foreign Extra Stout would not be as good as it is if the lemons and lemongrass didn’t stand out – they’re not in balance with the rest of the beer, but they are in harmony with the rest of the beer creating a larger more beautiful beer because of the way that the lemons and lemongrass work with the residual sugar in the beer and against the rich roastiness. It’s like drinking a minor third.

Am I saying that other beers aren’t harmonious? No. But I don’t think that many are made with harmony in mind. Everybody’s trying to make a good beer and one that sells well, but I don’t see many people attempting to create a work of art – and that, my friends, is my goal: a drinkable piece of art, one that your nose and tongue can appreciate best and one that’s still accessible to the average drinker.

It’s a challenge, but hell, I like challenges.

Tags Categories: appreciation, op-ed Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 13 Sep 2012 @ 11 18 PM

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Responses to this post » (4 Total)

 
  1. Jon Simpson says:

    Great post. I totally agree. For example, I used to be a big IPA fan until the style seemed to turn into a pissing contest about who can cram more hops into a bottle. It’s seems harder and harder to find a good IPA in which all the ingredients work together.

  2. […] philosophical take on the “harmony” in craft beer at Top […]

  3. Brian M says:

    That’s a pretty cool way of putting it. Never thought about it quite like music. Good thought. Cheers!

  4. Serugatitus.com/members/terratunn64339/activity/302189/

    Top Fermented » Blog Archive » Balance and harmony in craft beer.

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