Using "Funky" as a Beer Descriptor is a Crutch

Hello, again! I realize that just as soon I started to get into a groove with these blog posts, I went MIA. Sorry to keep you waiting so long. I find I have more time (and make more time) for writing in the summer months, while I struggled to do so over the winter. I am hoping to re-build the writing habit again this summer, and maybe it will carry over into the fall and winter this time around. We'll see how it goes...

OK, before we get into the topic of the day, as I wrote that last sentence, "we'll see how it goes," it reminded me of this post from August of last year. I predicted that Gose would be the beer of 2016, and if this spring is any indication, I'm thinking I was right. So far this year, we have picked up Gose-style beers from all of the following breweries (off the top of my head), that were not available in NC in 2015:

Terrapin, Hi-Wire, Southern Pines, Anderson Valley (first a new "Briney Melon" gose, and now a Gin & Tonic gose), Zebulon, Destihl, Sierra Nevada, Evil Twin, Devil's Backbone, Ponysaurus, Trophy, and Sycamore

Not to mention, we've seen returning Gose's from each of the following breweries:

Steel String, Westbrook, Stillwater, Wicked Weed, Victory, & Boulevard

But I'm straying off topic here, so bear with me while we switch gears back to the intended discussion...

Katy and I were both bartending yesterday at The Glass Jug; something the two of us do together very rarely these days - mostly just on Saturday afternoons. Don't get me wrong, we each do our fair share of bartending, but it's uncommon that it's ever just the two of us behind the bar, since we have such a fantastic staff.

Anyway, as I was saying, we were working the bar, and we always have a rotating cider on draft. Currently, we're pouring a Spanish Sidra (which you should read about). It is the Isastegi Cider House Natural Cider (Sagardo Naturala). A lady came in who was interested in trying it - she considered herself a bit of a cider connoisseur and was interested in learning more about these Spanish ciders, so before ordering it, she asked what it tasted like.

Since this cider is a wild-fermented cider, with the rustic barnyard flavor that is commonly associated with beverages fermented with brettanomyces, we described it to her as tasting "funky." She simply responded, "When you say 'funky,' what exactly do you mean?"

It hadn't crossed our minds that everyone didn't know that a beer or cider described as "funky" had flavors reminiscent of "funky" cheeses, or hints of hay and moss, and that trademark musty aroma common to lambics and other wild-fermented drinks.

Now, of course we could describe this to her - and give her a sample to see for herself - but the interaction made me realize how much the beer industry as a whole has started using the term "funky" as a crutch.

The term itself is not very descriptive. It doesn't inherently elicit a known flavor as it would if I described something as sweet or sour or even citrusy, caramel, chocolatey, toasty, roasty, etc. All of those words draw a direct connection to food or other drinks, whereas funky may only remind you of George Clinton.

But, funky has become the default term to describe a beer whenever we see the word "brett" or "wild fermented" included on the label or description. It's like we stopped actually using our taste buds and just do a word association: brett = funky.

I think we can do better.

So, to all of you who who work in the industry, and any of you who want to better describe what it is you're drinking, I implore you to try not to use the word "funky" as a default descriptor. Instead, really think about the flavors you're tasting. Are you getting a leathery quality, or is it more like a musty blue cheese aroma? Is it a dry hay and straw sensation resulting in a dry, tannic finish, or more of a tart white vinegar acidity?

I, for one, am going to make a conscious effort to change how I describe these beers. I think it will be a helpful exercise not only in vocabulary, but it will also force me to really taste the beer and search for the actual flavor that I am experiencing and describing as funky.

Currently Drinking...

I've decided to add a new section at the end of each of these newsletters, highlighting a few beers that I've had recently that were exceptional and worth trying. Given today's theme of "funky" beers, I'll leave you with a few of my favorite brett-fermented beers that are currently available at your local bottle shop:

1. Wicked Weed – Garcon de Ferme

Garcon de Ferme is a foeder-rested, Brettanomcyes farmhouse ale.  After fermentation,this pleasantly tart ale is blended back onto over a pound and half per gallon of fresh, whole peaches to reflect and echo that the craft of the old has not been wasted on the young.

2. Allagash - Little Brett

Allagash Little Brett is both hopped and dry hopped with 100% Mosaic hops and is completely fermented in stainless with our house strain of Brettanomyces yeast. Little Brett is a hazy, straw-colored beer featuring an aroma bursting with pineapple and notes of bread crust. Pineapple continues through the flavor with additional notes of fresh cut grass. A mild tartness in the finish is nicely balanced with a pleasant hop-bitterness.

3. Haw River - Communal

Brewed using a modest amount of Belgian pilsner malt, caramel wheat and toasted amaranth to help build body and provide a little grassy sweetness, our version of a Belgian Table Beer is fermented in old oak brandy barrels with a blend of brettanomyces strains for a funky, dry twist on a session beer.

If you've had a great brett beer recently, post a comment, and I'd love to hear you describe it without using the word "funky!"