In which regular beer correspondent Neil Miller fulfils his promise to talk about Cooper’s Stout. And beer snobs.
Liquor aficionado Frank Kelly Rich once penned a thoughtful piece on why beer appreciation (or “beer snobbery” as he called it) was superior in virtually every way to wine snobbery. Of course, Mr Rich considers anyone who drinks out of a glass rather than a furtive paper bag to be a bit of snob really. Fundamentally, he argued that beer snobs had it better because the dress code was more casual, there was no need to learn French and you could basically make everything up because no-one really knows what they are talking about when it comes to beer.
Enthusiasm and relish, he believed, was more important than experience and research. His article, “The subtle art of beer snobbery”, is, in my opinion, Rich’s best piece of work. I recognise a number of truths in the piece and laughed so much that beer shot out of my nose. It is amazing that this prolific yet constantly over-proof writer also finds time to edit Modern Drunkard Magazine, blog and write “The Modern Drunkard: A Handbook for Drinking in the 21st Century.”
However, in reality, professional beer writers cannot get away with simply making it all up – at least not for very long. We are not marketers after all. Beer writers certainly cannot follow Rich’s simple advice: “In fact, the only terms you really need to know are nutty, worty, fruity, hoppy, grainy, mouthy, sulpheristical, pine-needley, and bodacious. What do they mean? No one knows for sure. The important thing is to use as many of them as possible when you rate a beer. For example, you should never just say “this beer is worty.” Instead, you should say “I find the wortiness of this beer fruity yet mouthy, with pine-needley undertones of sulpheristicallity, bodaciousamentally speaking.”
It’s marvellous satire though it is true that writers looking for a unique way of describing beer can get quite poetic. Keith Stewart once described Harrington’s Wobbly Boot Porter as “a warm, cuddly, convivial beer.” Cameron Williamson said that Young’s Double Chocolate Stout was “a totally indulgent oddity.” My personal favourite description is from a poster on the Ratebeer website who writes of the rather awful St Peter’s Honey Porter that the “floral honey scent hits you like a two by four at first, making you feel like you are about to be molested by Winnie the Pooh’s deranged redneck cousin.” That’s pretty hard to top.
Aussie beer scribes Ben Canaider and Greg Duncan Powell had a decent nudge at doing that when they described Cooper’s Best Extra Stout (6.3%) as not only tasting of a “burnt green stick” but also having “a bit of cooking chocolate, the bits scraped out the bottom of the roasting pan, old chests of drawers, brake fluid and iced coffee.” I would be wary of accepting a dinner invitation at their place if they are cooking.
Cooper’s Best Extra Stout enjoys a fine reputation on both sides of the Tasman [and in the Castle garden]. It is still a family brewery and kept malting their own grain long after other brewers gave the practice up. They have been committed to a policy of no additives and no preservatives since day one. Their Stout is a pitch black beer with an espresso head. The nose is dry, roasty and earthy while the flavours are iced coffee, toast and cream. It is a dry dark brew. A conveniently unverifiable legend also has it that this beer recommended by blood banks in Australia because of its high iron content.