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“Complex” is a Useless Beer Descriptor
by Marco Aguado
I’d like to discuss what I think is the most overused and unnecessary word in the world of craft brewing. The word I love to hate is “complex.”
Beer is not complex. You know what is complex? A suspension bridge, brain surgery, a commercial jet air liner — these things are complex.
Whenever I start to hear the word complex getting thrown around like it’s going out of style, I totally lose interest in whatever is said after. It’s like describing an IPA as hoppy or a stout as roasty.
I’ve read too many articles and beer reviews where “complex” is used so often that it results in hilarity. Using it once is using it one too many times. Many brewers are guilty as well. I recently came across a new brewery’s web site where every single of one its beers was described as complex. It comes off pretentious to a novice who has just gotten into the world of craft and the word itself says absolutely nothing.
I recently asked a good friend who loves craft beer, but does not lurk in the beer forums or follows new releases if the beer he was drinking was complex. He looked at my puzzled and asked, “What the hell does that mean?” My point exactly. So we proceeded to discuss it. Although my buddy loves good beer, he is a simple man. Had I tried to persuade him that the beer he was drinking was complex, he would have cursed at me and demanded a refill. Do we want to alienate him and others like him?
It seems some people want to elevate beer to a higher spot on the totem pole, maybe to feel superior or equal to the wine enthusiast. Or maybe to the scotch connoisseur or the brandy drinker who sips his brandy in a smoking jacket.
There’s a video where John Kimmich — owner of The Alechemist, and most recently voted by website Beer Advocate as the number one beer in the world, Heady Topper — saying “it’s a beer, it’s nothing elevated, it’s nothing more than what it is. The perfect drink for the working person, the common man.” Well stated and simply put, nothing complex about that. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amgfgU5-lhs
I wonder if the “complex” thing is borrowed from the wine folks, and it has leached into beer circles because of the inferiority complex that some beer people have to wine folks. Let us give back the term to the wine enthusiast. Let them keep the snooty reputation they’ve worked so hard to gain. Beer needs no elevation. Beer is the peoples’ drink. President Obama uses beer to settle disputes during tense “teachable moments.” He even has chefs brew beer in the White House kitchen so he can share beers on the campaign trail. Beer is the common thread between all social classes.
Instead of describing a beer as complex, explain what makes it complex. I had a lady friend describe Rampant IPA as fishy. Is that considered complex? No, but I could at least kind of understand where she was coming from.
Don’t get me wrong, being a countertop partial mash homebrewer, I understand that brewing and brewing equipment can be complicated if you choose to make it so. I’ve done all-grain but I love the simplicity of partial mash. But in the end, it’s still just beer.
I do enjoy pouring a double IPA into a brandy snifter and swirling it and marveling at the color and foamy goodness. There is nothing complex about that. I’m not saying we have to dumb down beer, let’s just not turn it into a meaningless word contest that just comes off as pompous.
I’ve recently started to see this term leech into the culinary world. Is food complex too, now? In a world that is becoming increasingly complicated everyday, life has become increasingly complex. Let’s not make the simplest of life’s pleasures complex. Life is complex enough as it is.
So let’s make it a point to never use “complex” as an adjective for beer and tell us what you really taste and smell. If something actually is complex, lets encourage our tasting compatriots to unpack the term. If you taste many different flavors or smell a variety of recognizable aromas, be explicit and describe them. After all, beer is for the common man (and woman). Nothing complex about that.
Do you have a term you’d like eradicated from the world of craft beer?
[The word I’d like to see banished from the homebrewing world is “infected.” Your beer is never infected. It may be contaminated, but it’s not infected.– Chris Colby, Editor]