Stale Superlatives

Everyone hates to see bland and non-descriptive beer descriptions such as "hoppy" or "malty" (see Mark's post here for a great analysis) but there is sometimes a danger it can go the other way. Superlative descriptors and elaborate adjectives seem to do the rounds, I don't blame people for using them...maybe they've seen it used somewhere else and decide to shoe horn it into their descriptions or perhaps tehy've always used them but only recently become noticable. Here are my top 10 to avoid:

1. Unctuous: used in reviews to describe something moreish and silky, a better description would be to go for texture.

2. Hop Sack (dusty or otherwise): used by Zak Avery in his 500 beers book, how many regular beer drinkers know what a hop sack smells like? Is it just a slightly musty fresh hop smell, or  amixture of hops and hessian? Or do they use plastic sacks these days?

3. Funky (to describe a Brett fermented beer): funky means a bad smell, perhaps some people find the aroma unpleasant but surely if the descriptions of horse-blanket and mouth-puckering sour weren't enough to put people off then this would? Or is it a conspiracy to keep lambics for beer-geeks?

4. "In my top # beers" be honest, you don't have a fixed x number of beers that are your favourite, let the review speak for itself and leave the summing up for the end of the year

5. ...

I failed in my task to find a top ten, perhaps there aren't as many words as I'd thought, or maybe I haven't been remembering well enough! I open up the floor to other contributions and please leave the clichés and flowery language to the world of wine!

Of course it would be remiss of me to not include a disclaimer, as I'm sure I may have been (or possibly will be) guilty of using any and all of these at some point. Blame the beer.


  1. There are quite a few I just don't understand. Your hopsack example is a good one. I know what "horse blanket" means because I've smelled beers that supposedly have this characteristic, but I've never been anywhere near a horse blanket!

    But anything is preferable to "hoppy with a firm maltiness" which seems to be used on the label of every British bottled beer in the supermarket. So, tastes like the ingredients of beer, then?

  2. Yeah, the lazy tasting notes on beer bottles are poor, but I'm trying to find ones that only make sense to the geekiest of hopheads, blogs should try to reach new readers and they can't do that if they use obscure terms that people need to google definitions for!

    horse-blanket confused me when I first heard it, but I get it, its a kind of musty animal manure/wet hay kind of smell. At least its descriptive.

  3. I like 'hop sack,' it's personal, but not so obscure that absolutely nobody will get it. '...Like the back of my Dad's garage on a wet Thursday afternoon' really needs an invitation to sample the unique aroma.
    I also can imagine people getting caught having a crafty sniff of a hop sack on a brewery tour which is a funny image.

  4. Not exactly a superlative, perhaps, but I see the description "molasses" in about 70% of beer reviews and have yet to work out what sort of taste it refers to. I don't even know if it's singular or plural. I've gotten into the habit of pronouncing the term in my mind as though it were a reference to the hindquarters of certain small subterranean mammals, which I fervently hope is a misconstrual of its meaning - though, given the countless references to horse-blankets and barnyards and cats' pee, I wouldn't be in the least surprised...

  5. Hehe that made me laugh out loud! Every time I read molasses now ill picture that...molasses is unrefined sugar syrup. Think trace but more rustic...at least that's what I've always understood! I remember from a "stranded on a dessert island" task at school

  6. And I didn't believe cats per myself until a few weekends ago...see my "perfection in a glass" post.

  7. "Please leave the clichés and flowery language to the world of wine."

    Be nice now Steve, we've all got to make a living somehow! I've blogged some thoughts on this with my wine educator's hat on (well, not literally a 'wine hat' but you get my point...) Link through my name/url, comments appreciated.

  8. Ah. That's what 'funky' means....seems to be used a lot on some sites, esp. this one:


    Used so regularly, I didn't realise it was a pejorative term...but then, some people like their beer like this, as you say. I think that, on this site in particular, funky means sour (or soured), much in the way Porter used to get soured...so why not say that?

    For me 'funky' has connotations of either nice and different, or off...whereas 'sour' is just, well, sour!

  9. It depends who your blog audience is really!

  10. I don't mind the term, I just don't understand why its used when it is not clear to non-experts (which is partly the spirit of your post, Steve).

    On the other hand, sour has equally negative connotations to the uninitiated. I've just binned a load of 'sour' homebrew, but it was no lambic!!

    Will now shut the funk up.