Do You Have Freestyle?
Beer, as a whole, doesn’t put much emphasis on appellation. Unlike wine, which harvested grapes must be sent to winery immediately for processing, beers are almost made of dry goods, and you may ship those ingredients all over the world without concession to quality. Therefore, one can actually brew German Pils in Hong Kong using malts transported from Germany, or brew American IPA using American hops. There is no geographical limitation on the types of beer you could make.
Instead, beers are defined by style. 《BJCP Style Guidelines》has defined over hundred styles of beer, listing their distinct characters like overall impression, appearance, aroma, flavor and mouthfeel. However, the guide still gives a certain extent of elasticity on each styles (for example, AIPA has to express aromas from the new world hops, but the guide does not limit the exact country of origin for the hops or the hop varieties being used). So, brewers are free to express the style in their own way, as long as it complies with the characters defined.
However, the craft beer industry always looks for innovation; They challenge the tradition (such as the recent chic NE IPA: cloudy appearance, low bitterness, which combine to make it like fresh fruit juice), explore the possibility to new ingredients, or boost the taste of the place by using local ingredients (such as Hong Kong’s Chenpi Beer, Taiwan’s tea beer, etc). Therefore, the guide has a category called “Specialty Type Beer”, which includes beer styles brewed with atypical ingredients such as wild yeasts, fungi, fruits, spices, and so on. And within the category, the experimental beer (34C) puts innovation to the extreme, which includes nearly anything without constraints! Be water, my friend! We do have freestyle!
However, are there any rules that should be followed for experimental beer? Sure! As a beer judge, we would question the reason they choose the ingredients as well as how they contribute to the characters of the beer, or whether it would screw up the overall balance, etc. After all, what we would like to know how “unique” the beer is. It is a crucial benchmark in judging the quality of the beer!
啤酒不那麼注重產區。它不像葡萄酒，必須在葡萄收成後立刻釀製。可以說，啤酒所用差不多全是乾貨，材料可長途運輸而不會影響品質。所以，你可以在香港用德國麥芽釀造German Pils，又或是用美國酒花釀造American IPA，不會因為所在地而限制能夠釀造的酒款。
不過，精釀啤酒界喜歡不斷創新，時而挑戰傳統（例如近來非常流行的NE IPA，外觀混濁、苦度低、整體感覺類似鮮榨果汁)，時而鑽研不同材料，又或是用本地特色材料來增添地域性（例如香港的陳皮啤，台灣的茶葉啤等）。有見及此，風格指南裡就有特色類型啤酒(Specialty Type Beer)這一類別，包含了用野生酵母、菌種、水果、香料等等非典型用料釀製的啤酒類型。而最終極、最「free」的，莫過於實驗啤酒( 34C Experimental Beer)。簡單來說，就是大包圍，以無法為有法！Be water, my friend! 誰說啤酒沒有freestyle!
但是，是不是有自由就可以任性呢? 當然不可以! 在評審角度而言，我們會問「為什麼需要選用這個材料、「它可否發揮材料的特色」、「有沒有破壞整體平衡」 等等問題。 一言蔽之， 就是有什麼「獨到之處」! 我相信，無論在評審角度或品嘗角度而言，「獨到之處」一定是衡量質量的重要標準!