August 16, 2013

Which Way Does Your Beer Lean?

This MJ leans forward. I suspect the other MJ would lean back.
It's Friday afternoon, right about the time many of you are thinking about the weekend. For readers of this blog, it's a safe bet that beer will be on the menu. Probably the last thing you want to read is yet another semantic dissertation on beer taxonomy. I promise it won't mirror the lambic brewing process — sick before it gets truly sour. (I'm with you Jeff.)

Those in the craft beer movement* want us to distinguish between craft beer and crafty beer. Lew Bryson would have us draw a circle around beers under 4.5% and call it session beer. I have asked that we pay our respects to flagship beers. Others seem to have a cloudy concept of something called beer geek beers or white whales.

I just finished reading a piece on interactive media and caught a term that may or may not be useful in discussing beer — lean back vs lean forward experiences. A simple example should suffice for our purposes since I'm curious as to how you might apply it to beer. Television is defined as a lean back experience and a computer is a lean forward experience. Interactive media is blurring these lines, but that's less relevant to our discussion.

What beers would you consider lean back beers and why? What would a lean forward beer be? Is it a function of your engagement with the beer? Others? Can we draw conclusions such as lean back beers are sessionable? Or maybe they're complex and strong? I don't have an answer, but I will tell you that I'll probably be leaning back more this weekend than leaning forward. (One hopes not to lean too much in either direction lest you fall.)

*I've moved away from distinguishing craft beers from the rest of the beers in the universe. I think that it makes more sense to talk about the craft beer movement — a social movement by brewers in a certain era who share common goals and interests. Certainly, there is a definable movement that traces back to Anchor brewing that gained momentum in the 70s and 80s and now has us in a golden age of a ridiculous amount of choice and a high water mark in terms of the number of U.S. breweries. Note that this definition says nothing about quality.


  1. Just to confuse your conversation, observed at a restaurant tonight (while I was drinking Boulevard ZON, 4.4% ABV, lean back):

    Table near us, seating 5, heard most of orders, deduced the others. Two Boulevard Wheats, one Ommegang BPA, one 4 Hands Cast Iron Oatmeal Brown, one Founders All Day IPA.

    The beer that got passed around, sniffed, tasted was the All Day. OK, not "officially" a session beer at 4.7% ABV, but a beer you can drink a few of and not fall over. Still, at least at that table, more of a lean forward beer than a lean back beer.

  2. I supped at Breakside last night. I had two perfect little beers, a lager and a mild/brown (stylistic tweener), and a blow-back beer, a passion fruit Berliner weisse. Overly insense beers rock you backward, shatter your palate, and ask you to watch and admire. Smaller, more balanced beers are a conversation--they invite you to participate in the experience. Lean in?

  3. I intended to have some lean back beers this weekend, but our home remodeling plans left me too tired to stay awake for anything after cleanup.

    We did lean back to split a Pliny the Elder on Sunday night, my wife's choice for a birthday beer. I say lean back because we were tired and the flavor of Pliny is familiar to us. Comfortable and familiar. Flies in the face of my ABV/Flavor engagement theory.

    Maybe that's it. The familiar (back) vs the new (forward)?

  4. Interesting distinction...I want to think about this one for a while...