Visit the Are You Tasting The Pith? site

I recently wrote a piece for the journal of the Brewery History Society. It's a special Michael Jackson memorial issue, and features some of the great and the good of beer writing (and myself, obviously). The roll call of other writers is: Pete Brown, Roger Protz, Martyn Cornell, Jeff Evans, Mark Dredge, Carolyn Smagalski, Tim Webb and John Richards. It should be out soon (I think it's the winter edition), so why don't you visit their website, have a look around, and perhaps even join.

But that wasn't what I was going to write about today - the title reminded me, as it's also the title of the piece I wrote for the journal. What I was going to write about, or more specifically ask about, is how people feel about flavour additions to their beers.

I've been mucking about with a bit of homebrewing recently, and have just made a creamy oatmeal porter. I tried to make a chocolate orange porter by adding tangerine peel to the brew kettle, but the flavour hasn't carried through. It's still a tasty beer, but it doesn't quite have the citrussy lift I was after.

Then I thought, hang on, maybe I can just dry hop this beer with a load of citrussy hops (Amarillo, maybe). Looking around a few homebrew forums, I saw that people were adding actual Terry's Chocolate Orange to get the desired effect, or even adding a shot of Cointreau at bottling. PAH! I sneered, PAH!, that's cheating. And then I realised that I was putting tangerine peel in the beer in the first place, so maybe I was cheating too.

So the question is, when does a flavour ingredient in beer become 'cheating'? Belgian witbier is customarily spiced with coriander and dried orange peel, so we all accept that. Does the point where the ingredient is added make a difference to your perception of it being acceptable? Do you like a little shot of espresso in your stout? Is hibiscus flower an interesting addition, or annoying frippery? If hops make a beer grapefruity, why not just add grapefruit juice? Barrel-ageing is becoming an accepted practice, so why not just add a shot of whisk(e)y to the beer at bottling?

Or do you not care a jot, and think as long as it tastes good, why would anyone care?