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A few kind words for ‘regular’ beer, OK?

Item 1: A rather high percentage of the beers in Paste magazine online’s “25 Best New American Beers of 2010” might be called wild, weird or extreme (sometimes all three).

Item 2: During a wide-ranging online chat with Inc. Dogfish Head Brewery founder Sam Calagione said, “The world doesn’t need another world-class Kölsch or a world-class pale ale. The world needs more innovative beer.”*

Nothing against the beers on the Paste list. Some good stuff there. And Calagione’s advice for beer entrepreneurs should be considered in context. He had been asked for the five things most vital to starting a brewery. After talking about passion, work ethic and the importance of being a “people person” he turned to the importance of technical skills. “You can’t fake it” like when he started, he said modestly. “You won’t last unless you are making world-class beer out of the gate.”

That’s an overstatement, of course, meant to make a point. Then he said, “Make sure you recipes are unique,” followed by “the world doesn’t need . . . (quoted above)” and, being redundant in the manner of a good teacher, “Make sure you are differentiated in the marketplace.”

A solid prescription for success, and a good way to end up on the Paste list. However I think the world still needs more very good (as mentioned here several times, world class is a moving target) beers, innovative or otherwise.

I hesitate to use the word “Kölsch” because that’s a protected appellation. However, delicate pale beers are a fine example of the importance of being local and fresh. The world needs more of them. Innovation is good, even if the word has been overworked of late when discussing beer, but over the years brewers have created a rather pleasant range of styles to choose from. Not every new brewer needs to reinvent beer.

And not every one wants to. As a mentioned yesterday, La Cumbre Brewing recently opened in Albuquerque. Founder-brewer Jeff Erway expects Elevated IPA to be the flagship and so far it’s easily the biggest seller. It’s full of alcohol (7.5% abv) and hops (calculated at 100 IBU, though it likely wouldn’t clock that in a lab), but bitter and aromatic. Outrageous a decade ago; almost mainstream today.

“I’m not one for throwing oddball ingredients in beer. I’m pretty much a traditionalist,” Erway said. “I brew styles and I try to brew them the best I can. I guess it’s an old route.”

There are plenty of routes. Innovative beers are one result, often good. “Regular” beers are another. There can’t be too many good ones.

La Cumbre Brewing, Albuquerque

Because sometimes you just want a beer that pairs well with a game of dominoes (photo taken Saturday at La Cumbre).

*****

* Thanks to Adam for pointing to the Sam Calagione chat and culling out enough details to make me go watch the whole thing.

44 Responses to A few kind words for ‘regular’ beer, OK?

  1. Alan December 21, 2010 at 1:35 pm #

    What an odd bit of information from Calagione. There is an aggregation of focus around him as some sort of guru all of a sudden because of the show but it is an odd focus that does not bring a particularly critical eye. Are we to take from ““[y]ou won’t last unless you are making world-class beer out of the gate” as a suggestion that there have been no Dogfish duds? Also, “innovative” beer is not a particularly great way to differentiate when it is not associated with other factors such as price point, marketing skill and a marketplace. By far, most wonderfully successful and loved craft beer will not be innovative in that sense. They will be in the manner of other beers that have gone before. And aren’t we all the better for it.

  2. FlagonofAle December 21, 2010 at 1:45 pm #

    Thanks for writing this.

    That quote highlights what I can’t stand about Sam Calagione and Dogfish Head more than anything else. He’s trying to single handedly deconstruct craft beer and rebuild/redefine it as extreme beer. Extreme beer is fine, and it has its place but 1) you can only “go bigger” for so long. There are practical limits and it’s obvious to see where that fad is headed. and 2) unless the craft industry can produce good ‘regular’ beers that non-beer-geeks are interested in drinking at a picnic or a ball game or wherever, craft beer is going to be relegated to being a niche product rather than the cultural product it should be.

  3. JayZeis December 21, 2010 at 1:50 pm #

    The beers that I find myself appreciating more and more are the “world class regulars”. Sure extreme beers with crazy ingredients are cool to try, but sometimes I think that an ingredient is added to cover up a bad regular beer. My brother once noted about a beer (forgive me I forget which one) that was “on trial” at a festival, saying it tasted like they added raspberry puree to it, not to enhance anything, but to cover a bad RIS. They called it Raspberry Chocolate Cake or something like that. Anywho, sometimes I think the added ingredients take away from what should be a great beer, and sometimes they make a bad beer worth drinking.

  4. Seamus Campbell December 21, 2010 at 1:53 pm #

    With you 100% here, though from a business perspective Sam’s words make a lot of sense: you have to differentiate yourself from your competitors.

    At any rate, I just want to note that it strikes me as a little crazy that a 7.5%ABV/100IBU beer can be considered a good example of a sticking-to-the-basics beer. It is, I suppose, but I wonder if this wave of high-alcohol-big-hops beers will crest at some point. I certainly went through a phase of believing that no beer could be too bitter or too big, but these days I find myself disappointed whenever I find a beer with nothing under 6%, and I hope we one day have as much of an interest in the craft beer movement in the variation and texture of malt character as we do for hops.

    I think my favorite pint in 2010 was a fresh Spaten Maibock at the Green Dragon on a warm late spring day.

    • Stan Hieronymus December 21, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

      Seamus – I don’t mind what’s at the extreme edge if the brewery is offering a range – and La Cumbre has an American wheat and German pils – and the beers are well done.

  5. Alexander D. Mitchell IV December 21, 2010 at 2:40 pm #

    I seem to recall Sam C. and his crew cranked out a few “duds” during his cut-off-beer-keg brew-kettle, “beer of the day” start-up of the brewpub in Rehoboth Beach…………. not everything Sam has touched has turned to gold, Midas Touch notwithstanding……..

  6. The Professor December 21, 2010 at 3:09 pm #

    I like Sam’s enthusiasm, admire his dedication, and salute his genius in marketing beers that are essentially catering to this current fad of what may be called “beers gone wild”. It remains to be seen how long the fad lasts. Sooner or later the audience will probably revert to beers that are a bit less of an assault on the palate. I think it would actually be pretty funny if a new breed of “craft” brewer arises that ‘innovates’ by actually making the beer that the vast majority of beer drinkers actually like. Imagine…a beer that you can enjoy more than one of without getting tanked!! What a concept!

    For this very reason, brewers like Boston Brewing, Yuengling, Sierra Nevada, and a few other smaller (or formerly smaller) brewers will continue to grow into much larger ones–because while they offer products that serve the same “niche’ market, they have solid and high quality products that remain accessible to a much larger audience of beer consumers.

    Don’t misunderstand me…despite the fact that I have been drinking beer for more than 42 years I have never been part of the mainstream audience; the very first sixpacks I bought for myself in the late 60’s were actually a Bock beer and an IPA. So I was quite excited about the beer renaissance that grew starting in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. It seems to me that the emphasis of the “craft” brewers back then was to simply make better beer and in some cases, revive styles that had disappeared for a while. Many of them did a great job of it too, for as long as they managed to last. More than a few of them were simply ahead of their time, while others just couldn’t compete or were simply badly managed.

    Nowadays, there seems to be a prevalent and still growing perception among non-beer geek folks (and surprisingly, even among some “craft” beer lovers) that the “craft” industry today is more about making “weird” beers than it is about returning to the roots and keeping brewing traditions alive. I know of course that this is not really the case, because really, the truth is somewhere in the middle: after all, there are still at least _some_ “craft” brewers that care about quality and tradition and less about re-inventing the wheel…but still, the bar chatter I hear so often is very telling indeed.
    Of course, it could be that many of the new brewers WANT to remain “niche” players. If that’s the case, then they are certainly on the right track.

  7. mk December 21, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    The “fresh and local” bit is the important thing for me. Local brewers (I’m in SF) will whip up something tasty, not extreme, true to style, and inevitably someone will make a comment like “Oh, it’s just like blah blah from [insert brewery not distributed in CA name here].”

    That’s great, but if that’s not something I can get here fresh, this new beer is filling a need for me as a beer drinker. I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments of the commenter above who mentioned the Spaten pint. We’re not all beer-trading enthusiasts. Some of us just like the right beer at the right time on the right day.

  8. Jeff Alworth December 21, 2010 at 7:58 pm #

    1. I continue to be uncomfortable that Sam is both the go-to authority on craft beer and ALSO a seller of craft beer. There’s a very clear conflict of interest there. (Not from Sam’s side–he’s sweet. Take the column space and run, man. But journalists should be wary when beer sellers offer opinions about beer. That line is getting mighty blurry in his case.)

    2. Sam’s obviously dead wrong. Innovation is great, but it isn’t a necessary criteria for quality. On my blog, I’ve been assembling a list of dubious actions over the past year for a kind of beery “razzies.” It’s the first time out, so we’re working out the kinks, but one suggested category is “poor innovation.” A surprising number of people have identified innovation itself as the problem. We’re suffering innovation fatigue. As one person put it, there are a whole lot of beers brewed to be served in four ounce increments that would kill you if you had to drink a pint.

    In my experience, the world needs more good beer. A lot of that will come in traditional styles, and some will be variations on a theme. We do not have to choose.

  9. Stan Hieronymus December 21, 2010 at 10:09 pm #

    I tried to write the post in a way that was neither “Brew Masters” bashing (a popular sport these days) nor innovation bashing. Dogfish serves a lot of happy customers, don’t forget.

    When I was in St. Louis last month Florian Kuplent was excited because a pallett of Bavarian hops was due to arrive about the same time as the new Urban Chesnut brewhouse (which should be producing beer very soon).

    He talked about the phenomenon that adding more (anything) creates a new style. “I’m more interested in combining them (hops) in ways that have not been explored,” he said.

    Somebody might call that innovative, but I don’t think he would.

  10. Nathaniel Letcher December 21, 2010 at 10:25 pm #

    The biggest issue I take with Sam’s statement is that it assumes there is only one recipe for success, which would be The Dogfish Way. I wouldn’t say that the world needs more innovative beer, it just needs more beer, as in a greater selection. For example, my home state of Iowa has only a dozen breweries, give or take. The market is wide open. That state simply needs local people serving beer to the local crowd, no innovation required. The fallacy of Sam’s statement is the same as that of any business, which is placing a central focus on profit, growth, competition. For a brewery to enter The Game, as it’s fast becoming, they need to innovate and shoulder their way onto the big-city shelves. Such is, however, not truly the case across the broad swath of the United States. There’s plenty of room for the foolhardy and naive to make a place for themselves along some desolate and open prairie brewing beer for their friends and asking a tidy penny in return. If Portland can sustain 60 or 80 or however many odd breweries it has these days, then certainly the nation as a whole hasn’t even tapped its potential.

  11. Pivní Filosof December 22, 2010 at 12:15 am #

    “The world doesn’t need another world-class Kölsch or a world-class pale ale. The worlds needs more innovative beer.”

    So funny. I should probably tell this to all the Czech micro breweries. Stop making 11-13º Plato Pale, Amber and Dark lagers! That is not what people want! The world doesn’t need you!

    Yes, right now I’m calling the owner of Kout na Sumave to convince him to start brewing a Nutmeg Double Imperial Triple Barrel Aged Tmavy Lezak. I’m sure he will appreciate it.

  12. Paul Key December 22, 2010 at 1:38 am #

    It’s funny when I think about DFH’s beers, the ones that I enjoy the most and continue to purchase are the least extreme.
    Further more, most of the beer’s I continue to buy and find inspiration from ARE world class examples of traditional styles. More people brewing world class pale ales, ESB’s , stouts, pilsner’s, red ales, porters?

    Yes please!

    these are easy to brew put take a lot of work to make pop.

    In my humble opinion the craft beer world needs more recipe refinement not innovation.

  13. Alan December 22, 2010 at 9:21 am #

    “…I tried to write the post in a way that was neither “Brew Masters” bashing (a popular sport these days) nor innovation bashing. Dogfish serves a lot of happy customers, don’t forget…”

    I hear you but it is not bashing to say the same thing that would be true a year ago: Dogfish Head is an important brewery but it is not the leading brewery in the US craft scene by any respect, it is not the most interesting, it is not producing consistently top tier beer and it is playing with something of a compromising business model. It is, by its own definition, something of a “auslander” and has to live its decision in that regard. It is also caught up with mass marketing as equal to or before actual brewing skill and has to live with its decision in that regard as well.

    This is not bashing. The response from the brewery might well be that they are entirely content with their achievements. But to suggest as seem to be the case in the quoted text, that their model is worth replicating or even that it makes sense or has logical integrity is another matter. They are to brewing what Spaceman Bill Lee was to baseball. Fun to watch, great to have in the bullpen. But hardly your starter most of the time.

  14. Todd December 22, 2010 at 9:37 am #

    “Make sure you recipes are unique,” “Make sure you are differentiated in the marketplace.”

    This is beer. Few ingredients. Unique and differentiated? How to do that?

    1. Use ingredients that no one else has.
    2. Develop unique hops with new flavors.

    Why do brewers have so little to do with ingredient development? Lack of passion? Lack of knowledge? Lack of $$?

  15. Lisa December 22, 2010 at 10:30 am #

    Interesting discussion; first, I’d point out that DFH does make ‘normal’ beer – Shelter Pale Ale and 60 Min IPA are solid, perfectly ‘normal’ beers. I tend to much prefer their more bizarre things, but that’s part of the fun of visiting the brewpub – there’s always something peculiar to try (and as someone with an archaeology background, I have a lot of respect for their ‘historical’ beers – even if they aren’t exactly as analyzed; that’s never been the point).

    But I agree it would be great to see some praise for brewers turning out great go-to beers: Yards Brawler is one of the best milds I’ve ever had, and their ESA is equally wonderful. That’s not to say they shouldn’t continue to go down other routes when they feel like it – their one-offs are always interesting – but they do deserve to grab a little bit of the spotlight for their regular lineup.

  16. Shamas December 22, 2010 at 10:45 am #

    I don’t know, I think the world (or at least the US) does need another world class Kolsch.

    A pale ale style I love, bitter (best or ordinary) is extremely hard to come by here in the US. I’d say the world needs more bitters.

    I’ll tell you what the world does not need, and that’s another spiced pumpkin ale!

  17. Jeff Alworth December 22, 2010 at 11:40 am #

    I tried to write the post in a way that was neither “Brew Masters” bashing (a popular sport these days) nor innovation bashing.

    Maybe not, Stan, but you DID stir the pot here. 🙂

  18. Sam December 22, 2010 at 1:12 pm #

    Here’s a question to the gallery…how many different brewers do you regular stock in your fridge for a particular style?

    Thinking of the styles I regularly drink:
    PA/IPA – Smuttynose and occasionaly Dale’s
    Brown – Smuttynose and occasionally DFH
    Saisson – Hennepin and occasionally Dupont

    Not saying that these are the best in style, but they’re what I find myself gravitating more and more regularly towards when I’m at the store. If you’re a new brewer in the New York area, chances of reaching me with Brown are slim. It better be so amazing that someone I know tells me about it, else I more likely to support the brewery I’ve been drinking than spend money to explore a style I feel I’ve already explored well.

    Now American-Belgian sours…still feeling my way so if you’re new I’ll give you a chance…ditto for the CDA’s everyone has been talking about that I haven’t had much of over here.

  19. Alan December 22, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    Well, if I stopped trying the brown ales, I would have missed Bellaire Brown by Short’s Brewing of Elk Rapids, Michigan. I would also miss the next great one that I haven’t had or heard of yet.

    What the world really doesn’t need is anyone telling me what I should like in my glass or hunt out in the marketplace. No quicker way to look like a doofus than that.

  20. Jason Harris December 22, 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    It seems a lot of these responses are to something that wasn’t even said. I took the whole “the world doesn’t need…” comment as a statement on how DFH does business, and not a roadmap on how everyone else needs to do business. It’s not a slight on your favorite brewer who makes a great pale ale, it’s just how Dogfish does their beer, which has worked out pretty damned well for them. All these slights on them as not being a leader in beer or having duds just seem like internet haterade. Sure, they don’t sell as much beer as Magic Hat or Pyramid, but I’m much more interested in what the folks at DFH (or Stone, who ranks near them in sales) have to say about brewing than those other guys.

    Encouraging people to be innovative is a good thing, only on the internet will people turn it into a reason for outrage.

  21. Pivní Filosof December 22, 2010 at 3:16 pm #

    The way I see it, I don’t think anyone has anything personal against DFH or Calagione. The thing is that many people here are a bit tired of all these bombastic brewers with their bombastic beers and with the way the word “innovation/innovative” is being used and abused as a marketing cliché.

    I like extreme, innovative, weird, experimental, whatever you want to call them beers as much as the next über-geek, but if I have to choose I will always go for those brewers and breweries who quietly make regular, simple, session, classic beers because those are the ones that I, and most people, want to drink day in and day out, not to mention that they are also the beers that I know my non beer-geek friends are more likely to enjoy.

    So yes, the world needs a lot more of those regular beers, which are brewed with the same, if not more, care and passion than all those innovative ones (and, if possible, sold a moderate prices).

  22. Jason Harris December 22, 2010 at 4:50 pm #

    I don’t think DFH or anyone is saying there should be ONLY extreme beers, just like nobody is saying there should be ONLY beers. Dogfish went in with the attitude that they didn’t want to be one of many brewers making a blonde/red/ipa/porter and calling it a day, and good for them for doing it. They make some great beer. Do I enjoy more normal, cheaper beer as well? Absolutely. But I can’t understand why there is so much negativity at the guy for stating they wanted to do their own thing instead of being one among many making the same stuff.

    It’s silly if you actually believe that Sam/DFH is advocating that nobody should be making pale ales anymore. It’s also silly using a list of the best NEW beers to talk about “normal” beers being left out….most of the outstanding “normal” styles have been around for a while, they didn’t just come around in 2010.

    Strange beers and are not mutually exclusive. How someone can make the leap from that interview to “Sam Caligione wants to get rid of all the regular beers and have nobody drink anything but weird historical beers forever!” is beyond me.

  23. Alan December 22, 2010 at 6:49 pm #

    Dear Jason,

    “…internet haterade…”???

    What are you, 12 years old? How do you expect anyone to take you seriously with such a dopey comment as that?

  24. Jason Harris December 22, 2010 at 7:12 pm #

    Welp, at least Pivní Filosof was constructive. Looks like other people’s feelings can’t take being disagreed with. Not going to get into a petty namecalling match, so I’ll check out. Have fun folks.

  25. Maureen Ogle December 22, 2010 at 7:33 pm #

    Crawling out of my cave here to read… Unless I missed something in reading the comments (and, yeah, possibly I did. I’m a bit brain-dead at the moment), seems to me no one has mentioned the obvious point to be made here.

    Which is: Sam’s comment only has substance/meaning if we all add in the component that’s so obvious it’s being overlooked. Namely: DFH has a hellacious marketing/PR machine at work. Makes no difference WHAT the brewery is brewing or whether Sam’s on a TV program or whether the beers or good or bad or if his responses to interviewer’s questions are bombast or otherwise.

    The guy is marketing his angle. That’s all. He can forget his own history (obviously he didn’t come out of the gate making world-class beer); he can forget everything, as along as he achieves the main goal: to get DFH into the mainstream and make lotso money.

    That’s not a bad thing, by the way. Sam’s not a “bad guy.” (I like him, myself.) I’m all for making money. Indeed, I admire the hell out of his ability to market himself (or, more accurately, hire someone who knows how to do so. Wish I had one of ’em.)

    But this is nothing to do with “craft beer”; the craft beer industry; good beer, bad beer, whatever. It’s all about making money. Go for it, Sam!

  26. Bruce Ticknor December 22, 2010 at 7:36 pm #

    I admit up front that I have never watched “Brew Masters”. Hell I don’t even own a television. I have had a few Dogfish head beers and enjoyed them. What Calagione IS doing is bringing the idea of craft beer to a much wider audience. Yes he is very self promoting but all successful sales people are, and in the process of selling himself and his brewery he is selling the idea of craft brewing.
    Innovation for it’s own sake will always be self limiting, a niche market by it’s nature. But it can also be intriguing to someone who has never considered trying a craft beer, and this can’t be a bad thing for the industry as a whole.

  27. Stan Hieronymus December 22, 2010 at 8:41 pm #

    Geez, you guys got a lot done here while I was driving 645 miles . . . Way too much for me to reply to individually, as I might have were I catching the comments “live.”

    But either because the comments took on a life of their own or I wasn’t clear enough at the outset, I’d suggest that you listen in on the Inc. chat.

    [For the record, I’ve known Sam a long time, we’ve shared a room (two beds) at a conference, he wrote a blurb for my last book, etc. I like him, but I think the producers of “Brew Masters” are not doing a very good job of story telling.]

    Sam was offering advice to people who want to get into the brewing business, not just describing what worked for him. He used a bit of overstatement to drive home his point. An conversation-provoking sound bite emerged, but there was more there (some of which I quoted and you can go listen to more).

    Then go read the Paste list, how it was chosen and what qualified beers. Jason, even though you may have left, the comments here indicate many drinkers want more new conventional beers. They are going to be local, because they are beers that don’t travel well and the must be consumed fresh.

    Anyway, if two of the best 25 new efforts in all of America last year were pumpkin beers . . .

  28. Alan December 22, 2010 at 10:04 pm #

    Yea! The guy who slagged people left in an indignant blur because he didn’t like being slagged. [/1998]

    Maureen, that might be true if we were talking about ways to make money. Money making is not paramount over other activities and can be undertaken in any number of actions. It is a bad indicator of whether the thing that leads to the money making has integrity. If the ethic is “It’s all about making money. Go for it, Sam!” we can exchange Madoff for Sam and not be any the wiser. Certainly no wiser about good beer.

    Stan, people not only want more new beers within the range of what they are comfortable with and comforted by – that is exactly what they are drinking. Innovation represents 1% to 3% of craft beer and craft beer represents 5 to 9% of beer. As with Christmas, its the interesting retelling of the familiar that really draws the consumer with curiosity. Finesse feeds on this.

  29. Sam December 22, 2010 at 10:37 pm #

    Alan you just proved my point…if it’s good someone will mention it. Bellaire, is good -in your opinion- so you mentioned it.  If it sucked you wouldn’t have. Here in NYC where it’s $12 a sixer and where I have yet too see Short’s offerings, I’ve seen plenty of overly designed packs from the latest hipster marketing crew with the new drinkable craft…I pass.  At the bar I’ll sample the unknown and be surprised.

    My point wasn’t to suggest no exploration of an established style nor to suggest there should be people telling you what drink.  My point was that much of the traditional beer style market is becoming flooded with uninteresting “clones” (which I think Sam C meant by not needing another “world class beer”). In that deluge it’s hard to wade through all the crap alone so I rely on friends and a few blogs – didn’t think that made anyone a doofus.  

    In that environment it can be hard, though not impossible, for a brewer to make a name for himself with a brown , pale ale, etc.  I was asking if others were dealing with this problem from the beer drinker side and how their fridge was reflecting it -guess you’re not having a problem.

  30. Jason Harris December 23, 2010 at 1:25 am #

    Wow. So I’ll be baited back into this one.

    Alan, I was trying to take the high road because frankly, you’re coming off rude, condescending, and debating anything with someone who has a chip on their shoulder like yours is an exercise in futility. Facts haven’t factored into your argument so far, so it’s not likely any I present will matter to you one bit, but for the sake of the rest of the people here who are interested in a civilized discussion, I’ll go ahead and reply.

    Let’s look at this statement, shall we?
    “Dogfish Head is an important brewery but it is not the leading brewery in the US craft scene by any respect, it is not the most interesting, it is not producing consistently top tier beer and it is playing with something of a compromising business model.”

    Who, by your measure, is a “leading” brewery? What’s your measure of success? Is it sales? By that yardstick, Sam Adams is far and away the authority in craft brewing, and none of the other guys are even in the same league. By that yardstick, people should be modeling after brewers like Pyramid, Full Sail, Widmer, Magic Hat….are these the most interesting? I doubt I’d run into many people that say they do.

    Meanwhile, by your nebulous standards, a brewery that is nationally distributed, has had exponential growth year over year, continually tries out varied styles that aren’t even being attempted by other brewers, and has very high rankings from most all beer critics is neither influential nor successful. Are you willfully ignorant to the reality of the industry, or are you just being contrarian for the sake of making smug internet comments?

    Second, let’s look at the idea that you don’t need to differentiate yourself in the beer market. There are a few craft brewers who are doing very well primarily on the backs of pretty “normal” beers. Sierra Nevada on their Pale, Widmer on their Heff….you guys know who they are, so I don’t need to list them for everyone.

    Now, can anyone think of an example of a brewer who has had major level success (let’s say even top 50 craft brewers in the country) by brewing nothing but “classic” styles that were very good, but had nothing to differentiate themselves? Now of that list, how many of them “made it” 10+ years ago, are firmly entrenched in the market, and are rushing to add more variety (“weird beers!”) to make themselves more competetive? Most of these companies thrived when mediocre was the rule, and are now rushing to get into “weird” stuff so they don’t lose the market they have to the new guys.

    Show me a brewer who only brews the styles everyone brews, and I’ll show you a brewer that’ll never break out of their small market. There’s nothing wrong with these guys, hell, there are plenty of them around here. I enjoy drinking beer from them. But to act like that is success while being one of the top 20 craft producers in the country is a “compromising business model” is baffling, and really said out of a position of pure ignorance or just a need to argue on the internet.

    For the record, DFH isn’t one of my top several brewers, although I typically enjoy their beer and go back to several of their beers fairly often. They’re pricy and something I consider a “once in a while” brew, but have consistently been interesting to me. I tend to drink local more than anything, (I’m in CA, and we’re making the best beer in the world here), but I felt it worth commenting this attitude that experimentation is bad. It’s great, in fact, necessary. It’s why the craft market exists, and it’s why its’ growing. People don’t buy brown ale from the local guy because it tastes just like Newcastle…otherwise they’d just buy Newcastle. They buy it because it’s something different, something great, and that’s obviously the attitude that’s being encouraged.

    I am fortunate enough to be in an area where there are a LOT of breweries. And what I see is that the innovators are the ones breaking out. The Bruery and Lost Abbey are known in beer circles everywhere, and it’s not because they decided to pop out another pale ale or belgian wit and call it a day. They’re tweaking, they’re innovating, and they’re making interesting, world beating beer. Exactly the kind of advice that seems to be given up here. Meanwhile, I see the local guys who sell nothing but the Blonde/Pale/IPA/Porter set struggling to find taps at the local bars.

    Apparently in Alan’s opinion, it’s admirable to be a big brewer making mediocre beer, or a tiny brewer making good versions of styles that everyone makes, but nothing else. Myself, I’ll continue to celebrate the guys that branch out, and let my wallet speak for me. But if you keep your eyes open, you’ll notice that both the big mediocre craft brewers, and the small local guys, are all realizing that if you don’t innovate and differentiate yourself from the market, you’re getting lost in the shuffle.

  31. Jason Harris December 23, 2010 at 1:54 am #

    To add to my novel a bit and reply to Stan, who was much more civil…I think the fact that no “normal” beers have shown up on that list is kind of the point.

    A great example is with Pale Ales. One of the best I’ve ever had was Manny’s, a local brewer in Seattle. They don’t distribute out of WA. While it was a great beer, I don’t pick up a Stone Pale Ale and think about how much better it could be. Stone’s Pale Ale, while not quite as great, is 95% as good as the one I had in Seattle.

    Another example of the same style, there’s a local brewer in Fullerton, CA called Bootlegger’s. They make a great pale ale called Palamino. One of my absolute favorites. They were doing ok brewing that and a few others…then when they decided to bottle their Knuckle Sandwich Double IPA, demand shot up, and they’re selling it faster than they can make it. The fact is it’s just hard to break out making a great version of the same styles…because even if you’re better than the big guys, you’ll be hard pressed to be a big enough difference to warrant the extra money/effort/risk in buying your pale ale over just grabbing a Sierra Nevada.

  32. Stan Hieronymus December 23, 2010 at 7:17 am #

    Jason, Alan – I appreciate having your comments here, but please keep them to topic and not about other people. I like leaving things unmoderated.

    Just a suggestion, but maybe you should do guest posts on each other’s blogs. I guarantee you I will be there to read and comment.

    By chance – this is not an example of irony, a word as badly misused as hops are in some beers – I’m off this morning to visit new and small breweries to talk to them about their passion and their business plan. (Because it is a trade story.) And, Jason, I will be calling Patrick Rue later for his input.

    Also, Jason, I have worked hard with my therapist to get over my issues with lists, so I shouldn’t start.

    The lack of regular/normal beers on the Paste list illustrates how stupid it was to put a headline “25 Best New American Beers of 2010? on the list. If you are going to do that, tell me every new beer you tried.

    Context, context, context. Did they sample Devils’ Backbone Trukker Ur-Pils? The pilsner/helles that Lost Abbey brewed? Anything from New Glarus?

  33. Alan December 23, 2010 at 8:14 am #

    Fair enough but I have no interest in this sort of a self-appointed revivalist flame war at my expense at my blog so I think the better path would be to stick to the topic as we otherwise have.

  34. JeffB December 23, 2010 at 9:21 am #

    Whenever advice is given you have to consider the context in which it was given as well as the person giving it in order to properly evaluate what was said. Having Sam from DFH tell someone that they need to differentiate themselves in the marketplace is exactly what I would expect (in fact, if he said anything else I might be suspicious that his advice was self serving — you guys over there brew “normal” beer while I corner the market on “extreme”). He is offering advice based on his experience and since he has only tried one way he can only offer one way.

    In the end it doesn’t matter what Sam says or what anyone here (myself included) says, what matters is the decisions people make with their wallets. Breweries make what people want to buy or they go out of business, simple as that. The way to make a real difference is to appeal to consumers, not to breweries. That and sane alcohol laws but that is a discussion for a different day 😉

  35. Maureen Ogle December 23, 2010 at 9:39 am #

    My point, such as it was, that all this talk about beer, quality, Sam-as-spokesperson, etc. still all boils down to one thing: Making money. Making the brewery as big and as successful as it can be.

    Because if it were about quality, creativity, innovation, etc., it wouldn’t be Sam people are talking about. But he’s become the lightening rod for various and sundry topics BECAUSE he’s worked so hard to promote his brand.

    And, in case I didn’t make it clear: This isn’t a criticism of Sam. I, too, like the guy. My point is only that I think some people (not necessarily anyone commenting here) aren’t putting Sam, the tv program, the “hype,” the whatever, in proper context. Sam’s “work” is about brand creation, brand promotion, marketing, etc, all so that Sam can provide for his family.

  36. Alan December 23, 2010 at 10:01 am #

    I don’t disagree with that, Maureen. But he is inviting valid observations exactly because there is that distance between his business decision (ie to engage in that sort of promotion which includes presenting himself as “the master”) compared realistically to his actual position in the pantheon of craft brewers as pretty damn good value brewer (with an interest in innovation that would curse other businesses) who has been pretty successful but overall is well within in the pack with a lot of other good beer makers in the US.

    As I was trying to say, after a certain point of financial success, anything done simply to “provide for one’s family” is no longer an element in establishing the quality of what that person was actually doing.

  37. Jason Harris December 23, 2010 at 12:41 pm #

    @Stan: “The pilsner/helles that Lost Abbey brewed?” I had a taster, I was glad I didn’t get the pint. 😉

  38. olllllo December 23, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    As an Arizonan it’s tempting for me to launch into an appropriated version of a particular Barry Goldwater quote, but I will spare you all.

    I’ll say that here, innovation would be brewing locally created fresh responses to the very good beer that we get from Colorado and SoCal.

    Local, fresh and covering a wide palate will get you places here. Heck, it might even be considered extreme.

  39. Chris Lohring December 23, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

    I think we often confuse innovation with experimentation. Innovation provides a solution to a market need. Sometimes the simple solution is the innovative path, and not all innovation needs to be wrapped in layers of bullshit.

  40. Aaron December 23, 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    @original post:

    Thank you Stan for making this post. I am actually quite scared by this list and what I see going on in the industry. The list on Paste and Brew Masters are going to be the first thing many people who are just getting into beer are going to see. And like you said, nothing against these beers on the list but many of them do fall into what we now consider ‘extreme.’ Out of the 23 beers on the list that had their ABVs posted, the avg. is 8.8%. My concerns are that the people just getting into beer are going to take this to mean that big beer = good beer, lower alcohol = crappier beer. The decisions are going to be made by looking at the ABV on a bottle rather than at style, brewery, etc.

    What will happen to the local breweries who are just trying to make good ole regular beer? The future looks grim for them, unless they decide to double their recipes just so they can match this trend.

    We do need more world class “regular” beer. We need local breweries to continue to make beers for six-packs rather than $15 dollar bottles.

    Sam Calagione has his own point of view. As he said on one of those Brew Master episodes, he’s purposefully trying to go against the idea that beer is malt + hops + water. One of my favorite breweries, Great Lakes, quotes the purity law on all of their bottles. Go pick up a Great Lakes brew, any of them, and tell me that they NEED to include ingredients other than malt, hops, yeast, and water.

  41. FlagonofAle December 23, 2010 at 3:23 pm #

    @Maureen It’s really not “all about making money” (barf) and Sam is certainly not struggling to “provide for his family” unless his family eats Ferraris. The focus on marketing and branding to build your company into an international behemoth is exactly what most craft-beer-drinkers are in opposition to. Combine that with a tendency to overstate your own importance while crapping on other methods of brewing and you have, well, this thread basically.

    Back on the topic, Paste’s list seemed pretty lackluster. I just can’t imagine that there are ever 25 new, jaw-dropping beers introduced in a single year. I think a list of 5 beers would be much more exciting. Obviously they were trying to get more ink for more breweries, though.

  42. James December 23, 2010 at 4:34 pm #

    For the most part, I am not much of a Dogfish Head drinker – I deeply respect their IPAs, the brown ale, and a few others, but for the most part I just don’t find myself going out of the way for it anymore. That said, I do appreciate what DFH has done for American beer. Sam and his crew felt (and feel) a need to act out against the status quo of brewing in the biggest way possible – making beverages that some would barely even recognize as beer. I can’t help but feel that this trend towards high ABV, IBU beers will eventually slow down as more people get the message that good beer is out there. Until more people demand a better average product it still makes some measure of sense for brewers to continue to create beers that show Americans how different beer can be from your average pilsner. Personally, I am ready for things to slow down, but I am not sure that craft beer has caught on enough in this country for brewers to cease creating ales that so aggressively reject the past few decades of American brewing trends.

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