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How to avoid ‘the sameness of craft beer’

MONDAY BEER LINKS, MUSING 12.01.14

The sameness of craft beer. SPOILER ALERT, it is better to start at the beginning, but I’m cutting directly to the conclusion: “So are we necessarily headed for a world where beers taste the same everywhere? Probably we are, at least to some degree, because I don’t really see how anyone today can develop a genuinely local beer culture.”

To “some degree” leaves wiggle room, so I can’t say I simply disagree with this. There is much truth in it, but I see something else happening as well. Friday we were in a newish place in western New Jersey located in a building in which more than one restaurant venture has failed, the last being an “Asian fusion” concept. It was packed. Presumably because it has 40 beers on tap, most of which would be labeled craft, and about as many televisions, all of which were showing various football games. The draft menu included cultish San Diego-style hop-centric beers such as Ballast Point Sculpin IPA and Port Brewing Wipeout IPA (so from 2,700 miles away). There was a handle for Coors Light, a beer I saw plenty of people in their mid-20s drinking. If you wanted a Budweiser you had to buy it by the bottle (and people did). There were also, thank goodness, plenty of regional choices, although none from tiny breweries or beers you’d label “place based.”

So I don’t see beers tasting the same everywhere. Brewers in the Midwest who like hop-centric beers similar to those found on the West Coast are making beers that taste much the same, but there is a difference between exactly the same and broadly the same. The former has a better chance of being boring. One things that struck me at the Beers Made by Walking Festival last October in Denver was the connection attendees seem to make immediately with the beers being served. Granted, people who paid to attend were already predisposed to appreciate these beers. Some were from small breweries, but some were from larger ones. They were delightfully not the same, and most were not scalable. Granted, I’m a cockeyed optimist, but it sure looks like this not-scalable trend has legs.
[Via Larsblog]

Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Read it for a measured report on The Brewers Project at Guinness. Or read it for sentences like this: “St. James’s Gate is a totally sterile plant, no beer leaves alive, not even the made-for-destruction test batches.”
[Via The Beer Nut]

What do beer writers think of beer certifications? Chad Polenz polled people who write about beer about the “expect their brethren to have a certification in order to have credibility.” He also posted a link on his own Facebook page and one on the Beer Judge Certification Program page, and between the two there are almost 200 comments. Exhausting reading.
[Via Times Union and Facebook]

Photo Contest 2014: The What, The How And The Why. Here’s another two-for-one set of links. Alan McLeod rambles a bit about Photo Contest 2014 and blogging in general, with enough length to qualify as a #BeerLongRead — the occasional gathering of bloggers hosted by Boak & Bailey. Lots there to add to Pocket.
[Via A Good Beer Blog and Boak & Bailey’s Beer Blog]

Rethinking the tasting note. If it is time to change the way “we” talk about wine, as is suggested here, then maybe it makes sense to reconsider how “we” describe the aromas and flavors in beer.
[Via Grape Collective]

7 Responses to How to avoid ‘the sameness of craft beer’

  1. Alan December 1, 2014 at 5:40 am #

    That sounds like you think I was cheating! Ok. fine. I rambled.

  2. Gary Gillman December 1, 2014 at 9:25 am #

    I think the sameness issue is valid, with IPA being Exhibit “A”. Basically these mostly taste very similar: white citrus rind (often grapefruit), piny, floral: the template inaugurated by Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve and Liberty Ale in the 1970’s and perfected early in the 80’s by Sierra Nevada Pale Ale . Even the revived Ballantine India Pale Ale has this taste.

    Of course alcohol strengths differ and relative maltiness and color, I’m not minimizing that but there is an IPA “profile” in North America, even down to the almost invariable haziness with which these beers are served.

    Gary

    • Stan Hieronymus December 1, 2014 at 11:38 am #

      To me, Deschutes Fresh Squeezed, Goose Island IPA, and La Cumbre Elevated taste quite different. There are similarities, but haziness isn’t one of them. I’m not claiming the sameness issue isn’t real, but I don’t think it overwhelms diversity or exploration.

  3. Lars Marius Garshol December 2, 2014 at 2:17 am #

    First, thank you for the link. It’s much appreciated. 🙂

    I agree with your point that craft beers don’t taste exactly the same. That’s what was behind the “to some degree” that you commented on. But there is a surprising degree to which craft beers do taste broadly the same. In that context Bud and Miller are not relevant, because they’re not craft beer.

    Beyond that it’s hard to respond to your post. I can tell that you don’t agree, but I can’t figure out what your reasons for disagreeing are. If your point is that craft beers are not exactly the same, just broadly the same, then we actually do agree.

    • Stan Hieronymus December 2, 2014 at 5:53 am #

      Lars, I should have been clearer. I agree with much that your wrote – which is why I suggested readers start with the first words, not the last – and my shoulders sag a bit when I venture into a place with 40 beers on tap and see that doesn’t guarantee diversity or local.

      Sure, there is going to be some broad sameness. Brewers in one part of the world find something new to them they like they make it in their own part of the world. They may turn it into something different, more their own, or they may not. But an opportunity for brewers in the US to make unique, local beers exists today that didn’t a few years ago.

      • Lars Marius Garshol December 2, 2014 at 6:19 am #

        Ah, I see. Then I guess we’re mostly in agreement.

        > an opportunity for brewers in the US to make unique, local beers exists today
        > that didn’t a few years ago

        True, and probably there’s an interest in something locally unique that wasn’t there a few years ago. So that’s all encouraging, but whether it will actually go anywhere remains to be seen.

  4. Gary Gillman December 2, 2014 at 10:19 am #

    Stan, of course to an experienced taster no two IPAs will be the same – small differences can mean a lot to those in the know. But to the market at large, it can be different. The other day a young bartender said to me, I don’t like “IPA”. I said why, he said because it all tastes like grapefruit juice and I don’t like that. He said he likes the “darker” craft beers and ones not as bitter. To that market, let alone those not attuned to craft beer as a category, the beers are very similar. Now, perhaps this was true of “bitter” in England in its heyday of being made by many breweries and using English hops (or mostly). So it’s nothing really new, however, a valid analogy can be made IMO to the position of American lager in 1975, say, the kind of beer Jim Roberston and Michael Weiner in their books properly critiqued for a sameness and lack of interest.

    True, IPA is much more flavorful and certainly I am grateful it exists as a major category, but the point is still valid I think. And the issue offers or should a cautionary note to brewers: to distinguish themselves more. They need to think of different tastes – new hops such as Saphir offer this (to me it is a rosewater, Turkish Delight-type flavor) and there are others. Flavoring pale ales with spices and fruits is another option and some brewers are doing this.

    Also, I believe American craft brewers should focus more on great pale ales which use English hops. Not too many do, AFAIK. Perhaps the hops are hard to get or more expensive, I don’t know, but carving out an English category would help the market I believe, not least because a well-made English pale ale/IPA is a superb flavor.

    I’m not complaining – when you look at the total craft beer picture things have never been better, but the industry does need to guard against being complacent because if tastes change – and personally I find the APA profile quite limiting – they may not have enough in the arsenal to shore up the losses.

    Gary

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