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Monday morning musing: America’s hippest beer?

All About Beer MagazineI’m not sure what to think of the cover for the latest All About Beer magazine that prominently features New Belgium Brewing co-founder Kim Jordan with a headline that reads She makes America’s Hippest Beer.

Jay Brooks writes inside about the greening of America’s breweries (New Belgium is at the forefront), but it’s also made clear that “hippest” on the front refers to Fat Tire Amber Ale.

Look, I’m a fan of New Belgium (had Fat Tire with dinner in a restaurant Saturday) and have been writing for AABM for more than 14 years. I’m certainly not trying to pick a fight, but the hippest beer in America? In further considering the idea I came to a series of (eventually painful) conclusions:

* I have no idea which beer America’s drinkers might vote hippest.

* I don’t care if my beer his hip.

* Therefore I might just be old.

I finally figured this out after a comment from jesskidden in the discussion about “extreme beers”:

I also noted that I found using “sick” as a synonym for “great” (especially for beer) to be confusing- “This beer tastes SICK!”

This wasn’t a Belgian brewer talking about his lambic going through a bad phase. This was more like the e-mail I received from a brewer who talked about a store’s sick selection, meaning I’d like it.

Hey, it’s good that the next generation thinks beer (“craft,” “extreme,” “micro” or whatever) can be sick.

Now I’m wondering why I find the question of who brews the sickest beer more compelling than who brews the hippest.

Philly Beer Week “officially” lasts 10 days (March 7-16), but it starts with a festival a week earlier. And it looks like they plan to pack at least a month’s worth of events in. Quite a schedule at the website.

And they’ve even got this cute commercial:

– And a story that just makes you smile — The Seattle Times updates what Charles and Rose Ann Finkel have been doing since buying back Pike Brewing in 2006. Let’s saw they aren’t resting on their considerable laurels. “Now our overall goal is to make it a world-class brewery,” Charles said.

16 Responses to Monday morning musing: America’s hippest beer?

  1. SteveH January 14, 2008 at 7:27 am #

    So hip and popular have become synonymous now? This seems to harken back to Pete Brown’s comments on indy rock and roll sell-outs. I don’t think the original coiners (coiners?) of the term “hip” meant it to define most sales, most popular, follow the crowd.

    I saw “hippest” on the cover and thought it was referring to the “green” aspect of NB, something that seems to be “hip” these days (wonder why it died a quiet death back in the early 70s when I was following Woodsy Owl?), guess I’ll peruse the article closer than a skim.

  2. Stan Hieronymus January 14, 2008 at 8:19 am #

    Steve – From a little sidebar the runs beside the beginning of the article:

    “After all, the company produces Fat Tire Ale, the hip beer than causes pangs of envy to beer drinkers outside New Belgium’s distribution area.”

  3. SteveH January 14, 2008 at 8:51 am #

    Hmm, pangs of envy. I think I’m more envious of the Victory stuff that doesn’t reach me these days, although it is nice to see the 1554 on the local grocer’s shelves!

  4. Brandy January 14, 2008 at 9:12 am #

    You are old, but that probably means I am too.

    I think this chasing after the latest extreme beer may be bad news for true classics. The youngsters who want the sickest drinks are as likely to end up with cocktails as real beer.

  5. Ray Langley January 14, 2008 at 10:57 am #

    So being of the somewhat younger crowd – I would have a hard time thinking of New Belgian as anything but a boring starter beer for the BMC crowd just venturing into craft beer.

    Now Pliny the Elder – that would go down in my book as the “hippest” beer. (Sickest beer for that matter.) Of course I was dragged into craft beer by Sierra Nevada many years ago. Needless to say I love the hops. SNPA is still hipper than New Belgium Amber. Oh well.

  6. SteveH January 14, 2008 at 11:13 am #

    Ray — you make similar mistakes as others about “New Belgium.” First, it’s New Belgium, second; that’s the brewery, not the beer — NB makes many different (and good) styles. And while Fat Tire may not be as exciting as some brews out there (I think so myself), the recipe or my palate has been tweeked in the last few years since my first taste of the beer — it’s not a bad quaffer at all.

    Even as a starter or transition beer, it’s a good go-to for any good beer lover when the local has mostly swill. Give it a try with no pretention or expectations other than drinking something good — you may be surprised.

  7. Rick Sellers January 14, 2008 at 11:47 am #

    Shouldn’t they have a picture of Peter on the cover with a caption saying “he makes the hippest beer”? I haven’t read the piece yet (just occurred to me I haven’t received this issue), but I wonder if they’re calling NB “Hip” because their green washing… er, environmental commitments and how ‘hip’ that seems to be these days.

    As a younger and lesser experienced guy… when I see the word “hip” I instantly think how uncool that word is. Or, of course, Huey Luis’ hit song – “hip to be square”… occasionally Rose Hips.

  8. Ray Langley January 14, 2008 at 12:17 pm #

    Steve:

    Don’t get me worng – I don’t want to sound as though I am putting down New Belgium (my bad there); the point I was attempting to make is that it is not a beer of my choice (or one I would think of as cool) because of a lack of character. Typically if all I can order is NB Amber, Guiness or Sam Adams – I’ll just order iced tea. That list has been growing recently with the addition of Red Hook ESB and even SNPA – both of which were once major staples. However, I still recomend all of those beers to the BMC crowd.

    However, I will give NB Amber another shot with your suggestions next time it is the best beer I can find.

    My point – if there is one – is in support of Stan’s statement that you wouldn’t neccesarily think of NB Amber as being the typical craft beer drinkers brew of choice. Although it may very well be for many. And as far as a beer that you think of as appealing as a “hip/cool/sick” beer (i.e. a beer that appeals to the younger alternative counterculture) then it would be more in line with Stone’s Arrogant Bastard (the best “non-marketing” marketing campaign out there) or Dogfish Heads 90 minute IPA on the East Coast drinkers. Of course I could make the argument how cool and counterculture is it when everyone is on the same bandwagon. Think of all the 20 something’s with tatoos and piercings.

    Really it is all symantics though – if the author feels it is one of the hippest beers out there then good for him – I just tend to disagree.

  9. Stan Hieronymus January 14, 2008 at 12:26 pm #

    Thanks, Brandy, for the vote of confidence on old.

    I hope that one way to avoid becoming beer old is to be willing to try the beers those from what Ray calls the “somewhat younger” crowd call “sick.”

    To an extent Rick’s comment explains why, though I’m a lot more interested if sick means good rather than if sick means hip.

    (Typed will listening to Joe Henry’s “Civilians” – noted for Rick’s benefit.)

  10. SteveH January 14, 2008 at 1:26 pm #

    “Typically if all I can order is NB Amber, Guiness or Sam Adams – I’ll just order iced tea. That list has been growing recently with the addition of Red Hook ESB and even SNPA – both of which were once major staples. However, I still recomend all of those beers to the BMC crowd.”

    Wow, that sounds pretty limiting and somewhat elitist.

    Red Hook ESB has been a go-to beer for me for a while, it’s better than most think and a great beer for those times when you just want to drink a good beer.

    As to “hippest” of anything, doesn’t it become non-hip once everyone starts thinking it’s so? Personally, I think hip is taking your own road and liking what you like, no matter what anyone thinks or tells you is hip.

    As someone who jumped on the “craft beer” bandwagon nearly 20 years ago, I think the wide variety of different beers is the best thing that’s happened for beer drinkers in America — you can’t limit yourself to what the hipsters think is hip!

    …he exclaimed knowing that there’s the better part of a six pack of Red Hook ESB waiting at home, but thinking of supplimenting with a nice Optimator or Salvator…

  11. SteveH January 14, 2008 at 1:28 pm #

    “As a younger and lesser experienced guy… when I see the word “hip” I instantly think how uncool that word is. Or, of course, Huey Luis’ hit song – “hip to be square”…

    The fact that you think of Huey Lewis when you think of “hip” makes me think you’re older than you claim! 🙂

  12. SteveH January 14, 2008 at 1:32 pm #

    “I hope that one way to avoid becoming beer old is to be willing to try the beers those from what Ray calls the “somewhat younger” crowd call “sick.”

    Agreed — don’t allow my defense of lesser-than-sick/rad/cool/hip beers to be misconstrued into a belief that I don’t enjoy a good Barrell Aged Stout now and again.

    It’s all about the variety!

  13. Ray Langley January 14, 2008 at 2:07 pm #

    Steve:

    Many a six pack of Red Hook ESB and SNPA has graced my firdge. And Sierra got me through that first year of grad school just a little over 5 years ago (and also is directly to blame for the 15 pounds I put on that year). And although I will deny that I named my dog after a beer to my last day – her name is Sierra.

    Lately I just tend to drink Chama River’s and Il Vicino’s beer and whatever I have homebrewed; at the moment it’s an 80-/- schilling scottish and a 7% IPA.

  14. Rick Sellers January 14, 2008 at 2:11 pm #

    Stan… My Joe Henry music has up and disappeared! I think I must have loaned it to a friend. I do have my iPod though, so not completely without. Anyway, thanks for reminding me I owe a friend an email.

    Steve… I just turned 31.

    Surprised we haven’t mentioned Phat as a descriptor, even though that was so 2005. Phat beers do have that unappealing quality to them though… then again, when I think of sick beer, I’m usually assuming it’s gonna be ropey with a wonderful snot-like texture.

    So, going back to the actual article. Is “Hip” used because they’re doing/advertising the green side of business, or because the beers are that cool? I need to track down the piece, I suppose.

  15. Stan Hieronymus January 14, 2008 at 2:33 pm #

    So, going back to the actual article. Is “Hip” used because they’re doing/advertising the green side of business, or because the beers are that cool? I need to track down the piece, I suppose.

    Green might be the new black, but is it hip?

    Fat Tire is referred to as “the hip beer” inside.

    BTW, in your first comment you mentioned that Peter should be pictured on the cover. In fact, he’s in the background.

  16. SteveH January 14, 2008 at 3:33 pm #

    “(and also is directly to blame for the 15 pounds I put on that year).”
    I know that oh so well, but why does that mean SNPA is “uncool” these days — or were you just expressing the opinions you’ve seen out there?

    Rick — Huey would be proud (I really do have all his albums — including the one with Stan Getz playing sax — talk about hip!). If 50 is the new 40, does that make 30 the new 20? He said from the shy side of 50…

    To the point of Fat Tire, I grabbed a bomber on the way home from work, inspired by this thread.

    Taking the first taste, I remembered that the reason I sort of shrugged off the phenom from some non-beer loving friends when they first discovered it; the sort of musty nose and roasted malt character reminded me so much of so many brew-pub ambers I’d had in the past that it didn’t “thrill” me at all (talk about hip).

    Now I realize the brett character and the complex malts and hops are something more flavorful than most BMC people could handle and wonder why this would ever be a “transition beer.”

    Is it hip, rad, or phat (I did not just use that term)? Dunno, but I could think of lesser beers that would make me more uncomfortable being called cool. I think I’ll be revisiting this brew more often.

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