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Them’s fightin’ words: American beers lack nuance

This from a story that dated tomorrow (step into the future with me) in the New York Times:

Subtlety is the hallmark of the better Japanese microbrews, while most American craft beers embrace an onslaught of flavor with all the nuance of a sledgehammer.

That attention-getting line aside, Specialty Beers on the Rise in the Land of Sake is worth your time.

Many parallels with the United States. Microbreweries were legalized in 1994, peaked in 1999, fell off and more recently have figured out what they want to be as they grow up.

They are gaining traction with drinkers under 40, benefiting from growing interest in a wider range of cuisines, etc.

All with a bit of subtlety, of course.

9 Responses to Them’s fightin’ words: American beers lack nuance

  1. Stonch October 20, 2007 at 6:40 pm #

    Would it be too much to ask to keep the nationalism out of politics? I don’t want blood in my pint. I appreciate all beer cultures. I don’t want to choose between them.

  2. Stan Hieronymus October 20, 2007 at 7:13 pm #

    It is curious that I think you are referring to two recent articles – one waving the American flag (Garrett Oliver’s op-ed piece) and one knocking American boorish brewing behavior – that are both in the New York Times. It seems so uncivilized for the Times.

    On the other hand you might not like my headline. So I’ll simply note that if the reporter said some instead most that would have been fair.

  3. Stonch October 21, 2007 at 4:57 am #

    I think the reporter was simply wrong to make the comment he did about US beer. The more mainstream craft beers – the bestsellers – don’t fit his description at all, after all.

    The info about Japanese beer is interesting though.

    I’m just tired of people trying to compare brewing cultures – yes Garrett included – instead of celebrating them.

  4. Stan Hieronymus October 21, 2007 at 5:01 am #


  5. Keith October 21, 2007 at 6:05 am #

    I’d like to know Jeff Boda’s (author) credentials before I lend any weight to his comments. From what I can tell he’s no Michael Jackson and surely, Michael never made a comment like that, throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    I expect better from the Times.

  6. Jeff Alworth October 21, 2007 at 5:02 pm #

    while most American craft beers embrace an onslaught of flavor with all the nuance of a sledgehammer.

    This is hard to defend on any level. Even here in Beervana, which is surely the most criticized for steroidal beer, the charge doesn’t hold water. Best-selling beers: BridgePort IPA, Deschutes Mirror Pond and Black Butte Porter, Widmer Hef. The big beers may get the most attention, but they don’t sell well, nor do they constitute anything like “most” of any brewery’s stable.

    It’s a silly, sloppy comment.

  7. Steve October 21, 2007 at 11:37 pm #

    I agree with the thrust of all your comments. Don’t know who Jeff Boda is either, but the article first appeared in the International Herald Tribune some weeks ago.
    I didn’t get real excited about that slipup and lack of depth because in general it was a positive article about Japanese craft beer, and you don’t see many of those in the big press, or negative ones for that matter. Most mainstream articles about any given specialty topic seem to make at least one or too cock-ups, this time in making some sweeping generalizations about an iceberg based on the shape of its tip.

    To be sure, there are very few big-ass Japanese craft beers. But there certainly are some. Even the biggest and baddest are also probably toned down from the biggest and baddest US beers, but otherwise the general character is similar.

    And when you try to generalize about the respective industries overall, I think that what the author is calling “subtlety” in Japanese craft beer could just as easily be referred to as “blandness”. The article states there are about 280 craft breweries. Sure, but there probably less than 20 of those have any real reputation as consistent producers of really good beer. Amongst the rest there is a whole swag of breweries producing technically competent but remarkably unremarkable beers — subtle? Yes, perhaps, or just well-made beers following closely (at best) in the footsteps of the original style (alt, koelsch, pils, weizen, apa, ipa, etc). Nothing to make you grab your notebook and start writing feverishly. And then there are the dogs, which unfortunately still exist at far too high a level for the industry’s good.

    Also, just as an aside, the guy in the photo, Aoki-san, is one hell of a good guy and a great champion of craft beer. He was the catalyst for a craft beer festival on September 30 which was basically a consortium of the cream of Japanese craft breweries directly putting on a festival for the consumers without any middlemen. While planned long before MJ’s untimely passing, it coincided with the national toast in the US and we were able to put on a nice tribute with large posters of MJ hung over the stage. Beer writer Bryan Harrell (Brews News) made a great speech in Japanese in honor of MJ and we even managed to hold a minute’s silence … yes, in the middle of a beer festival! That was a special moment.

  8. Stonch October 23, 2007 at 6:42 am #

    The big beers may get the most attention, but they don’t sell well

    Yes. I suppose the only reason people might feel differently is that those who enter reviews and engage in discussions on the big beer websites (BA and Ratebeer, principally) tend to focus on the extreme beers. And why not, I suppose. I guess they’re easier to talk about.

    I’ve begun to think people are getting their knickers in a twist for nothing with this whole extreme v. session beer thing, me included. Maybe it’s just a big non-issue.

    I’d be interested to know what the top ten selling American craft beers are? Does anyone have that info?

  9. Stan Hieronymus October 23, 2007 at 10:56 am #

    I guess they’re easier to talk about.

    An important and overlooked point.

    As to the list of best selling beers. I got a little windy, so made it a separate post.

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