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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Beer Trend Boomlets: Actually, I'm Cool With Them

What's more common: "new" craft beer fads or the blog posts complaining about them? The latest comes from the estimable Lew Bryson, who has earned the right to whinge. He selects Belgian IPAs for his rant du jour:
It's just so freakin' American craft brewing. Take a familiar category of beer -- maibocks, brown ale, porter, or in this case, Belgian pale strong ales (a beautifully, broadly, Belgian category, admittedly, in which few are just like another) -- and hop the shit out of it, then proudly hold it up as A New Beer! Ta-daaaa! Never mind if it's freakishly sweet, or that the hop flavor clashes with the yeast character, or that every other brewer is going, 'Yeah, I gotta make me one of them' and the "style" becomes a glut (crap-ass sour beers, anyone?). Not to mention that American craft-brewing has become so influential -- a GREAT thing, overall, and very satisfying -- that Belgian brewers are doing it, with very varied results.
A few things spring to mind. First--and almost every blog post about craft brewing could begin with this caveat--these "trends" happen only at the far fringes of the brewing industry. Most beer drinkers don't even know what an IPA is. And even most craft beer drinkers will never have tried a Belgian IPA. To become fatigued with the style is to admit that you spend a lot of time trying the newest releases. Fair enough: but you (by which I mean we) are statistical outliers. Almost no one will feel your pain.

As for the elements of these trend boomlets that seem to most offend, I say "who cares?" Yeah, Black IPAs have probably been brewed for centuries (under many names)--as have hoppy Belgian ales. There's not a lot new under the sun. Yeah, they're accompanied by hyperbole and hype. So are all beers--it's a business, right? With 20,000 beers available in the market, what's surprising about a bit of hype? Yeah, they don't always seem like improvements on pre-existing styles. Lew doesn't like Belgian IPAs, I don't like Cascadian Dark Ales (but we both love sessions!), but so what? I don't really love bocks, either. That doesn't make them illegitimate.

Toward the end of his post, Lew observes: " I understand that this is how we progress, that the good succeed and the bad simply suck, and that every beer is not meant for me, but..." No buts, Lew. Just leave it there.

Oh, and as to which are more common, the offending styles or the blog posts complaining about them--blog posts, obviously. A brewery puts out, what, 20 beers in an active year? I write hundreds of posts a year. I gotta have me fodder. A bit of complaining is an easy way to go.

Which reminds me--you know what I really hate ... ?


  1. As much as I like to bitch about beer trends that NEVER go away, I do think every new beer trend adds to the beer drinkers palate. At least, the craft beer drinkers palate... the BMC beer drinkers don't care about quality and have no palate, period. ;-}

    The Doc has a restless palate. When a BEER FAD drags on for years and years, then I get cranky.

    Belgian IPA? Yea, sure, brew em up! Don't like em? Don't drink em! In time, this too will pass.

  2. You know what I really hate? Windbags like Lew Bryson. Please don't encourage him

  3. Perhaps I should have been clearer; everyone seems to be missing my point. It's not really Belgian IPAs that are pissing me off (I do like some, I said so right there); it's chasing the flag, it's doing what every other brewer is doing, it's the herd thing. Someone does a beer that gets BA juice? I gotta brew dat!

    I'd like to see more new beers, not less; I'd like to see more innovation, not less; I'd like to see more good beers.

    Yeah, it's a business, I'm all for that, and you have to brew IPA. Sure. But when it comes to the fringe stuff, the stuff that gets you love and attention, why not go fringe? When it comes to putting your energy into something new, why not put it into ways to make your "regular" line-up better? For Oskar Blues, it was cans; I'm pretty happy with how that turned out, and that's a trend I don't mind seeing pick up. That's what I'd like to see...instead of another bet on ratebeer roulette.

    Ahhh, that's probably too windy. Sorry, Frank.

  4. Lew, I think there's lots of fringe out there, but it may be a sample bias problem. Given that there are 15,000 or so beers in the US, I can live with little pockets of faddish beers. A hundred Belgian IPAs? Not such a crisis.