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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Influential Beers

Martyn is hosting a delightful salon over at his blog on the nature of influential beers. He has assembled a list of the top 20 which is probably as good as any.  (Since "influential" is a moving target, we're never even going to agree on the rules of the game, much less the entrants; however, Martyn does a great job of walking through beer's rich history and making a nice case for his selections.)  I was going to skip it, but there's a minor theme about whether certain "sui generis" beers like Pilsner Urquell, Schneider Weisse, Guinness, Orval, and Saison Dupont should qualify.

About Guinness, Martyn writes, "I really don’t think Guinness is influential: it’s so sui generis, it’s just carried on being itself, without influencing anybody."  In comments, Ace makes a similar case against Schneider: "Why did you choose schneider over Weihenstephaner? Schneider’s hefe is unlike any other hefe, and actually comes closer to being a Dunkelweizen. Weihenstephaner’s hefe is considered the gold standard of all Bavarian hefes."

My minor addition to this debate is that beers that appear sui generis may be the most influential of all.  A beer like Pilsner Urquell is never copied identically.  Breweries were enchanted by pilsner, but they deferred to the original.  Even today, Czechs think of pilsner as a beer, not a style.  That's very much the case with Schneider Weisse, too.  A hugely important beer that kept the thin thread of weizen-brewing alive.  When, several decades ago, breweries finally started seeing a market in wheat beers, their versions referred of course back to Schneider's.  That they didn't use the same amount of dark malt doesn't mean Schneider is less important.

And you can go on: Guinness so dominated the segment of black ales that no one could be roused to challenge it.  Now dark ales are among the most popular and important of the ales brewed.  It's a little early to see if saisons will continue to survive and possibly flourish, but if they do, they will all bow in the direction of Tourpes while never attempting to imitate that beer.  Orval?  Yeah, I think it's the one sui generis beer that really is sui generis.  I'd have to agree there.

Anyway, go have fun at Zythophile, which is at 68 comments and counting.


  1. I disagree strongly with your contention that the listed beers are not copied because of "deferral to the original."

    There is no honour in business. Companies do what makes money for them. I'm quite surprised you think otherwise.

  2. They don't do it out of honor; they defer because when one company so thoroughly owns its niche, others make different kind of beers. Put another way, is a competitor going to make a copy of Guinness and take over its market? Hardly. But Guinness demonstrates an interest in dark ales, so maybe you'd make a different kind of dark ale and see if people would like that. Which is what has happened in the US.

  3. Although a list like this is probably quite interesting for the true beer geek/historian, I think it might be more interesting for the rest of us provincial types to speculate on the 10 or 20 (maybe too many) most influential American beers. I don't claim to be an expert, but I'd suggest these be included:

    Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
    Anchor Steam
    Sam Adams Boston Lager
    Grants Scottish Ale or Imperial Stout

    I'd be interested in others' versions of an American list.

  4. Jeff, your response is incorrect. When Microsoft owned over 90 percent of the browser market, how many companies stopped making browsers? None.

    Guinness makes stout. No American breweries make stout?

    Why do you say that no brewery makes a copy of Guinness? Because none use that name? According to BeerAdvocate, Guinness makes Dry Irish stout. They then list 402 Dry Irish Stouts. How on earth can you say that none of these is based on Guinness?