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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Beer Styles in Their Native Habitat

I am a bit more than a month out from turning in my manuscript on the cider book and, as a consequence, blogging has been thin and will get thinner still.  (Perhaps you noticed.)  Indeed, yesterday I had no time to blog but I did spend ten minutes in a Twitter debate which, thanks to short time, I'm about to recycle as blog content.   Wheee!  (This is one of those times when I point out that you get what you pay for.)

The thread started with this post at Focus on the Beer arguing that hoppy sour ales are a burgeoning regional specialty of Colorado:
Every brewery strives to have a unique style that helps define them.  Certain regions of the country are known for influencing unique styles of beer.  Granted, this does not mean they were the inventors or even originators of a style, but due to the unique and popular nature of the beer in that region, the names stuck. 

So, what is Colorado’s regional style?... It’s a merging of the last big popular style (IPA) and the current/upcoming style (sours/wild ales), and we’re on the forefront of this new trend in brewing. We propose to call the style: Colorado Wild IPA, a tour de force of hoppy bite and sour pucker playfully captivating our taste buds in balanced harmony.  
We are forever attempting to associate places in the US with certain styles of beer.  But for regional style to mean anything, it must include enduring popularity.  For about 18 months, the city of Portland was home to something like four local goses (well, more than that, because Cascade was making four).  Was this a "regional specialty" or a fad?  Go try to find a gose now.  No one is claiming it's a regional Portland specialty.  (I one-linered back to the Twittersphere, "When hoppy sours are as common in CO as helles in Bavaria, then we can talk.")

But then Stan Hieronymus reminded me that there is something typical in Oregon: cloudy beers.  They are so ubiquitous that I had just misplaced the information.  That is actually a recognizable local feature of Oregon beer that is unique to the region.  (And that's mostly just an Oregon thing, not a Pacific Northwest thing.)  Cloudy beers are as common in Oregon as hellesbier in Bavaria.

(And that led Dave Marliave and I down a rabbit hole that got us arguing about the nature of kvasnicové pivo and ... well, that's what happens on Twitter.)

So after this meandering and unenlightening ramble, I leave you with a question.  Oregon has cloudy beer.  Probably this hoppy sour thing is a bit early to designate as regional style, but I would argue that Colorado does have a particular take on the IPA, which is thick and cakey and super caramelly.  Are there others?  Criteria: must be widespread and particular to a region and a trend that has lasted more than five minutes. 

Any candidates?


  1. Great recap! I think the thick and super caramelly IPA's of CO like Modus for example tend to turn off people relatively new to craft beer. Part of our argument was that these hoppy, sour ales help introduce people with less experienced palates to the wonders of hops. For example, going from drinking mainly Coors Light to New Belgium's Rampant would shock almost everyone's tastebuds, but the lesser IBU's of these hoppy wild ales almost becomes a starting point. I think that while hops are a selling point for many of us, they can also be a turnoff for many people, and these new approaches like dry-hopping sour ales can help bridge that gap.

  2. I've a cartoon here down't pub depicting an irate publican telling an unhappy customer, "Cloudy beer my Aunt Fannie, that's just a filthy glass."

  3. Have any regions conquered the rye style yet? I'm curious as to how that will progress.

  4. Not very exciting but British Columbia has a unique version of Cream Ales that been around for as long as I can remember. They're essentially a Dark Mild, which is sometimes cold conditioned. Dark brown, between 4 and 5% abv, clean and malty.

    Phillips, Russell, R&B, and Shaftebury all have dark cream ales that are widely available in BC. Here's a bit more background on the style's history:

  5. Cloudy beer - a dubious proposition in terms of palate, but never mind - probably started in Oregon but it's everywhere now. This is a major change from the earlier days of craft beer when all draft except hefes were clear (excepting too very often cask ale, a practice which diverged from standard British practice for centuries, probably from misunderstanding of what unfiltered meant).


  6. I would argue that regional styles tend to be an amalgamation of what's left after the dust has settled For example the US and particular regions of the US have distinct IPA styles. Because a beer is trending more heavily doesn't make it a regional by any means. As to cloudy or heavy caramel malt I don't think those qualify as regional style markers as they tend to be US wide phenomena that just varies in degree by region. Maybe more a national style.

    The problem is people get caught up on a particular beer to define a region. I think all the beers in a region are influenced by certain qualities that appeal to that region. Maybe it's better to talk in terms of taste instead of one particular style. For example if I try a new craft beer at a bar here in town I generally can expect it to be a little sweet with a heavy citrus hop flavor and a little forward on the bitterness regardless of whether it's a porter or an IPA. Tis just the way of most Oregon beers. Granted there are always exceptions but 9 out of 10 it seems like this is the case here.

  7. The cloudy beer thing is true and disappointing, but I'm speculating it's a product of a brewpub driven scene. Packaging beer in bottles brings added production requirements which if not met will result in your distributors and retailers losing faith. Shelf stability is a big deal to production breweries and not typically an issue to neighborhood brewpubs where the beer turns over quicker and the grain to glass chain has less links. Over the last few years several brewpubs have gotten into packaging through mobile bottlers and I've noticed an improvement in beer clarity over this time. This is purely qualitative, but I can't help but wonder how much packaging dynamics has put pressure on beer clarity and quality.

    As for regional styles, one could also nod to San Diego IPAs. The breweries down there very much popularized the low crystal malt, low bitterness IPAs that are very much in fashion today. It is interesting, and not surprising, to me that all of the American regional style candidates, both alive and dead, are hop driven. West Coast IPA, San Diego IPA, Colorado Wild IPA, East Coast IPA, Cascadian Dark Ale, Texas Brown Ale, etc. I've been casually racking my brain for something other than Kentucky Common that is not a hop focused beer.