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Friday, September 21, 2007

Time for a Bonsai Beer Movement

The joy of drinking beer is in the epiphanies it sparks. In my case, the insights are often directed back on the source itself, and so it was last night as I shared a bottle of Pyramid Imperial Hefeweizen with Sally. We have entered the era of imperial. No style is immune. Imperial IPAs and stouts, of course. But now there are imperial reds, porters, pilsners, wits, and hefeweizens. Never mind the "doubles" and "strongs." The age of supersized beer is upon us.

I love strong beers. When Sam Adams released its Triple Bock back in 1994, I shelled out for a bottle. I exaulted when Hair of the Dog released Fred. I laid away gallons of Jackfrost Doppelbock. Sasquatch Strong still remains one of the best beers I've ever tasted, and I drank it whenever it was available.

But the madness has to stop. I bought the Pyramid Imperial Hef with reluctance but dim hope. Maybe the word "hefeweizen" was an evocation--the beer, I hoped, might be something like a wheat wine. Alas, this really is just a steroidal hef. Hefeweizens are quintessentially light beers; the characteristics that distinguish them are products of smallness--light body, gentle wheaty palate, and the fragile, spicy character from yeast and phenols that make the style unique.

As an antidote, we need some kind of small beer movement. Bonsai beers, miniaturist efforts that focus entirely on producing flavor with a minimum of ingredients. I know that in a vacuum, breweries probably aren't going to invest a lot of time into beers that will get overlooked--especially when they can bloat a beer and get a fair amount of attention. That's why it needs to be a movement--consumers would become more conditioned to appreciate the small beers.

A festival of beers under 4%? A contest? A joint brew-off? Something needs to be done or we're going to have to endure imperial lambics, double milds, and strong sessions. Stop the madness before it's too late!


  1. Where can I get this imperial lambic you speak of???


  2. I'm with you. The OBF had so many of these. We are manly men and we only drink bitter high alcohol beers! So many of them were just bad-- unbalanced, muddy flavors, heavy mouthfeel. I think the bonsai name is quite apt for the direction that needs to be taken.

  3. Stone actually made a double mild a couple years ago as an anniversary beer...

  4. Where can I get this imperial lambic you speak of???


    Stone actually made a double mild a couple years ago as an anniversary beer...

    Arrggh, arrgghhhh!

  5. Is the madness creating the beers - particularly crazy big beers - or events that promote them?

    The Beer Advocate Extreme Beer Festival includes plenty of beers the brewers would tell you are not extreme.

    So I'm not sure a festival of 4% and under is the answer.

    Shouldn't we simply be finding ways to a) lionize beers that do a great job of delivering flavor without wandering over the top (so include those in the 4.5% to ?? range), and b) emphasize that innovation involves more than, well, just adding MORE?

  6. Stan, anything's an improvement, but I'm still enamored of a fest. Maybe it's just Beervana, but we have fests for EVERYTHING. Bout time to put wee beers on the list.

  7. Then how about a "No Designated Driver Needed" Fest?

  8. There is a low content beer fest. Not necessarily because it wanted to be, but because the State it is in forces's the Utah Brewers Festival. There are several nationally recognized award winning Utah breweries that crank out some incredible brews. And considering the constraints they are under to keep any beer made under 3.2% abv, that is impressive.

    Not sure how you'd get your hands on some of these fine micros outside of Ut, but it'd be worth your time!