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Saturday, February 28, 2009

What Style Creep Tells Us

Just what the Brewers Association needed: two more beer styles. For those of you not keeping track, that brings the total to 141.
This year’s review of over 140 different beer styles is now complete. The Brewers Association 2009 Beer Style Guidelines was released today. Each year the Brewers Association reviews the beer style guidelines that provide the basis of many important international beer competitions.

Many categories were revised or further refined based on industry trends, preservation of traditions and concerns expressed by judges at various national and international competitions.
I will spare you yet another rant about how this style creep is unnecessary and silly. (A rant that would surely include pointing out that designations like "coffee-flavored beer" in no way constitute a beer style.) It is a frankenstein's monster built of the desire to please everyone in marketplace ("American style ice lager," "Wood- and Barrel-Aged Pale to Amber Beer"). These aren't style guidelines, they're a catalogue of all styles ever brewed.

Ah, but herein lies a lesson, perhaps. American breweries are now experimenting so expansively with style, method, and ingredients that a great percentage of beers don't hew to traditional styles. This is a good thing. The Brewers Association errs in trying to capture this by creating special categories for every method or ingredient used. A strong ale is a strong ale whether it's aged in a bourbon barrel or not. But their silly descriptives point out what rich diversity we currently enjoy.


  1. I guess I don't understand what the problem is. That it's harder to be a beer judge now? What negative consequence can more formally recognized styles possibly have?

  2. By and large, I'd say the development of "beer styles" over time has been a fairly organic thing, rather than reflecting a concerted effort to create tightly defined styles ahead of time that one could then "brew to."

    In this way, I think it's appropriate for the Brewers Association's style inventory to reflect the lay of the land, as it were, rather than stubbornly declaring beer-style development closed.

    But, I get your point, particularly about the lack of thought that seems to have informed some of these choices. ("Fresh Hop Ale"? So we rely on nothing more than the honor system in identifying these? "Session Beer"? A category, perhaps, but not a style.)