As the first month of 2019 comes to a close, I am still waiting for the next trend to appear. I know one is lurking out there and I probably should have asked Garrett Oliver from Brooklyn Brewery what he thought was coming next but I was geeking out a bit too much while talking with him to ask.
I hate to burst the lager bubble but I think it is going to remain the choice of brewers more than consumers. I think the Milkshake is going the way of the White IPA while Brut is more ascendant at the moment but the out of the box new variant hasn’t shown its face.
I know it is there in the shadows, in the corner of my eye but for the life of me I can’t pick it out. Each beer year has a signature and 2019 hasn’t picked one up yet. But not to worry, still 11 months to go.
In the post, aftermath of CBC 2017, I saw this tweet go by and I thought it relevant….
And I fully agree that the first two have nothing to do with how good a beer is at all. And those two dastardly words need to be demoted behind many others in the craft beer lexicon because they are the primary power behind the whale hunting/empty chairs in line phenomenon that has too much undue influence in this day and age. New and rare seem to inextricably linked with waiting and snobbery.
I will argue though that local does have an effect on how good a beer is. Depending upon whether you are actually drinking the local beer locally. If I am at a local brewery and they just tapped a keg, that beer (depending on if it is a good beer to begin with) will be better simply because of freshness.
And local doesn’t add to the weird waiting in line, then Flip that Beer strata of beer society. A super rare, new brown ale just ain’t gonna cause a stir because, in actuality, those three words are a secret code to the Whale Bro’z who are chasing primarily for the sake of chasing. I would love to see an experiment where a hazy NE style IPA from say a random brewery in Wisconsin was put into a can that said Trillium or Monkish and see how many people A) drank the beer and could tell it was not from the labeled brewery B) actually drank the beer and didn’t trade it.
Does that mean that I will avoid anything that is new, rare and local. No. That would be the opposite pole of those who only drink what is new, rare and local. What I don’t do much anymore is hunt. I have a list of beers that I want to try but only if I see them at the places that I normally stop at. When I find something from the list, I get the same thrill and eagerness to open that I always have without scouring message boards or putting miles on the car.
New is fine. Craft beer needs to explore new avenues and side streets. Rare is fine. One-off beers show in stark relief what Macro beer does not want to do economically speaking. Local is great. Creating community is one of the key strengths of craft beer. But they are not the end all, be all any more than a brown ale is.
John Verive from the Los Angeles Times scored an interview with Tony Yanow, late of Golden Road Brewing where the topic of GRB being “Built to Sell” was brought up. The charge was categorically denied. Later over on The Full Pint blog (which I follow), they categorically denied that denial.
The question though and the word choice lead to an easy dodge. From a timeline standpoint, Golden Road opened the same year that Goose Island was sold. Which means that unless GRB was awfully good at prognosticating into the future they were not developed and built and brewed to sell. At that moment in history, there were no buyers save for ABInBev but their buying spree days were years ahead of them.
Since I love me an analogy, it is like asking me if I was planning on cheating on my wife, before I even met her. Of course the answer is no. It is a pass a lie detector test super easy question. Thus the question is dodged all because it was phrased in a certain way. The deeper and harder questions are left on the table. Questions such as, Who voted for and who against? Was the L.A. beer scene and its future taken into account? Add in your concern here.
Now I haven’t and won’t cheat on my wife because it is morally wrong according to how I live my life. Selling to SABInBevMiller (if I had a brewery or stake in one) would also be off the table according to my code. That breaking of a moral code is the concern that craft beer fans harbor and until it is addressed by those in charge at GRB, those fans won’t have the closure they want and will continue to vent.
But the beer fans don’t get off the hook that easy. That pesky word “built” is code in some of their circles for “too big”. Big being a bugaboo for many a craft beer fan. Because, ya’ know, small is ALWAYS good. Insert sarcasm emoji here. Stop me if you have heard this rant from me before but you can be a big business and still be a moral and upstanding member of the community. And you can be a giant asshat and be a small business. There are some who see any brewery that starts big as evil from the start. GRB got a fair share of undeserved crap just for the desire to grow big from the get-go.
I am no apologist for their actions. In fact, I had hoped to not write about GRB at all and wait for them to win me back with a fantastic beer. I just want the focus to be where the actual decision was made and why it was made at that point instead of castigating a company for growth plans.
On the commute home, I heard this story on NPR, and it made me think of beer. How many craft beer fans can truly tell their favorite beer from another similar beer? But until there are more widespread blind taste tests with Cicerones that will have to wait.
But what really caught my attention was this end quote: “Sometimes when you debunk a myth, you realize part of you kind of liked the myth.” And that to me, is almost more interesting than any blind taste test could be because it really gets to the core of how we relate to the beer we are drinking.
The taste of the beer is one element of our enjoyment but it is tied up with many other emotions. Did you have the beer after a long, stressful day of work? Do you know and like the brewer? Is it rated highly by online beer “experts”?
When you strip all of those things away and just drink your beer in a soundproof white walled room with no Untappd on your phone and your buddy outside, you may get a truer impression of the beer but even then you are still bringing your pre-conceived notions to the table.
You can’t escape using your own personal judgements to review a beer. And whatever back story is stuck in your mind will take a major force to dislodge. Just think how much news had to leak out before people turned against Lance Armstrong. And that is because we want to believe the story. Be it a myth or not.
And with craft beer being so subjective, it can be even harder to make a well-loved beer lose a grade. When Goose Island was bought by Anheuser-Busch, Bourbon County Stout could have taken a hit. But the lowest rated variant of BCS that I have seen is 94 out of 100. Hardly a myth being busted.
Honestly, I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Loyalty is good but a dollop of realism couldn’t hurt to hold breweries more accountable for their beers.
Water. Part of the brewing process but sometimes left out of the drinking process.
I was reminded of this when I ordered a beer and was automatically given a glass of water too.
How refreshing in two senses. One the literal and the other the foresight to know that a good palate cleanser would make beer appreciation easier.
And with the holiday season in full swing, water is truly needed to cleanse the palate as you go from a winter warmer that could be an IPA, a stout or spice filled.
Now if only water would always come with your beer order along with in vogue (health-wise) nuts.
The impetus for the October rant topic beer lists comes from two directions. One was this blog post from The New School, from the Piss & Vinegar column. I just wish I had coined the phrase “listicles”. Classic. The other is that I have been doing 10 Best Lists of different beer styles over on Food GPS covering styles like IPA’s, sour beers and pale ales that are brewed in California. So what is my 3-D and not black and white take on lists in blogs?
Right off the bat, I have to agree that the numbered list is a beloved darling of the SEO set. No getting around it. And it is also a rubric that has sold magazines and self-help books too. That means that many who write such lists are just filling in the blanks. The 10 Hottest ????. The 5 Best ????. Combine that lack of interest in the actual topic in comparison to the maximization of hits and re-tweets and you have a recipe for hastily written, un-researched faux opinion. And the lack of knowledge shows.
See example A
Others create lists just to create a shitstorm of comments. I will rank Heady Topper as the 9th best IPA in the U.S. just so I can rile up the interwebs. Some days it seems that the horrible comment trolls are neck and neck with horrible content trolls. Anybody who creates a best of beer list that doesn’t start with, “MY OPINION” in big caps or states repeatedly, that the author intends to invoke conversation and not provoke outrage is just not starting with the right frame of mind.
But with a little work and specificity, a list can be a helpful road map for someone new to craft beer or new to a part of the country, or new to a style. My hope with the California Great California beer series is to give people visiting the state or visiting the breweries here a starting point. Here are 10 sour beers from California that I think are a good place to begin your journey. I try not to rank them (except for in my own head) and I try to provide a quick tidbit about the beer or brewery that I find of interest. I also endeavor to not pre-bias a beer for someone by putting my tasting notes into the list. Of course, I sometimes have difficulty following my own rules. But my end goal is to create something akin to a shopping list. (which is what I do monthly with my “Sean suggests” post).
The lists that I find most useful fall into two camps, those that are those written more in a travel guide type of style. When visiting Point A, you should try the pizza from here, the burger from here and check out this particular museum. It helps me get oriented to the city and lets ME decide what I would like to do. The same for your better than average beer lists. It should steer someone to trying a beer that may have been previously unknown. And in a perfect world, should make everyone reading it thirsty!
Secondly, I enjoy reading what other beer people like. I will read about what Los Angeles area brewers are drinking. I would read with avid interest any list coming from the L.A. Beer Blogger group. Because I value their opinion and I think I can learn from them. The reason why I would is because I know that they are beer fans first and foremost.
A good list is written by someone who knows and is passionate about the topic from whence he/she writes and is doing it for not just to get higher blog rankings. Will it ever be “content full”? Probably not. But neither are cat videos.