…amongst those that should know better.
It’s the time of year when many people reflect on the 12 months gone by, and often those reflections take the form of ‘Top 10’ lists. Such lists, whilst trivial, are usually good fun, so why not do one myself? Well actually this one has nothing to do with looking back on the last year in particular, but it is in the form of a ‘Top 10’, and I suppose that some of these have gained momentum during 2011, so here it is.
10. All craft (non-macro) beer is good, and all local beer is good.
Simply put, it isn’t. This of course comes partly out of the general, green mantra surrounding ‘local is always better’ (and as such is not confined to beer), but it is something the newish beer crowd has latched on to and won’t let go. The effect is that there is a lot of mediocre (and in some cases really bad beer) out there, that gets more traction than it otherwise should.
9. It’s wonderful to have more beer in cans.
Mmmmm, well I suppose it’s nice to have the flexibility that cans can offer, but far too many people are sacrificing the quality of the beer for the convenience of the container. I’d rather have inconvenience and better beer if the other choice is more convenience with an inferior beer. In short, the container should not overrule the contents – it seems as though too often recently that’s exactly what happens, as people settle for lesser beer simply because it’s canned.
8. It’s limited, it must be great!
Obviously this has been going on for years, but I believe it’s now totally out of control. Hype has reached new levels for countless numbers of beers, that can be replicated and bettered, by simply walking down to your local store and taking something comparable off the shelf. The cost will be a fraction of the hyped beer and be accompanied by zero inconvenience and zero hysteria. Obviously the brewers LOVE the perpetuation of this myth!
7. Session beer is now gaining popularity in the USA.
Errrrrrr, no it isn’t. There’s STILL virtually no, 4% and under beer that you can buy on a regular basis in the USA. It’s even pretty difficult when considering only beer brewed regionally and locally (which used to be a small oasis) to find truly low ABV beer. Lot’s of talk here, but little action – a really strong myth.
6. More is always better (number of breweries and number of beers).
The level of growth in the craft industry in the US is simply unsustainable. It’s flooding the market with mediocre and poor beer and shelf space is at a premium more than ever. It also has the effect of leaving old beer on shelves for extended periods of time. A popular fallacy in the US is that this will be a good thing because ‘the market will decide’, and the poorer breweries will be driven out, making the landscape stronger. In reality, good beer is actually losing shelf space to ‘trendy’ beer, and brewers that are making ‘better’ beer are suffering. With close to 900 breweries in planning stages in the US, there’s a really precarious situation brewing, and a bubble about to burst. I think we’re already in a saturated market for GOOD beer.
5. More is always better (taps in bars).
Sure, if you want low turnover, and indiscriminate selections. Another old myth that is hanging on, and really says as much about the US psyche of ‘more is always better’ as it says about the beer scene here. Of course, the lack of discrimination is rampant in all facets of beer culture in the US; this is just one example.
4. Imperial and highly hopped = better.
An old, old, old myth in US beer circles that just won’t go away. There’s been lip service to this trend being reversed, but as #7 evidences, this just isn’t true and hasn’t changed to any degree.
3. British beer is undergoing a massive revolution inspired by American brewers.
This is an interesting one, that, if you live in the USA and know little about the British beer scene, or if you are under 25 and live the UK, there would appear to be some truth to. Amongst those groups, brewers like Thornbridge, BrewDog and Kernel are ‘all the rage’, and of course in the case of BrewDog they are the ones that make all the (literal) noise. The reality is quite different and remains that the overwhelming majority of magnificent beer drunk in the UK is traditional in its style, ABV and brewed by low-key brewers that still put substance over style. Don’t be fooled by the juvenile posturing and adolescent attention seeking.
2. If it’s from a country with a (relatively) new brewing tradition, it MUST be great.
First it was Italy, then it was the Scandinavian countries now it’s New Zealand. The fawning over incredibly expensive, ordinary beer is a really only a symptom of the lack of discrimination mentioned above.
1. You can put ANY beer in a cask and get a good result.
No, no, no, no. NO! The whole POINT of cask presentation is to accentuate the subtle, gentle nuances that occur over a 1, 2 or 3 day period. This relies upon beers being low-hopped, malt forward and relatively low ABV. If you put a 10% Imperial IPA in a cask, you’re missing the WHOLE point. Now, it is true that virtually ALL beer tastes better in a cask then a keg, but that’s a different argument and not one I’m making here, rather a huge amount of beer that is being presented in casks in the USA is simply not beer that will showcase the presentation at all well – the vast majority of people in the US are missing the point of cask beer. My (current) #1 pet peeve about the beer scene in the USA.
A lot of interesting points, and I actually agree on quite a few (shocking, I know!), although I think there’s some regional variation as well (not surprising, given the area you’re talking about) – there is plenty of good session beer available year-round where I am (perhaps being lucky enough to have Lew Bryson as a neighbor is a factor), and I’m very glad to have it, but the tradition could certainly spread farther and wider.
But Lisa, even Lew doesn’t know what session beer is with his, ‘greater than 4%’ mantra.
I think the implication (or the inference I took) that Thornbridge and Kernel also put style over substance is misleading. They’re both just good modern breweries that (also) do some excellent “traditional” and/or session-strength beers.
Actually, isn’t any “juvenile posturing and adolescent attention seeking” in the UK beer scene almost entirely restricted to James Watt? Which, to be fair, seems to serve BrewDog pretty well.
You make a good point about Thornbridge and Kernel, BUT the annoying thing to me is that people that don’t understand the British beer scene here in the US, think that the ‘big beer craze’ is what British brewing has suddenly become about. They get a disproportionate amount of press, and it’s misleading. I won’t deny that nonsense has served BrewDog well, especially here in the USA, but that’s really my point – people don’t get it!
“No, no, no, no. NO! The whole POINT of cask presentation is to accentuate the subtle, gentle nuances that occur over a 1, 2 or 3 day period. This relies upon beers being low-hopped, malt forward ”
It most certainly does not. What you say here is a myth in itself, though the point about putting any old beer on cask is absolutely correct. Hop forward beers of low (ish) gravity fare just as well on cask – if not better. The fact is that hop forward cask beers have been very popular for years in the North and increasingly are gaining a following in the South. The fact that many are malt forward does not define the point of cask conditioning.
Session strength in the UK will generally be beers up to around 4.5%, but generally (again) weaker. Four is a good mean for a session beer, but a little less or more is neither here nor there.
The subtle nuances bit is what you need to concentrate on here,
On the point answered by the Beerprole, I’d agree about Thornbridge, but less so on Kernal, who brew great beers, but most are pretty strong and most are bottled.
“Hop forward beers of low (ish) gravity fare just as well on cask – if not better.”.
If you mean hop-forward beers are better on cask than they are kegged, then on that point we AGREE, however I absolutely do not believe that hop=forward beers *showcase* cask at all well. to really accentuate the whole subtlety of cask, you need subtle beer.
PS. Interesting that the noisome duo from Fraserburgh distort US perceptions, but there are some that adopt an American model. That’s good. Variety is the spice of life.
I agree on the session beer. The lack of 4% and under beers in this country is sad. The only session beers I regularly drink are the ones I make!
I think part of the problem is people are interchanging the words ‘session’ and ‘drinkable’. There are plenty of 5% to 6% beers that are drinkable but not session.
Also I did drink a Meantime IPA yesterday, what a great beer that didn’t punch your mouth with hops!
Ding – I certainly agree that the cask version (correctly presented) will invariably be better, but cask conditioning is NOT all about nuance. It is about a way of presenting a beer that increases its drinkability – among other things too, nuance included.
It can and indeed does, give the rich nuanced experience, in both hop and malt forward beers. It cannot and should not be portrayed as a malt forward only thing.
Again, point taken, and perhaps my point would be better made by avoiding the phrase ‘malt-forward’, but the essence of what I’m saying is that you cannot have ‘oafish’ beers, blundering and bludgeoning their way through cask presentation, and expect to find the essence of cask subtlety maintained. The majority of (what I call) ‘oafish’ beers are indeed hop-forward and high ABV, so they tend to get the brunt of my criticism. Unwittingly, it is true that I may end up using the phrase ‘malt-forward’ too often, so in that respect I take your point.
I heartily disagree about nuance and its relationship to cask though, to me, that’s the whole point. Now, if you are arguing that hop-forward beers can gain nuance from the cask, then again I would agree that is POSSIBLE, but too often we in the USA are dealing with beers that are SO hop-forward, that the real point of cask is totally being lost. You would not believe some of the enamel strippers that are being portrayed as ‘great cask beers’ in the USA – it’s staggering and sad as they aggressively stomp all over any grace that one expects to find in a well cared for, cask beer. These beers require virtually ZERO cellarmanship, and perhaps that’s why they as so often presented here in the US.
And I take yours, not least of all because cask beer needs turnover and if these strong “oafish” beers don’t sell quickly, then it negates the cask experience.
And as you hint, some just aren’t suited to it.
Well, in the US casks will often empty within a few hours or even less, since the fad hysteria is what drives so much of American beer culture. The irony is that even THIS action is denying US cask drinkers part of the cask experience, i.e., the subtle, nuanced changes that take place over a few days in the pub!
Great post, Ding. I have a response in the works and maybe a list of my own. Thanks for the inspiration.
Number 6 brings up some interesting points. Not all new beers/breweries are created equal and what sells well at any given time may be driven more by trend than underlying quality. You’ll find few stronger defenders of free markets than I am, but this still introduces some issues. First, the markets are not necessarily free. Given the many different laws and the distribution structure, breweries and beers cannot move efficiently where the market may drive them. Second, expansion needs to be very carefully done. Some very good beers coming into such a market might sit on shelves too long and fail to get market acceptance, thus suggesting slow and deliberate is the best method to grow. While that could be faulted to the breweries for bad expansion plans, it could also mean that some beers may suffer unfairly because of too many options.
Cask, Keg, Bottle, Can, over hopped, under malted who cares, Just find the ones you like and drink it. BrewDogs noise creates a point of difference for them above other producers. Some of their beer if very good some less so – Time will tell if their strategy is correct but it appears to be so far. In the UK there has never been such a variety of good beer and when you come across bad beer it is often due to being badly kept. I for one am looking forward to 2012 and drinking plenty of new and old good beers – Happy Christmas
This is probably associated with one of the 10 myths (#4) but I feel like the craft industry in the US is (or was) great because it was cutting edge. These days it’s more of a follower culture. A couple of years ago everybody blew up the Oktoberfest, then Pumpkin was the trend, and now it’s autumn/fall seasonals. Same thing with winter seasonals and this year’s explosion of Christmas/holiday brews. If somebody did a good Chanukah beer in 2011 everybody will be doing it in 2012.
With regard to point 3. Spot on. I would though posit that there is a difference between Thornbridge and BrewDog, their (Thornbridge) beers actually live up to the hype. Jaipur was one of the best beers I drank last year and I am rather partial to a drop of St. Petersburg as well. BrewDog on the other hand continue to disappoint on the beer front and bore to death on the hysteria front.
I must say that a number of beers from the newly hyped countries such as Italy, Denmark etc are just ordinary but I must applaud the increased level of quality from those same countries in the last 5-10 years. Beers like Dark Force from Norway or Epic IPA from New Zealand are truly world class.
I really like number 4 and my friend Jeremy would probably agree as well. I love hops and a good imperial, but they need to be BALANCED with the malt. My favorite beers are actually Belgian Tripels, Dubbels, and especially Quads. Because of the over-saturation of the local US market with overly hoppy beer, a lot of which I love, people who are new to craft beer try these really hoppy beers and become self-proclaimed hop-heads and won’t drink anything else. Then when I meet one of these people and give them one of the Belgian styles mentioned above it’s not something they can get into. There are hops in it yes, but it is an accentuating flavor and not a dominate one. Don’t get me wrong, I bought some Dog Fish IPA last week and have been in love with Southern Tier’s Imperial Black Ale (basically an over-hopped stout or porter), but those beers were well balanced. The hops added flavor and not cloying bitterness that becomes some weird badge to show how hardcore you are.
Who actually says all Craft Beers are good? Isn’t the point that they are usually of a much higher variiety than your domestic American Lagers and offer much more variety of options? I have not met a micro enthusiast who has said every micro they’ve had tasted good. You’re creating a straw man and missing the point.
Interesting write up…..I am up in the air about a few things you said, such as “Session Beers are NOT gaining popularity in the US”….Well, there are a handful of new breweries popping up that are focused on this, such as Jester King out of Austin, TX……They are brewing low alcohol “Farmhouse” beers which are very tasty, their first one was a Dark Mild which was very popular and sought after.
In regards to “Imperial and highly hopped = better”…..I am Half and Half on that one….The bigger beers will have more flavor mainly because there is more alcohol to carry that flavor as well as more malt and hops being used which increases the flavor. I think most of that comes from the fact that the bigger beers tend to be higher rated then the lighter beers, they just get those rating mainly due to the #’s scale of rating, they look delicious, softer, heavier mouth feel and alot of aroma and flavor….doesn’t mean it’s better then the little pale ale sitting next to it though, it’s just how the #’s work out. It all comes down to “what do I feel like drinking today”…sometimes I dont want that imperial stout but prefer this nice easy drinking Koelsch….at the moment, that will be the better beer to me. Honestly, I am sick of seeing all these new IPA’s hitting the shelf myself…especially the Black IPA’s…..any way, nice write up.
>The bigger beers will have more flavor mainly because there is more alcohol to carry that flavor as well as more malt and hops being used which increases the flavor
Hi Stephen, thanks for taking the time to comment, but what you say here is utter nonsense. There are 1000’s of beers across the world that have colossal depth of flavor and low ABV’s. Admittedly virtually none of them are in the US, but your statement relating alcohol to flavor is simply incorrect.
“All craft (non-macro) beer is good, and all local beer is good.”
I agree 100% about what you said, I am frequently telling people that just because it is from a craft brewery does not mean it is good…..some are down right nasty, lol….I think alot of it comes from homebrewers opening up a brewery with out the proper education and just kinda play it by ear. Brewing on a large scale is very different then the 5-15 gallon brewday you might put together. Also, some of the smaller breweries can not afford to just dump a bad batch of beer and will just bottle it anyway. Reminds me of Indian Wells, I cant stand their beers, filled with vegetable. The owner will freely admit to people that he isnt much of a beer person, he prefers the sodas the brewery makes and mainly makes money on his gift shop….and you can taste that in the beer, lol…
While I agree with your opinion on #4, I think it is important to remember that it is just that, an opinion. You can call out anyone who claims that hopped out or imperial beers are better than everything else, but to say that they are worse beers is also wrong. People like what they like, but noone can tell another person what is unequivocally better than something else, just what they prefer.
But the problem is Hank, is that there is a whole generation of American beer geeks that are basing their opinions on VERY limited knowledge and experience and without a global perspective. This is a common problem in the US in many areas where isolationism is so evident. Many of the these people do NOT have the same degree of expertise, and in that regard their opinions are NOT equally valid as others with a broader greater scope of exposure. many of these people have ‘come’ to beer via incredibly narrow, jaundiced viewpoints and frankly don’t know WHAT they like!
I wholeheartedly disagree with 95% of what you have said above. I blame this partially on your lack of knowledge and partially on wanting to get people fired up to share your post.
I wish you the best of luck.
MY lack of knowledge? How does yours stack up? C’mon Bri, give us an insight into your experience! I particularly enjoyed your invention of several non-existent styles in your ‘Top 5 Winter Beers’. Fascinating!
Brian, I agree. And I don’t think I could have worded my case any better than Mr. Brooks has done here:
Lee, I am very happy and confident that I have offered convincing rebuttals to Jay, here;
Thanks for playing, though.