Sunday, July 29, 2012

New Belgium/Lost Abbey Collaboration

Brett Beer is what it's called. Savory, soft, with a hint of pineapple or mango, I can't really decide which. Light-medium bodied and very drinkable. It's a collaboration beer. Two brewers (or more) got together to brew this. Why?

It seems to me that this particular collaboration beer could have been done by one brewer alone. It isn't that hard to find strains of Brettanomyces, just stop your cleaning regimen for a day or so, or maybe just buy a strain from a commercial yeast supplier. So why work with another brewer to get something so readily available? Marketing. By making this a "one-off" beer, the exclusivity will sell the beer without much outside help (being part of the "Lips of Faith" series helps as well). This brings to mind, however, a beer I have yet to try: Brux, a "domesticated wild ale" that is a collaboration beer between two of my most trusted breweries, Russian River and Sierra Nevada. The term "wild" implies that there is much more than Brett and regular old S. cerevisiae. There are plenty of wild yeasts that are locals to certain areas outside the reach of either of the brewers. Marketing again? Probably. Greater chance of being a genuine interest in making something unique? More plausible on this one. Weigh in, please. Convince me I'm wrong.

P.S. Marketing gimmicks aside, try the Brett Beer if you can get it. Very interesting and totally worth whatever it was I paid for it.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Palate Wrecker

Green Flash is trying to ruin my palate. They are literally trying to wreck it. Also known as Hamilton's Ale, the Palate Wrecker is slowly working my taste buds over as I type. Lingering bitterness, spicy and resinous hops. A bit of mango, or maybe lychee, on the nose (the MO in their other IPAs). Just a bit of malt sweetness, but no real malt presence. The poster said 6 lbs of hops per barrel; by my calculations, that's a metric shit ton. And for some reason I want to make some cheap hot dogs to go along with it (with bacon and spicy mayo, of course). This is one of only a few beers that has made me really sit back and contemplate the drink itself recently. Kudos, Green Flash.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

On Impartiality

While browsing through a few blogs one night I had an epiphany. As I read a review of Boatswain DIPA on Lost in the Beer Aisle, I found myself smiling and even laughing at the comments. They rang true for many of my experiences with that particular style. In general, I have found the vast majority of DIPAs disappointing. It was then that I realized my enjoyment of a beer has a lot to do with my expectations for a particular style. If I expect a beer to be one thing and it turns out to be another, that can very quickly lead to disappointment. My inability to be impartial with a beer has prevented me from enjoying many otherwise solid beers. A well-made beer is a well-made beer (regardless of whether or not I prefer the style) and we all should be able to recognize that.

Of course, I realize that complete impartiality is impossible to attain. However, a general attitude of impartiality is something we all should strive for. Why not learn to appreciate the complexity of an IPA (whatever the hop varieties) or the depth of a brown ale or porter? Given a shift in attitude, we may find ourselves enjoying and appreciating more than we thought possible within the beer community.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Guidelines must go!

In response to a previous argument for the benefits and necessity of style guidelines within the brewing industry, I present an argument as to why those guidelines are unnecessary:

As far as the brewing industry is concerned, style guidelines are a beginner's game and marketing tool. Quality should be of utmost importance to a brewer, not fitting into a set of characteristic guidelines.

Those new to the brewing industry, or to brewing in general, may find some benefit in style guidelines. Those with more experience, however, should not need a set of guidelines to brew a proper beer. The most important aspect of the production process should be, ideally, quality. So long as a beer is made with care and from high quality ingredients, style labeling should come as a secondary issue.

Also of importance is marketing. "Style" often serves simply as a marketing tool. "Brewed in the 'X' tradition" might spark the memory of some readers and drinkers. Whether or not a beer conforms to its labeled style is not strictly governed by law. So, a brewer is free to mislead a consumer simply to sell beer.

To the credit of fans of style guidelines, there are some advantages not mentioned in any previous arguments. Many, if not most, brewing competitions are judged by people certified under the instruction of the BJCP. As far as competitions are concerned, style guidelines are absolutely necessary. If there were no guidelines, judges would be left to voting based on personal preferences; this is the exact opposite of the goal of the BJCP and detrimental to both brewers and consumers. However, the BJCP is not enough of an argument for the importance of style guidelines. In reality, competitions are simply another marketing tool, as they tell consumers which beers to buy regardless of the consumers' personal opinions.

As a counter to style guidelines and their subsequent labeling, apt descriptions of beer should be of utmost importance. The consumer deserves to know which characteristics to expect in a beer before the buy. Colorful ad copy is not necessary, simple descriptions (aroma, flavor, IBU, etc) would suffice.

 At the end of the day, quality ingredients and a well made beer (see: process control) are paramount; guidelines take a back seat. The craft beer movement dictates that drinkers should choose a quality pale ale over a poorly made IPA, and a perfectly made brown over an imperfectly made porter. Quality may be somewhat objective, but is for the most part recognizable across the spectrum of drinkers.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Style Guidelines, thoughts, questions

I was bored last night, so I wrote an essay on the benefit and necessity of style guidelines in the brewing industry. This is not to say that there is no current direction for brewers. My frustration arises from past experiences of purchasing a beer that says "pale" and finding what would better be described as an "amber", or an IPA that lacks discernible hop character or is overpowered by the malt profile (regardless of historical malt profiles of IPAs, I cannot and will not support an IPA that does not lean toward the hops). I am, I think, in favor of basic guidelines pertaining to style characteristics (appearance, aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, etc).

Comment if you have feelings on the subject. Keep it civil, and remember that I wrote this in a fever of annoyance mixed with boredom and tempered by restlessness. As I proofread the paper I found myself second-guessing myself. But, without further delay:

An Essay on the Benefit and Necessity of Beer Style Guidelines

For years the brewing industry, as well as the consumer, has been plagued with a problem: lack of specific style guidelines for brewing. Beer style characteristics are largely a matter of personal preference and experience; one drinker's pale ale is not another's, much as one brewery's pale ale is not another's. This is not to say that all brewers should brew the same beer. On the contrary, variation is key to satisfying all drinkers' palates. The problem arises when beers are stylistically different in reality, but appear the same on paper. For now, style guidelines will be defined not through recipe composition, but as characteristics typical of a style, regarding appearance, aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel. Basic style guidelines are a necessity for the brewing industry for a variety of reasons, among which we find clarity, consistency, and an experimental foundation.

As brewers continue to label beers with styles not perfectly suited to that particular beer, the concumers loses focus of what to expect. Clarity, on the consumers' end, lets them know what to expect when a beer is labelled with a given style. Clarity, on the brewer's end, gives guidelines within which to brew a particular style. Knowing what to expect based on a labelled style (since many brewers do not offer descriptions of particular beers) will decrease wariness on the part of the consumer and drive sales. The issue, however, does not rest solely on clarity. Rather, we must look at consistency to get a fuller understanding of all aspects at play.

Currently, beers styles lack consistency between brands. While there would be little benefit to all brewers brewing identical beers, consistency amonst style characteristics would provide better comparability between brands. With the current lack of style guidelines, some comparisons between two similarly labelled beers are as good as comparing apples to oranges. Additionally, even if style guidelines might seem to restrict the individuality of a brewer, differences in equipment and process control would ensure noticeable differences in the finished product. Once again, this is not the only pertinent reason to adopt style guidelines. These guidelines also provide a foundation for growth within the brewing industry.

Experimentation is key to the evolution and continued success of the brewing industry. Without experimentation, there might be no such thing as pale ale, IPA, or Russian Imperial Stout, to name a few. Many styles might not exist at all. Style guidelines, if implemented, would provide a foundation upon which to experiment and build new styles or variations of existing styles. Knowing how to make a pale ale within guidelines would provide the proper foundation from which to build a double pale, or a pale with previously unsused ingredients.

Opponents may argue that style guidlines would restrict a brewer's creativity and make every beer the same. As mentioned earlier, differences in equipment and process control would prevent this. Additionally, these guidelines would not be strict rules or recipes, simply a framework within which to brew a given style. Wary consumers would no longer have to take a chance on whichever beer they are buying. Brewers would not have to make guesses as to what chareacteristics their finshed product should employ. Overall, style guidelines would be of great benefit to the brewing industry as a whole.