Hello again all! It’s been a minute, hasn’t it? For those who have followed me in the past (thanks, btw!), you may recall that I was going on a hiatus back in 2017. At the time, I found that I was just too busy to give the Beer Snobbery its due. Five years later, nothing has changed in that regard. If anything, I’m even busier than I was and have taken on more projects than I can sensibly handle. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to occasionally pop in to post some thoughts and updates!
In this particular case, I wish to register a complaint! To break it down, I want to address why certain styles have become the go-to of the craft brewing industry! I apologize in advance for the soap-box nature of what I’m about to say. But this gripe of mine has been building up for awhile now, and I feel this is the most appropriate forum for issuing it. So, without further ado…
Attention Craft Brewers of the Pacific Northwest
I’ve held my tongue now for years now, but I find myself unable to keep these feelings to myself any longer. There’s been a long-running and confusing (one might say disturbing) trend at work, and you are all partly responsible. I love what you do and I think the industry is a godsend that provides us with a much-needed alternative to Lucky, Blue, Bud, Molson, Keith’s, and other generic crap.
But there’s still the potential that you might ()however accidentally) fall into patterns and even develop bad habits.
Having said all that, I have the following questions/complaints:
What’s with all the f***ing Sours?
Seriously, for the past decade, every passing season brings more sour ales! I remember fondly when a few Flanders Reds and Oud Bruins made the rounds. For the most part, I found them delightful and educational. And then, the deluge began! Kettle sours, fruit sours, and other variations on a time-honored style. The question I keep asking is: WHY?
In my experience, a sour ale is a gamble. When they are done well – which is to say, small batch and barrel-aged – they can knock your socks off. But for the most part, these ales have been constant disappointments reminiscent of apple cider and balsamic vinegar. Kettle sours, meanwhile, have been consistently like totally unsweetened lemonade with a hint of vinegar.
Why are brewers making this style of beer so much? Every passing season, there are more sours, more variations on the sour, and weird combination sours. Sure, like everything else, supply and demand play a vital role in beer production, and market forces are irresistible and unavoidable. My question is, who is demanding this style? More importantly, who is demanding it to the point that craft brewers are making so much of it?
What’s with all the Goses?
Then you have Gose, a style of wheat ale with a pinch of sea salt that originated in Leipzig. This ale is not without its charm, but its proliferation in the past few years makes me wonder… This style is one that (like sours) became virtually extinct in the 20th century, and craft brewers have been trying to resurrect it.
To their credit, they are as advertised: a light wheat ale that’s slightly salty. Sometimes, sours and goses are combined to create fruity, salty, and vinegary ales. Once again, why the proliferation? Who is drinking this beer so much that craft brewers are like “oh, we got to make more of this stuff”?
What’s with all the Hazy Pales and IPAs?
To be clear, I have nothing against beers for being hazy. But why have these become so bloody common? In truth, it’s because of the proliferation of unfiltered pales and IPAs that I’ve become tired of drinking them. And it could be my imagination, but leaving the sediment in the ale has an effect on the taste that I can’t say I care for much.
There are many styles that are best when unfiltered, and (in my experience) they have always been Belgian-style ales with active yeast cultures or good old fashion wheat ales (hefeweizen and witbier). But British, German, and American-style ales, much like lagers, are best when filtered (in my humble opinion). Brewers adopted filtration for a reason, and I believe it was because it made for a cleaner and crisper-tasting beer!
While we’re at it, what’s with all the barrel aging?
It’s hardly a bad idea and works well with certain styles of ale and certain types of spirits. But there is a limit. For one, I’ve seen a lot of brewers take a beer that works well on its own and release a barrel-aged version that did nothing to enhance the experience. Second, and this is just me here, but beer should never be aged in wine barrels, red or white!
I can remember years ago when a certain brewery (no names!) did a “Double Barrell” aged ale that was conditioned in wine and whiskey barrels, and the flavor was just what you’d expect: the overpowering taste of red wine and whisky against the muted biscuit and baked bread of a nice dark ale. For years, this same brewery seemed to condition all of their limited-release beers in bourbon barrels – like they got a bulk deal on them or something!
The trend has not stopped, with craft brewers turning to everything from whiskey, rum, tequila, bourbon, cognac, and wine barrels. And honestly, only a few times has this led to a beer that was better tasting for it! And if I could be a bit polemic here, only the whiskey and rum barrel-aging were good bets! Everything else has been somewhere between superfluous and “ick!”
To be fair, I understand that craft brewing works in cycles. New styles and new variations are being adopted all the time and tend to stick around until they are no longer popular. And after a certain hiatus, they’ll come back around again to satisfy consumer demand for something they haven’t tried in a while.
And I will totally profess that love the craft and creativity of it all! It’s wonderful to see beer-makers diversifying their lineups and revitalizing styles that were abandoned due to the industrialization and monopolization of the industry. Seeing rare styles become common again is part of the great resurrection of small-batch, hand-crafted, locally-sourced beer-making that has taken place in recent decades.
But this just seems excessive, and I can’t imagine there’s this much demand for these particular styles!
I’d also like to see craft brewers experiment with other styles and brewing processes. There’s absolutely no shortage of them. This is just off the top of my head, but how about doing some Bocks, Lagers, Stouts, Saisons, and good old-fashioned ales that are NOT smoked, made with yeast that results in lactic acid, involve added salt, or are aged in freaking wine barrels?
You are clearly caught in a spiral! So consider this an intervention!
Signed, a dissatisfied Great Canadian Beer Snob.