BeerDorks.com: Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

 
February 1, 2011

The Culture of Beer:

Don’t Fear Big Beer

Imperial fill-in-the-style beers are not going to devour everything you hold dear. Seriously.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
As everyone knows, February is International Month at BeerDorks.com, which means we’ll be focusing on beers brewed on the other side of the various ponds and borders that make up the boundaries of these United States of America. That is, when we deign/remember to update the harsh mistress we call this web site.

In years past (like that year and that year) I started off by focusing on the iconic beers of some of Europe’s classic brewers. But this year I’d like to take a look at not the beers exactly, but a backlash of sorts forming in some drinking and brewing circles in the rest of the world. And by that I mean Europe. And maybe Canada.

A hue and cry has arisen from European beer brewers and drinkers—and even from a good amount of USAians—about the state of the American craft beer scene. Instead of lauding the seemingly endless innovations flowing from American brewers or marvelling over the thousands of breweries and brewpubs we now boast, they’re wringing their hands and mopping their brows, terrified down to their knickers that the classic beers they’ve been drinking for the last two centuries or so—their pilsners and porters, their wits and weissbiers, their doppelbocks and Dortmunders—are going to soon be supplanted by the nightmarish concoctions American craft brewers are churning out with frightening rapidity. Their fear is—and it is very real—that the American taste for imperial fill-in-the-style (but usually IPA, because a lot of Europeans—and, again, Americans, for that matter—are scared to death of beer even as non-aggressively—relatively speaking, of course—hopped as Three Floyds Alpha King) will swarm the UK and the mainland, erasing every historical style in its wake, much like pilsner did back in the late 1800s.

Ratebeer.com is the Star Trek convention of the craft beer world.
A good summation of this fear can be found in this entry by Martyn Cornell, a Brit, and one of my favorite beer writers.

(An aside: Martyn vilifies Ratebeer.com for its incessant celebration of all styles imperial. While I sometimes find those Ratebeer.com top-whatever lists somewhat amusing, I otherwise barely pay attention to the site. Although Martyn’s assertion that the media latches onto those lists and spreads a dangerously false perception about craft beer has merit, I think he’s overreacting a bit. Ratebeer.com is the Star Trek convention of the craft beer world. Sure it’ll get some press, maybe get people to watch one or two reruns of Kirk and Spock or the one with the bald guy instead of the local news, but there’s no danger of Klingon costumes becoming a mainstream fashion statement.)

Of course this fear—like most fears—is overblown and in some cases downright silly. First off, there are more than enough people and palates in the world for virtually an unlimited number of styles. The vast diversity of styles in the U.S.—despite Ratebeer’s top ten lists—is testament to that.

Second off, the beer universe is a much a different place than it was 100, or even 30, years ago. Esoteric beers aren’t left to wither and die. Instead, they’re explored, celebrated, and—most importantly—brewed by craft brewers and home brewers. Hell, the next beer style du jour among craft brewers very well may be light American adjunct lager.

Those who aren’t living in the U.S. are going to get a skewed view of the beer culture here.
Lastly, those who aren’t living in the U.S. are going to get a skewed view of the beer culture here. They can’t walk down to the local bar or beer store and see what a typical tap list is like or what craft brews are filling the shelves. Instead a lot of their perception is formed by sites like the aforementioned Ratebeer, and the media. And if they can’t make a trip to the States, their actual experience—smells and sights and tastes—of American craft beer will be what they can find on their local shelves and in their neighborhood pubs and the occasional beer fest. The media and beer dork sites aren’t throwing New Glarus Spotted Cow onto any “best of” lists, and nobody’s clamoring to export bombers of Bell’s Oberon to every corner of the European continent. But—and this is the most important part!—those two beers are the some of the best selling, hands down, here in the Midwest.

The vast majority of craft beer drinkers are downing “plain old” pale ales and wheat beers and amber lagers. The imperial beers that are scaring the crap out of traditionalists are in reality niche products that brewers use to gain some publicity in the beer dork segment of the population and (usually, but not always) make a little money in the process. The majority of craft beer drinkers—you know, those who like good beer but aren’t obsessed with the whole craft beer deal like us Beer Dorks—are barely aware of crazy-ass, incongruously colored hop bombs.

So enough with the fear, Europe (and you hand-wringing Americans, too). We’ll make you a deal: we won’t blame you for pilsner snuffing out all the diversity of the American beer culture in the late 19th century, and you quit stressing out about triple imperial bourbon barrel aged black IPAs coming to eat your children and their beer. Because both ideas are equal in their ludicrousness.

Now, on to BeerDorks.com International Month!

(Cue the deafening sound of crickets.)





Comments
GREAT article, Eddie! Well considered on all fronts...although the lack of bitterness is sure to put a dent in your reputation.
posted by Rings | February 2, 2011, 5:21 PM
Excellent.
posted by Kirby Nelson | February 2, 2011, 6:40 PM

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