Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

July 10, 2008

Beer Issues:


Eddie Glick proves his insanity by saying the problems facing craft brewers today are a good thing.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
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The Chinese, at least according to Lisa Simpson, have the same word for ?crisis? and ?opportunity.? And that word, at least according to Homer Simpson, is ?crisitunity.? Despite the fact that I don?t think the challenges facing craft brewers right now can be called a crisis yet?we haven?t seen any mass die-offs of small beer makers around the country?the problems are real and could very well threaten a good number of brewers. On the flip side, though, I see some silver lining amid all the bad news. In fact, I?m going to go so far as to say the hops and barley shortage, gloomy economy, and price pinch confronting brewers will be in the long term?and even in the relatively short term?good for the craft brewing industry.

Now before you run over to the phone to call the booby hatch to have me hauled away, hear me out. There is, in fact, some very good reasons for my seeming insanity.

Extreme Creep
I love big, wacky beers that some people like to refer to as ?extreme.? But, it can get to be too much. We?re seeing less talented brewers wanting to cash in on the trend and just dumping in obscene amounts of hops and malt, throwing the beer into an old whiskey barrel for three months, and rolling out their latest ?extreme? beer. Maybe with the high prices for hops and barley, gargantuan brews will once again be reserved for special releases, or at least retreat to the domain of brewers who care more about experimenting and brewing what they themselves like instead of following the crowd.

Besides, you don?t need massive bitterness and alcohol to push the beer envelope. Necessity is the mother of invention, and there is no more of an inventive crowd out there than American craft brewers. The hops and grain shortage may very well lead to some fantastic new beers for us to try.

The Return Of Locality
Beer has long since lost its sense of locality. Any style can be brewed by anyone in the world, and even specific beers can be recreated with the right recipe. No longer can entire beer styles rise up because of a city?s amazingly hard water, or a shire?s exemplary barley, or a region?s uniquely flavored hops. But forces are at work that could make all that change.

In response to the hop and barely shortage, more than a few brewers are taking matters into their own hands. A group of craft beer producers in Wisconsin recently announced the formation of a co-op to share hops and barley grown in-state. Larry Bell of Bell?s Brewing has started growing his own barley and will start using locally grown hops in some of his beer this year. Russ Klisch, owner of Lakefront Brewing, has begun cultivating his own organic hops to use in Lakefront ESB Organic Ale.

Hops are beer?s terroir?the same variety of hops grown in different climates or conditions will taste differently, sometimes drastically so.
Discounting the risk brewer?s face in the initial investment, only good can come with this movement. Hops are beer?s terroir?the same variety of hops grown in different climates or conditions will taste differently, sometimes drastically so. Imagine an IPA from Bell?s using a proprietary hop that was unique to Kalamazoo, Michigan. Or barley grown in northern Wisconsin that has some crisp, clean characteristics that can?t be found elsewhere. This could bring some locality back to beer, making the American craft beer scene that much more exciting, vibrant, and dynamic.

There?s No Sufficiency Like Self-Sufficiency
If the shortages continue as they?re expected to, and the price of fuel stays high and the economy continues to struggle, some brewers are going to be forced to close. That will suck. But those that survive?and especially those that succeed in producing their own hops and/or barley?will come out stronger. They?ll face a sparser market, and some of them will be armored against the next agricultural crunch with their own supply of hops and barley?and their own unique set of ingredients that will allow them to display their individuality even more.

The coming months and, probably, years are going to be some tough ones for beer brewers and drinkers alike. But if we grit our teeth, continue to think and drink local, and not point fingers at one another, we?ll get through this crisitunity without too much upheaval, and live to see a continuation of this golden age of great American craft beer.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

Beer Dorks News

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