"In working on another project, I’ve been reviewing way too much 1980s
literature about American beer. In one story a German brewer says he’d never
export his beer to the United States because Americans can’t appreciate its
flavors. He might still feel the same way, but the fact is ex****e beers helped
change what was a pathetic image (both of brewers and consumers)." [Stan is
avoiding the word "extreme" in conjunction with beer...for reasons of his own. Maybe he just doesn't want to get Googled by guys like me.]
I'll agree about the change of image, but not to anywhere near the degree Stan sees. Extreme beer may have gotten us into the Wall Street Journal, but I strongly feel that it was steady slogging of beers like New Belgium Fat Tire Amber, Goose Island Honkers Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Abita Amber, and Harpoon IPA that did more to change that image than anything. Everyday people drink beers like these every day. Beers like these are showing up in restaurants every day. Check out Don Russell's recent column on how widespread crafts are getting to be in Philly.
Extreme beers are getting the press; Stan's right about that, and I agree. That's why this blog is here, after all. But session beers are getting the taphandles, and the sales, and the friends. Here's a quote from the recent piece I did on extreme beers for BeerAdvocate Magazine:
"From an evolutionary perspective, people are predisposed to not like bitter
flavors because it means poison, sick, bad," New Belgium brewer Matt Gilliland
muses. "What percentage of people in the U.S. do you think have overcome that
genetic hard-wiring and really like 100 IBU beer? There you go, that’s your
The market for session beer is much larger, and sales prove it.
Naturally, I don't believe anyone is saying that extreme beers sell more. But when something starts to become ubiquitous, it has a lot of effect on the image. The image of the category as a whole becomes less crucial, and the image of the individual beer becomes more important...as it should be, I'd argue.
Tim Roberts, the tragically underrated brewer at Philly's Independence Brewpub, told me this, a quote that I thought was too controversial for the piece.
"I think this trend [extreme beer] is also bad for the industry, in that it
perpetuates a couple of myths about craft brewing—first that "micro-brews" are
thick, syrupy, too strong, too bitter, etc., and also that these are beers only
for a certain few people who are "into them," i.e. fat guys in black, Magic Hat
t-shirts [Luckily, I don't resemble that remark anymore...]. For these
reasons, it seems to me, more drinkable, session style beers are a must if the
industry is ever going to seriously challenge the big brewers for real market
Some folks will say that the craft brewing industry doesn't need to challenge the big brewers for market share; they can continue as the top of the market. I think that's naive. The industry will have to grow to survive. Not all breweries will have to grow. But overall, if they're not growing, they're dying. I think the craft brewing industry has great potential, and despite the booming market for light beer, I think craft can be a success on a major level. But it is going to be session beers that put it there.
Your turn, Stan.