It wasn't until I got the Samuel Adams Longshot announcement today, where they listed the winners of this year's America's Got Homebrewing Talent competition (not their name, of course), that I realized how bloody tired I'm getting of seeing, hearing, and -- mostly -- tasting this classification of beer. (The winners, for the record, and congratulations to them: Richard Roper (Georgia), Friar Hop Ale (the probably just-fine BIPA that set me off), Rodney Kibzey (Illinois) Blackened Hops (a dark IPA...which I still like, for now), and Caitlin DeClerq, the Boston Beer Employee winner, with Honey Bee’s Lavender Wheat.)
It's just so freakin' American craft brewing. Take a familiar category of beer -- maibocks, brown ale, porter, or in this case, Belgian pale strong ales (a beautifully, broadly, Belgian category, admittedly, in which few are just like another) -- and hop the shit out of it, then proudly hold it up as A New Beer! Ta-daaaa! Never mind if it's freakishly sweet, or that the hop flavor clashes with the yeast character, or that every other brewer is going, 'Yeah, I gotta make me one of them' and the "style" becomes a glut (crap-ass sour beers, anyone?). Not to mention that American craft-brewing has become so influential -- a GREAT thing, overall, and very satisfying -- that Belgian brewers are doing it, with very varied results.
Yeah, I like some, like Poperings, De Ranke XX, The Bruery Mischief. Others -- like Green Flash Le Freak, Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor, and the one-shot (thank you!) Duvel Tripel Hop -- really verge into that Frankenstein's monster territory for me. I understand that this is how we progress, that the good succeed and the bad simply suck, and that every beer is not meant for me, but...
The aspect that most bothers me, about BIPA and other herd beers, is just that: the herd. Someone does a new beer, a really new thing -- Vinnie Cilurzo does Blind Pig, for instance. A couple other brewers taste it -- at the brewery, at GABF -- get inspired, and they try it. Then one of them breaks big -- it happens faster these days, thanks to the beerwebs and the competitive "yeah, I've had that...a YEAR ago!" nature they've fostered -- and literally a hundred brewers make them, not so much inspired by the art as by the buck. I'm all for the buck, it keeps craft beer alive, but guys...have your own idea. It may or may not get you the attention. But you can't do this kind of thing, and still complain about Blue Moon and Shocktop, 'kay?
Example: Weyerbacher. I've been a fan from Day One, largely because of two things. First, Dan Weirback's a scrapper; he's hung in there when other people would have quit, and he keeps trying things. Second, he's been -- except for some exceptions -- a contrarian. When everyone else was making wheaty fruities, he made a beautiful raz imperial stout; when everyone else made sweet tripels, his was dry and spicy. The exception? Dan did some following in the years around 2000. It got a little boring. Then he found his way again (with the help of an excellent brewhouse crew, led by Chris Wilson; kind of like what's happening at Flying Fish with Casey Hughes), and Weyerbacher is not a follower any more. And we are the richer for it.
It's not really BIPA I'm tired of. I'm tired of seeing so many new ones. Either innovate, truly and wildly and brilliantly, or give me something beautiful and solid, like the gorgeously classic Saison Vautour from McKenzie Brewhouse, or the unimpeachable quality of Troegenator, or the simple lines of Geary's London Porter. Stop chasing flags (a little Dante reference for you there). Make beer. Find your heart first, and then follow it.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010