“Gimme a Beer!” – a popular line repeated thousands of times a day and while it is all too easy to dismiss this as the uneducated request of “the common man,” recently I’ve begun to think that we are far too quick to judge.
Instead, I would make the case that “beer snobbery” degrades the craft beer industry. By constantly demanding more we are actually getting less. I am talking about the multitude of adjuncts being used in craft beer detracting from the quality of the beer itself.
I am fortunate that several of my jobs afford me an opportunity to taste many different beers and it is getting harder and harder to find clean simple craft beers. It is much harder to brew a straight quality beer that will stand on its own than to cover your ass by aging it in a used bourbon barrel or disguising it with coffee, chocolate, vanilla, tea, foreign botanicals or who knows what.
Save the excessive flavorings for Starbucks.
Beer is simple. It should be. That is part of its character and its appeal. “Naked” beer styles are more challenging to get right. There is less room for error. The quality of the malt bill, the mashing process, the choice of hops used, the timing of their additions, and the proper choice and pitching of yeast stand on their own. Great beer doesn’t have to hide behind excessive adjuncts and flavorings.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a place for adjuncts. Historically most beers were barrel aged – oak barrels not whiskey barrels. A milk stout without lactose or a white ale without spices and orange peel would be neither true to style nor very appealing. But does the addition of coffee or chocolate to nearly every stout or porter really improve the beer itself?
I think not.
It should be no surprise that marketing plays a huge part in what beers are readily available. A mediocre amber ale may be made more marketable by aging it in a Kentucky whiskey barrel but wouldn’t it be an even better product if the base beer used were not of mediocre quality to begin with?
Is it really beneath craft brewers to expect them to concentrate on improving their basic beer styles? Or are we as consumers just giving them a pass by buying the latest gimmick flavor of the month?
Most beer retailers are constantly challenged in terms of shelf space and the name of the game is turns. Inventory that does not move quickly enough cost them money. Consequently, they are more susceptible to sales reps suggestions as to what to carry. Of course the sales reps interest is in moving the latest and greatest hoping to develop a steady seller.
In the short term sales gimmicks work – but long term they actually discourage improvement of the quality of the product itself. Basic product quality is really determined by the choices that consumer make themselves.
Did you know that Dogfish Head makes just straight pale ale? It is delicious but it is only available on draft in Delaware. Ironically, you can buy multiple products by the same brewery from multiple locations — if you want beer made with raisins, syrah grape husks or Egyptian spices. Get back to basics.
So the next time you are thirsty do yourself a favor. Pick up a Founders Porter or a Duck Rabbit Amber or a Heavy Seas Cutlass (their remarketed renamed Marzen) and enjoy a simple straight forward beer. Make your beer snobbery count. Stop settling for adjunct gimmicks — instead insist on basic quality beer.
Gimme a beer! — Straight up.