Posted by: Tyler Rippeteau
Oct. 20, 2011
Last week I came across this post by Ding over at Dings Beer Blog. For those of you too lazy to click the link Ding basically argued that the trend of the ultra-rare fad beers with exceptionally limited releases and enormous price tags is bad for the beer culture here in the U.S. He highlighted the recent madness surrounding the Founders release of Canadian Breakfast Stout (CBS) and he is right to say that much of this behavior, well, it downright sucks (to find out what exactly that bad behavior was you'll have to click the link above), both on the brewery's part in some cases and on the consumer's part in others.
With that said, however, I do not agree with Ding's general premise that the existence, promotion and hype of beers like this will lead to "breeding a whole generation of American geeks that will literally miss out on what the very ESSENCE of what beer culture and beer consumption is". Ding goes on to describe beer culture as one that is "relaxed, non-competitive [and] UNwinding of angst" and in large part, I agree with his definition. However, American beer culture, like it or not IS in the midst of a revolution and things are changing. I don't believe that Ding's definition of beer culture will disappear, but it is in the process of evolving into something more than what it was before.
For starters, relaxation is basically the reason I enjoy beer as much as I do. My methods for relaxing with beer may be different than others, though. The enjoyment of beer can be intensely personal and as unique as the individual. For me, sitting down to focus on a beer, and possibly even to write about it, is one of the most relaxing things I can do. Focusing on a beer and writing about it calms me down. I absolutely love sitting down, pouring a beer and then thinking about exactly how all of my senses are impacted by it - the sight, the smell, the feel, and the taste. I love it even more if I am enjoying that beer with someone else who can also appreciate all of those things as well and then discuss them with me. In short, each beer is a learning process and I have always loved to learn.
Of course, another aspect of beer culture (according to Ding) that I enjoy is the non-competitiveness of it. I am happy and proud to support many breweries that collaborate with each other and work together in order to support the greater good of the community. On a more personal level, beer, much like another love of mine, poker, brings people from all walks of life together in one place where they otherwise may not ever cross paths. Any type of person can enjoy good beer and I have met hundreds and hundreds of great people that would have never been in my life if it were not for this outstanding and delicious beverage.
While I do not believe that these aspects of beer culture are in any danger of going away or being lost, I do believe that in this new, high information age of beer that we here in the United States find ourselves in leads us to moments in our beer drinking lives that do, in fact, run counter to relaxation, unwinding and non-competitiveness. That is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, there are many aspects of these very moments that are positive for many of us who are a part of the craft beer community.
For starters, sometimes, the thrill of the hunt is just plain fun. Tracking down that elusive beer can be a challenge and can also be very rewarding, regardless of how good the beer ends up tasting.
Hunting down Pliny the Elder, for example, was one of the most exciting experiences I have had involving beer. I was living in Chicago at the time and working on the DIPA Project here at 20 Beers in 20 Nights. As many of you have already read, my goal for that project was to review the top 20 most reviewed double IPAs on Beer Advocate. Living in Chicago at the time (and not knowing that I would be moving to Colorado six months later) I knew it would be tough to get my hands on. None of my trading partners out west were able to come through, my cousin from Oregon could not manage to bring any when she visited Chicago and during a visit to Denver the Falling Rock Tap Room blew their only keg of it just as I sat down at the bar.
So, I turned to Beer Advocate on my phone and called a couple places nearby that were rumored to have it. It turned out, the only place that did still have some was a couple of hours away in Estes Park. I thought to myself "we're this close and who knows where I'll end up living next year, so this may be my only chance to try it, especially on tap". My outstanding girlfriend agreed, so we drove up to Poppy's Pizza in Estes Park that night and sure enough, the Pliny was on tap. Robb, the owner poured it for us and then proceeded to talk beer with us for about a half an hour. We had an absolute blast, we had some fantastic pizza and Robb even sent us on our way with a few bottles on the house to try when we got back home. He then directed us to the liquor store that a friend of his owned and called her to ask her to pull some special bottles out for us.
The moral of that story? Was it worth it to drive two hours into the mountains and two hours back just to get a couple of glasses of beer? Was Pliny that good? Probably not. However, I was thrilled to have finally tried it, it was a really good beer and the experience was even better. We learned about many other Russian River beers that night that we knew nearly nothing about before, we discovered Poppy's, we got to meet Robb, I was able to get one step closer to completing my project and we simply had a ton of fun doing it all. None of that experience would have happened if it were not for a rare, probably over-hyped beer that I wanted to try. Now that we live in Boulder, Poppy's is only an hour away and we have been up there a couple of times to have some great beer and pizza since.
Rumpkin from Avery that I recently waited in line for two hours for was completely worth it, even if we hadn't had the fun of the line party, $2 cans of Avery beer and some outstanding turkey legs while we waited.
Finally, the hype in itself actually does do some good for craft beer. One brewery's overly hyped beer may lead to another brewery's decision to experiment with that style. It turns out, barrel-aged beer is very, very tasty most of the time and were it not for a lot of the hype surrounding some of these types of beers, they would not be as widely available to us today. The hype can encourage innovation, it can bring media attention to the industry and most important, it gets people excited about drinking good beer.
Of course, as Ding very eloquently pointed out, there is a down side to all of this, but personally, I'll still keep my beer revolution and take the bad along with a whole lot of good.