Monday, May 17, 2010

What is Innovation?

I have blogged before about how important context is to the appreciation of beer, thinking in particular about the context of being in a good pub with well cared for beer. Recently though I have been pondering over the wider context of drinking beers from outside their "sitz im leben" to use a term from hermenutics, basically drinking foreign beer out of the context that created it.

I have written often about the difficulty of finding a pilsner that comes close to those that I drank regularly in the Czech Republic, but also I find that drinking the pasteurised Pilsner Urquell that we get here in the States simply doesn't do the job either, though I find the Budvar holds up fairly well to the rigours of transportation.

This widened scope of thought raised the question in my head the other day of how valuable is it for non-American breweries to export to the US American style beers, and the phrase "carrying coals to Newcastle' immediately to mind. For those unversed in the delights of English phraseology, it basically means that taking coal to Newcastle would be pointless because there is so much of it there already. So it is with beer, especially IPA, in the American context. 

When I go to one of the various booze stores I like here in Charlottesville with a mind to get a nice, big hoppy IPA in the American style then I have a short list of beer that fits the bills, Sierra Nevada Torpedo being number 1 on the list (a seriously magnificent beer). The American IPAs sat on the shelf which were brewed in the UK simply don't get a look in, not because they are bad beer, they aren't, not because I don't like them, they are ok, but somehow it just doesn't feel right, almost like choosing Wimpy instead of Wendy's.

This line of thought then took to wondering about what exactly is "innovative" beer, and again that is contextually conditioned (approved by CAMRA for sure!). So big hop bomb IPAs are not exactly innovative any more in the American context, in fact they are almost the style of beer against which a craft brewery is measured, yet in the UK they are something new and sexy, and thus innovative. Innovative in the American context would be a dark mild, like that made by Blue Mountain Brewery recently, it would be a best bitter, again something that Blue Mountain has in the pipeline from what I understand. The "boring brown beers" of the UK are innovative in the American context, and much welcomed in the Velky Al context.


  1. UK brown beers do however come in a glorious rainbow of quality - from downright rancid to the sublimely good via the seriously dull & the unbalanced.

    John Smiths in cask may look identical to say Acorn's or Hawkshead's cracking darker bitters, but I could drink either of the latter 2 all night, but I'd be on the G&T or wine if the former was all that was on the handpull.

  2. Great post...I chatted with Mike who writes with me about this. I recently got a couple of Irish brews in the mail. Both have an ABV of 4.5%. I haven't tried them, but I told Mike immediately, half the guys we are friends with would write these beers off as terrible without having tasted them do to the presupposition that a "good" beer has to have a behemoth abv/hop content as per their conditioned American Craft context. But, little by little, we are seeing more sessionable beers become the "innovation." Ha...and so the pendulum swings.

  3. If you mean Strangford Lough beers, nate, those aren't Irish: contract brewed in the USA.


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