Thursday, January 15, 2015

Localising the Revolution

For some reason that escapes me, I have been thinking about the so-called 'craft beer revolution' an awful lot so far this month. Maybe it's the absence of alcohol in the bloodstream? Anyway, I was thinking about the origins of this 'revolution', (though I prefer the term renaissance) and in looking at early pioneers there seemed to be a common theme. Essentially it boiled down to taking established beer styles from the UK, Germany, Belgium, chucking in a shit ton of Cascade, Centennial, or Columbus hops and labelling the beer an 'American 'Insert Beer Style'. Imitation being the highest form of flattery, lots of aspiring brewers jumped onboard and thus the American Pale Ale was born, an offshot of the English Pale Ale, the American IPA was born, an offshot of the early English IPAs, and so on and so forth (this may be an oversimplified view of history, but I think it holds water as a general scheme of things).

The best thing about this renaissance was not being cowed by a given beer style, for want of a better word, and using ingredients that were more readily at hand to create something both identifiably within a tradition but also unique, and the drinking world would be all the poorer without Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, perhaps the archetype of my theme here.

Skip forward some thirty years to the modern day and you have a situation where the 'craft beer revolution' has spread beyond its American heartland to the wider world. Breweries in the UK, Germany, Czech Republic, and Belgium, for example, are taking American styles and brewing them for their own markets. Personally I think this is a pity in many ways.

Mrs V and I are planning to head back across the ocean again this year, though this time back to what we consider in oh so many ways our spiritual home, Prague. We are both looking forward again to long walks by the Vltava, the Christmas markets, and sitting with our friends drinking excellent beer in watering holes like Pivovarský klub. I am already looking forward to my first půllitr of a well made desítka. I doubt I will be drinking much in the way of pale ales hopped with Cascade, Amarillo, or Citra. What would interest me though would be a Czech brewery doing Czech interpretations of the 'new' styles that are sweeping the beer world (there's an interesting circularity in that but I won't unpack it here). Imagine a Czech IPA, hopped with Kazbek, Saaz, or Premiant.

Maybe brewers in other countries could do likewise? A German stout using Tettnang and fermented with an altbier yeast strain, a Belgian IPA where all the ingredients are actually Belgian rather than just the yeast, more British 'craft' breweries having faith in both traditional and new British hop varieties

I guess my fear here is that the wave of innovation, creativity and excitement around beer could be diluted if 'craft beer' becomes defined in the minds of many as being 'pale beer made with New World hops', much like the multinational brewing industry became defined as being 'pale lager of indeterminate flavour'. The seemingly inexorable rise of American hopped IPA (and variants) is, in my as ever unhumble opinion, in danger of becoming as dull and uninspiring as the mass produced pale lager.

7 comments:

  1. I'm pretty sure these things exist. Have you looked?

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  2. Purely from Google searches and RateBeer etc, they seem to be rarer than hen's teeth.

    Do you know of any examples?

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  3. Ah. Maybe I'm thinking of Germany more -- they certainly seem to have the hang of combining foreign influences with local practice in interesting ways.

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  4. when I wrote something on the Czech new wave for AAB I got this quote that could really chime with what you’re thinking about.
    ‘some of the breweries that make IPAs apply traditional lager production techniques like decoction mashing, open top fermenters, natural carbonation and no filtering. This gives the IPAs a regional flavor.’
    I liked the sound of that.

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  5. I guess there's some of this happening in the UK anyway? Not in terms of ingredients, but the fact that it's generally good business to produce some cask stuff at less than 5% ABV even if a lot of your inspiration is kegged Double IPAs...

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  6. I really don't think American IPA will dominate the global beer market the way pilsner/light lager has and continue to do.

    Velky Al, you can strike perhaps a fatal blow against boring beer by getting Devils Backbone to produce a properly aged Burton Ale!!!

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  7. With that said I don't think IPA is boring ( I don't think pils/lager is either). Two of my local breweries produce the best IPA around. Simply delicious. They are balanced, complex and very easy to enjoy.

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