Friday, February 19, 2016

Iconic Craft?

It's been one of those weeks where the best intentions get flung out of the window as a result of circumstances. Nothing drastic, just a demanding week at the day job, and so a couple of pints of an evening at home has been the ideal way to smooth away the wrinkles of the day. I'll get back on the not drinking during the week wagon next week.

Not wanting to buy in more beer I've been raiding the cellar and fridge, both of which were thankfully well stocked with my kind of beers - key word there 'were', they're a tad barren now. Most of the beers I thoroughly enjoyed in the past few days have been from what I would regard as 'iconic' breweries, Guinness and Samuel Smith's, coming hot on the heels of drinking beer Schlenkerla at the weekend.

This got me thinking, a dangerous habit for sure, about how many American beers and/or breweries that have sprung up in the last 30 old years will go on to achieve the same kind of legendary status as the folks at St James' Gate, Tadcaster, or Bamberg?

To be blunt, the list is fairly small.

Top of that list for me would be Sierra Nevada, and in particular their Pale Ale, the very archetype of the American Pale Ale style, and still the benchmark for any beer in that style. I think it would be rather obvious to point to a West Coast IPA as some kind of iconic beer, but without SNPA I am convinced there would never have been the taste for American hops that drives the continuing IPA obsession. It also helps that Sierra Nevada for all their innovation have always struck me as delightfully respectful of tradition. How many US craft breweries bottle condition their beer, let alone recreate bottle conditioning in their canned lineup?  The sight of the pale green 12 pack in the store in such decent beer wastelands as Daytona Beach is an infinite source of comfort, and its acceptance in the mainstream a sign of it becoming an iconic American beer.

The other iconic US craft beer, and for similar reasons, is Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Sure it may be brewed in several different breweries, and the brewing company itself is branching out into cider, hard tea, and whatever else will sell, but Boston Lager itself was the beer that broke the mould. Think of the American lager scene in 1985, dominated by pale lager megabrands and their light cousins. People that wanted something different drank Heineken, Beck's, and other German imports. In to that milieu stepped Jim Koch and Boston Lager, the first non-BMC American made lager I ever drank, and I loved it at first mouthful - and remember at this point I was living in the Czech Republic, a land that makes a decent lager or two. Just as with SNPA, the sight of a Boston Lager tap in a franchise restaurant is welcome to anyone that likes a decent beer instead of post-mix soda.

After that though, who is there that are still out there making the beers that made them famous rather than ditching them to satisfy the fickle winds of change? From among the ranks of craft brewers currently riding the crest of a wave, who among them will my children drink, or their children, and even their children?


  1. I dunno. I find the SNPA a bit of a triumphalist myth secured by the trucking fleets of distribution which came far after the creation. Sure it's a good beer but it didn't invent hoppiness . Boston lager is something again. A victory of marketing over muddiness. I can't help but recall that the first 20+ years of craft were dominated by malty sensible beers. Pete's Wicked Ale is as iconic but now generally looked down upon.

  2. "I find the SNPA a bit of a triumphalist myth secured by the trucking fleets of distribution which came far after the creation."

    A bit like Pilsner Urquell and the daily train to Vienna then?

    I didn't say they invented hoppiness, but I think it is a valid argument to say that they encouraged appreciation of American hops.

    On Pete's Wicked Ale - I've never seen it in the shops since moving here. Is it even still made? When thinking iconic beers, still being made is an important element.

  3. I was appreciating hoppy beer long before SNPA was common on the east coast. Sure it's a big step but the west coast hogs the historic narrative too much in these matters. I posted this 12 years ago, a post that records my first SNPA and maybe my last Pete's Wicked. The latter far more clearly dominated and represented micro brewing to that date. SNPA may represent the last ten years but as we move away from hop centric beer as part of the next cycle it will too settle into its own place in history.

  4. "Sure it's a big step but the west coast hogs the historic narrative too much in these matters."

    I tend to agree there, the way some of them bang on you'd think they invented beer in its entirety. Bit like they invented sex in the 1960s.

  5. I agree with the first two (SNPA and SA Lager. Is it possible for a brewery to produce 2 icons? Boulevard Wheat Ale and Boulevard Pale Ale have been staples in the middle of the country since 1989. Brewed in Kansas City, Missouri. How about Shiner Bock brewed in Shiner Texas?


Brewing with Murphy & Rude

Hopefully by now you have read my article about Charlottesville's Murphy & Rude Malting Company on Pellicle . One thing that I menti...