In a continuation of last month’s column, I take a look at recent beer trends, and how the brewers themselves view those trends — trends such as pastry stouts, fruit smoothie and glitter beers, and hazy IPA’s.
To say that all the brewers hate these styles is, admittedly, engaging in a little bit of hyperbole. It’s probably more accurate to say that many are frustrated with the styles, but some have, indeed, embraced these newer styles. In today’s column, we’ll be looking at both sides of the aisle.
And, as with last month, unless otherwise indicated, names have been changed in order to protect the innocent. Well...the innocent-ish. Let’s just say that I’m protecting breweries from inappropriate and undeserved backlash.
While the aforementioned glitter beers seem to be petering out, it’s worth noting that local brewer Brian Ogden predicted the end of this trend with the initial interview at the end of August.
“In terms of where the market is going,” he explained, “we think the people excited about glitter in their beer will move on to other beverages and the core group that enjoys a well balanced beer will remain.”
Ogden, for one, is happy to be making his living as a brewer and has a pragmatic view regarding the fad beers.
“As both the business owner and brewer,” he said, “I need to make what sells and would be perfectly happy brewing nine hard seltzers in a row if that meant that I got to brew one beer that I want.”
One of Maryland’s long-time brewers, and a noted traditionalist, Tom Flores was circumspect regarding the craft beer boom, and the rise of trendy styles.
“I’ll never make a beer that I don’t enjoy and then try to sell it,” he said. “That really goes against every reason for why I became a professional brewer in the first place. It just doesn’t compute for me. Why would anyone do that?”
Flores is not alone in his attitude. There are many brewers out there who view Hazies, Milkshakes, Pastry Stouts, Glitter beers and the other trendy brews as a necessary evil to pay the rent, and there are some, like Ahab from last month’s piece, who would prefer to stay away from ever brewing those beers. Flores compared it to Michelangelo, who famously painted the Sistine Chapel.
“He apparently didn’t consider himself a painter and didn’t really enjoy doing it, at least not as much as he enjoyed sculpting,” explained Flores. “So, maybe a brewer who makes a beer which they don’t like can be a little bit like Michelangelo: able to excel with a piece of art, despite not finding joy in the creation of it ... For me the only difficulty with dabbling in an emerging style would have more to do with learning how to see the joy that someone else has discovered in a place where I would have never looked without their prompting, rather than ... pressing forward in making a beer I couldn’t enjoy, simply to make a sale. At both Brewer’s Alley and Monocacy Brewing we ... eschew gimmicks. There is a lot to be said for respecting time-honored brewing practices, which some might regard as traditional, but this in no way should imply any lack of desire for innovation and creativity.”
Ahab, who takes a bit more of the “get off my lawn” approach to his brewing philosophy said that the rise of these popular variations has “caused traditional styles to be shunned by brewers and drinkers.”
“Classic lagers are called pedestrian, session beers are called weak, and balanced styles are totally unappreciated. For style driven brewers like me, this equals a dramatic loss of desirability in the job market,” he pointed out, implying that there has been a loss in talent in the industry. “I think that centering a business on the trendy styles is a short sighted business model. And expensive. And wasteful.”
Like Flores, Ahab is a traditionalist, but with a more strident take on high ABV hop-bombs, and the sweet dessert brews that currently seem to be a staple of the industry.
“The market today is little more than a tribute to the kind of American excess that gave us the Hummer, 64 ounce Big Gulps and the Heart Attack Grill,” he said. “People are just getting more and more outlandish until the whole system breaks. Then they will undoubtedly blame distributors or some such nonsense [such as] exploding cans, mold, or chunks in finished product.”
For gypsy brewer John Burroughs, who has found a way to freelance brew at a variety of Mid-Atlantic breweries, he sails down the middle, acknowledging the issues the fad beers have caused, while also seeing the business opportunity.
“Due to the massive popularity of hazy and juicy IPAs, I’ve noticed sales of pale ales sliding a bit,” said Burroughs. “I’ve seen it firsthand at many of the breweries I work with. What I find frustrating, is how people’s pallets have swung to sweet beers. Not every beer you make needs to have berries, lactose, and vanilla in it. Bitterness isn’t a bad thing.”
Burroughs’ unique business model, which has him working for three, and sometimes more breweries over the course of a month, allows him firsthand to see the impact of these trends on more than just one brewery, and Burroughs sees at least one traditional beer gaining some market traction.
“I love making lagers, and lucky for me they are regaining popularity again. I love making traditional beers but as a brewing contractor I’ll make whatever my client wants and I’ll be happy to do so,” he added. “Everyone has bills to pay, so I’ll make what the people will buy.”
Until next month, when I finish this series, be well, have a safe Halloween, and drink good beer.