The beauty and success of American Craft Beer has been its amazing ability to consistently build upon pre-existing classic beer styles and make them “their own”. It’s great to see how different American brewers interpret these styles and how each one can tweak them here and there with available ingredients to show a unique and creative approaches. This has been going on for decades. American brewers have been so great at that we’re at the point to where European craft breweries are now trying to imitate the styles that … well … they were imitating decades ago when this whole thing started. Seriously check it out next time you get to travel abroad. Last time I was in Amsterdam, every local brewery was trying to wrap their heads around the West Coast IPA. A beer style Americans invented (after brewers figured out American hops are way more fun than British hops), and have been tweaking ever since. Just like American brewers, Europeans are limited to the ingredients and other resources (including experience brewing those styles) they have access to, and every take on an American product was tweaked a bit towards what they currently know about beer. They simply aren’t going to be able to knock out a Union Jack IPA clone right off the bat. I’d be curious to see how those same beers are tasting in a few year’s time as the continent gets more access to classic American craft beers as examples to base theirs off of while also making the beer “their own”. Just like over here, it’s a process and there’s most definitely a learning curve.
That being said, there’s no shame in producing or consuming something that represents a really great take on a classic European style. We can go back and forth about what you or I perceive to be “classic”, but I think you will understand where I’m coming from. Lager/pilsners, hefeweizens, British pales, etc. For some reason, there are those that call these beers “boring”. I have no problem if someone doesn’t like a beer, but I guess I don’t always understand the criticism of a brewery choosing to make classic styles. I love pretty much any and all forms of beer, with a few exceptions with styles that just don’t agree with my palate. Maybe I’m one of those weirdos that gets just as excited about a brewery executing the newest hop profile perfectly in their IPA as I am about one that just absolutely knocks their helles lager out of the park. Why can’t you like both? Maybe the perception (and I’m guilty of this as well) can be that a brewery is making a light lager mostly to appeal to the Bud Light crowd? If so … is that like … the worst thing you’ve ever heard of? Especially if it’s a well thought out, local product that is extremely well made? Maybe that light lager or Kölsch gets them introduced to that brewery or that city’s brewing scene and hopefully some welcoming craft beer enthusiasts along the way. A few months down the road maybe you see them out with a dry-hopped brett saison in their hands. We all started somewhere, and just because someone “started” on their craft beer journey years after us isn’t a bad thing.
Classic Styles Have Nothing to Hide
Sometimes a perfectly executed, yet “simple” beer style can showcase a brewer’s attention to detail and appreciation for historical brewing techniques and ingredients. It also allows the consumer to have insight into where some of their favorite contemporary American brews got their start. A wonderfully made lager or pilsner requires a crazy amount of technical brewing ability as there is virtually no room for that brewer to hide any defects. An unorganized recipe, minor issues with water quality, ingredients, or even the smallest hiccup in fermentation will immediately rear its ugly head, and won’t be able to hide behind a boat load of specialty grains/adjuncts, an intense hop profile, or get muddled out and subdued with barrel aging and eventual blending. I liken it to a chef executing an extremely simple dish versus something that features twenty different ingredients. Failure to execute one or two components of a beer without a ton of stuff going on will be more apparent than one with a myriad of things on the plate/in the bottle. There’s less room to hide mistakes. (Of course some of those beers or dishes with dozens of ingredients on the place can be awesome, as well.) I find the ability of a small-scale brewery to execute a classic style exciting and fun, and it gives me confidence in trusting that what’s in the glass is going to be exactly what they were going for. But like I said before, maybe that’s just me, maybe I’m the weirdo.
Only So Much One Tongue Can Take
There’s also the issue of palate fatigue with some of the bigger American brews. I’m around craft beer every single day of my life and have been fortunate enough to continually gain access to all of the latest and greatest American styles.
I’ve sat down after a long day of pouring IPAs, stouts and extreme sours and sometimes just want a mug filled with a well-executed Czech pils. While I normally lean towards the beers with a ton of fun, intense character, sometimes I’m tired and my palate isn’t in the mood for that. That’s not me denying the fantastic beers I have on hand, that’s just me wanting to get something that’s going to be easy to drink, but is still interesting throughout the entire glass. Sometimes I am looking for subtlety and not always “beat you over the head” flavor profiles. I’ve talked to people who think hefeweizens can get boring and I have a hard time understanding that. Easy drinking? Yes. Boring? Hardly. Outside of maybe a classic saison, a true Bavarian hefeweizen is one of the most readily available styles that showcases a well thought out yeast profile containing a ton of character (banana, clove, bubble gum) balanced with a full, creamy body that usually remains extremely drinkable. A big, tall, sexy hef is a great way to end your day. Well, for me it is. Other times it’s a pour of a super fresh, local IPA that was just tapped that day, or a snifter of the barrel aged stout that you tapped that day and are just happy there was a bit left in the keg after your shift. You can go either way, and it’s OK if you aren’t in the mood for 70 IBUs or 10% ABV after a long day of work.
Pick Up a Classic Yourself
Back to the point … I’m really not trying to complain here. I’m extremely passionate about the beers American brewers are churning out on a daily basis, and am often first in line to get excited for the next big thing in American craft beer. I love it when a brewer can execute a flavor profile that most people hadn’t even thought of and love having my mind blown and my palate challenged. I hope that doesn’t change anytime soon. I just hope the average craft beer drinker can get behind those breweries that have a similar passion for knocking out classic styles at a high level. In my humble opinion, there’s room for those beers in your fridge and on tap, as well.
Take in mind I’m writing this while getting geeked to get in line for my first pour of Founders CBS as well. So yes, I can and still do nerd out on a regular basis.