The beers of our fathers came in one color. With one flavor. And one strength. The entire movement of well crafted beer in this country has been a backlash against that beer. And I’m not here to defend crap beer. I’m here to defend craft beer that looks like crap beer.
I’m going to preface my actual defense with two stories that really surprised me about two of my favorite beers produced by Kansas City Bier Co. And potentially why they aren’t selling.
An Outsider’s View
Beer writer Stephen Beaumont, co-author of the indispensable (if only for its breadth) Pocket Beer Guide, was in Kansas City recently. Part of his visit included a presentation and beer dinner at the Flying Saucer downtown which I had the pleasure of attending. Beaumont sat at our table, and after his enjoyable and informative pre-dinner talk, I did my best to pick his brain on writing about the world of beer. Having real conversation with an actual writer is always illuminating for a hack like me.
Beaumont was setting off on a tour of local breweries starting the following day. It is all chronicled in an article in The Growler Magazine. You should go read it now. It always enlightening to see an outsider’s view of what is familiar to locals. Go ahead. Here’s the link again.
In the article, he discusses his stop at KC Bier Co and laments that their Dunkel accounts for 70% of their sales. I had never heard this sales number before, but it was recently confirmed to me by the brewery’s marketing manager. Seventy percent is an astonishing number. I think Dunkel is a great beer. Slightly toasty, bready. But as Stephen points out in the article, their Helles is a superior beer.
The Inside Slant
My next set-up story is with KC Bier Co’s man himself, Steve Holle. I ran into Steve in a different setting and mentioned how I’ve missed the evenings in their biergarten drinking a Pils watching my toddler dump innumerable loads of gravel in and out of his dump truck. Much to my surprise, Steve, relieved to hear my enjoyment of their Pils, let me in on the surprise: their Pils didn’t sell very well. It did so poorly a portion of a previous run was sold to a sausage maker so the beer wouldn’t go to waste.
I was floored. The Bier Co Pils is a remarkable beer: fresh, crisp and light but with a definitive bitter bite. No off flavors. Immeasurably refreshing and quaffable.
So, how could these great beers not be selling? I think it’s two-fold. I blame both craft beer marketing and craft beer drinkers’ fear of yellow and fizzy.
Fizzy Yellow Beer is for Wussies
We know the beer the guys at Stone are referring to in their statement above. Macro brew. Lite beer. American adjunct lager. Or in Beer Scout parlance, swill. Those tasteless, mass-marketed behemoths are made for people who don’t like the flavor of beer. Which is why Corona is only palatable with a lime.
On Looks Alone
Unfortunately, it seems the good golden beers are getting swept away because, ostensibly, they are also golden and fizzy. Or are called pilsner. And that’s a real shame.
You can’t judge a beer by its color. Not fairly, at least. And dismissing all beer with straw to golden hues really limits the scope of what many craft beer drinkers will order. You may not want to be seen drinking the yellow pint when the other glass on the table is a beautiful ruddy.
It’s about Style
I sense of an inherent bias against German- or Germanish beer styles within the craft beer culture. That’s due to many factors. One side is from the craft beer breweries. Good lagers most often take more time to make than an equally potent ale. Economically, that can really cut into the bottom line of a small craft operation. So fewer lagers are made by American craft breweries. That’s business.
Another factor is a matter of style. What we know as swill started it’s life over 150 years ago as the immigrants’ attempt to make the popular pilsners, helleses, and Dortmunders they knew at home home. Over time the flavors were dulled and diluted, at first to become more accessible American palates, and later to appeal to everyone. So macro-brew is the insipid stepchild of a pilsner, anyway. That flavor familiarity – pilsners kinda taste like Michelob, kinda – is enough to sway some drinkers away.
Let’s Correct This
I’m going to do my best to stem this trend and point out some of my favorite beers that are yellow and fizzy. They run across several styles and all are available around Kansas City. Go try one of these. Or maybe find a classic from across the pond like Pilsener Urquell, Paulaner Original Munich, or Bitburger. But don’t fear the yellow and fizzy. It’s not for wussies. It’s for you.
KC Bier Co Helles: Bready, malty, and so fresh.
Firestone Walker Pivo Pils: Has that sharpness that a great pils needs.
Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils: Full of flavor, easily quaffable.
Martin City Belgian Blonde: more phenolic and fruity than a German-style beer.
Cinder Block Northtown Native: a golden
California common steam beer. Easy drinking but not bland.
Now: Your Turn
Have I convinced you? Can we try something yellow and fizzy and not feel bad about it? Do you have a favorite? Comment below with your suggestions for great, well-crafted yellow fizzy beer!