Beerspectives: What’s Wrong With Beer Flavored Beer?

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Beer has had a fantastic voyage since the beginning of civilization.

It has gone from being flavored with whatever fermentables came to hand to a very strict ingredient list and back. These are broad strokes but the larger point is one (OK, I) begins to worry at the state of the less sexy beers. The English-style porters, the humble pale ales and the single IPAs. Part of my point, in fact, is that I have to qualify the number of IPAs.

Triple IPAs and heavily-fruited IPAs aren’t just on the rise, they’re here. Five years ago it was a pleasure to see a craft beer that wasn’t Samuel Adams on tap. Two years ago the expectation was that out of 10 taps, two or three at the least would be local. That was kind of the heyday for me and established a kind of standard where I expected to be able to drink something that was made within 100 miles of the place I was drinking it. It was really easy to do.

The rise of fruit beers, though, is beginning to bother me. It isn’t a palate thing, Dogfish Flesh and Blood, for example, is a fine beer that is going to kill it all summer. Spring and summer fruit beers will be followed in the fall by massive smoky stouts and bruising barley wines. I suppose some people will even throw a couple of pumpkin beers on the pile for good measure.

Two things happened to me recently that got me thinking about the rush to pallet destruction in seasonal beers. The first was when I was out on a story and a bar manager bragged that they had Mad Elf on tap, which is borderline criminal in a three-tiered kind of way. The other was seeing pumpkin beers in several different stores. More than a few breweries bet too big on pumpkin this last season, but that’s a trend story for August.

The trend story for now is that, with bars that still have winter seasonals to move, liquor stores apparently starting a bottle aging program for pumpkin beers, and what can only be described as a feverish demand for fruited and triple (and triple fruited) IPAs, sours and combinations there of — I had an “imperial gose” the other day — one worries about space and tolerance for beer flavored beers.

I thought it was just me at first, but I mentioned it to some homebrewing friends of mine and they were on board. I guess what I’m saying is that, if you are the type of person to get this far in a beer trend story, people probably know you like craft beer a lot. Maybe give the occasional shout out to beer flavored beers, ask at the smaller liquor stores whether they have any pale ales or pilsners, remind yourself of the pure pleasure of a solid beer that supports, rather than subsumes a meal.

I’m not saying don’t buy the imperial goses of the world (someone’s gotta drink ’em and it ain’t gonna be me), but drinking is voting for beer culture and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the everydayness of a solid beer flavored beer.

That said, drink what you like and be happy.

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Tony Russo has been a print and digital journalist for the better part of the 21st century. He writes for ShoreCraftBeer.com as well as several destination websites and has published two beer books for History Press. He also produces "Beer with Strangers" a weekly homebrew and beer culture podcast. Tony lives in Delmar, Maryland, with his wife and the only of his four daughters who hasn't moved out. Together they try and keep their dog and cat comfortable.

2 Comments

  1. Todd

    May 25, 2017 at 2:25 PM

    Tony, I can understand your concern, but you sound a bit like a purist. In fact the stray from the norm is what got me into craft beer. While the “classics” or unadulterated brews will always have a place, I encourage this and all upcoming trends, even the ones I can’t stand. 1. I enjoy seeing what “spin” people will take on their brews. 2. It means the market for new flavors won’t go stale. I don’t mind seeing a rotation of seasonals on tap. 3. The pumpkin bet is just forecasting and sales. They go off of last year’s sales and maybe some comments. So they tried to brew more, meet the demand. Consumers are fickle. What are you going to do? I am curious about the Mad Elf on Tap comment and I can almost guess where you were.

    I guess what I am trying to say is they’re companies trying to compete with a fickle consumer base, tons of competition, and massive regulation. (Not to mention The A&B inbev) When it is all said done they are businesses and trends/fads can pay off. Not everyone can afford to brew just what they like.

    (also I just noticed this article was posted 3 months ago)

  2. Tony Russo

    May 26, 2017 at 5:00 AM

    Yes to all of that. I guess the bigger point is that I worry about smaller breweries working too hard to compete at every trend. I’ve become something of an advocate for new craft beer drinkers and want to remind real enthusiasts to use their dollars and influence to let people know that there still is a thing as “normal” craft beer.
    That said, when I wrote this I had no idea that sours were going to convert women beer drinkers in the way they so far have. Even though I’m not a huge sour fan, those are the beers I’m increasingly recommending when people aren’t sure what to have.
    Thanks so much for reading.

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