Brew Biz: Werts and All

The Topic: Extreme Beers

Why do I love extreme beer? I suppose because I have taste buds that need beating. Well, that’s true when it comes to most styles of beer. There are some I like to judge in competition simply because I don’t like them. Put me on a table that includes Russian Imperials and I’ll be a less effective judge, in my opinion, than I will when judging wheat beers. Same would be true with Imperial IPAs vs Sour Ales. Sometimes that Belgian funk can be just a bit too much: but I think I am better because I can focus more on style than preferences.

God, I hope this doesn’t mean I’ll wind up on tables featuring beer I like the least for the rest of my judging life because I just typed that.

One meme’ I have discovered while doing interviews with different brewers at micros and brewpubs as of late is a knee jerk reaction against extreme beer. One brewer told me he thought it was bad for the industry and he would rather brew beer that one could have several pints of. He also thought it too easy to hide defects in extreme beers and he thought traditional styles more worthy of brewing.

“It’s a trend, It will die.”

I think we need both.

Is it easy to hide defects? Well due to the gravity of the situation, or the extremeness, I would say, “Yes.” “Traditional styles more worthy of brewing?” Well if you’re brewing for yourself, yes, I suppose… if you have no interest in going beyond that. Otherwise I would say, “No,” just like I would say that to someone who thinks only traditional styles are brew-worthy. And may I remind them that once upon a time those beers were considered “extreme.” Someone, no doubt probably an Irishman or woman, decided to use roasted barley in a recipe. Hence: Stout. Someone decided to use wheat, or rye, or smoked malt, or oysters, or…

Someone at Carlsberg Brewery decided they want a yeast that produced less fruity flavors, and other flavors considered “off” and less “pure,” or “clean,” and they created lager yeast. My sources say Carlsberg, but if you look up lager yeast under Wiki it makes different claims. Odd: Carlsberg’s entry claims they created “pale” lager yeast. “Pale” yeast? But either way, before that beer was mostly an ale product. Bud-type beer once considered “extreme?” Well the original lagers weren’t the adjunct rice/corn swill that American beer was for far too long, but… yes, I cringe to type it, but “extreme” would be true. Even adding corn or rice for the first time was making an “extreme” beer of sorts. Not what we consider “extreme” today, but as bad an idea as I think it was; it was innovative.

A super hopped beer may be only “extreme” in that sense, and otherwise a pale ale: a style that goes back to long before lagers became popular. The same is true of some brewpub Christmas ales. McGuires in Pensacola for years brewed what one might consider a simple pale; except adding the spices of eggnog. Some years I would challenge any judge to taste it and declare it was “in no way ‘extreme.'”

“Extreme,” if we are honest, is simply pushing the style limits in somewhat small to very large ways. “Extreme” is really up to the palette of the partaker.

Of course, to me, lager yeast simply changes the off favor profile to more sulfur-like, but that’s my palette.

As a homebrewer I really enjoy brewing weird beers. I’ve used Grapenuts, Shredded Wheat, made a mead like beverage out of pure maple syrup… which unfortunately tastes just like mead and costs three times as much; no matter what I do.

The specialty table is usually looked upon with fear and disgust by many judges I’ve sat with. They think I’m crazy when I tell them I actually enjoy specialty tables, but will probably get to sit at them only when the moon turns purple because Barney clones have taken it over using Baby Bop as a lethal weapon. For all you non-judge folks out there, you see I can’t judge a category I have submitted in, for obvious reasons.

One of the great things about the extreme beer boom is Brits I talk with, for example, seem to have a new found respect for a country they used to deride as the home of bland beer. Now we’re known for pushing the limits. One of my favorite beers: Hop It, was created by the brewers at Urthel when they actually came over to America to study our beer boom. Belgium: home to some of the world’s most creative brewers; able to use yeast most brewers would be tempted to throw away, and use it well? What a compliment.

So while I am all in favor of pushing the limit, how boring would it be if everything beat the taste buds? That’s almost as bad as every beer being a slight variation on Bud. Please remember: I typed “almost.”

To me the more styles; flavors, of beer we have, and the more we also push the limits, the better. In fact I would think the best brewers would be doing both. The biggest insult of all to beer world is to bring it all down to a few “acceptable” styles. And the more we brew, the more we learn.

Once upon a time damn near every beer was a thin, carbonated, lager. And I don’t use “damn” lightly: for that was beer Hell. I suspect, as much as I might like it, every beer being a strong dark or hophead golden would be just as bad as some.

I love beer.

And I hope you can enjoy it too, no matter what your preference.

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Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to review, discuss and comment on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”