Craft beer is fantastic. Not only because it tastes good, it also shows that companies can work together rather than against each other despite competition. It shows that small businesses can make a difference in a profit-driven economy, even if you have big rivals. So is craft beer perfect? No. I don’t like certain developments. Therefore: A critical opinion about the craft beer business.
The fashion industry, with its billion-dollar turnover, has had a problem for a long time. Itself. Because the time from one (artificially created) trend to another is getting shorter and shorter, the clothes of the latest trend are already there before the old trend has even really picked up and the clothes are sold. As a result, there is now sales all year round. As a consumer I don’t have to buy anything at the normal price anymore, which intensifies the problem of left-over clothes and calls for even more frequent sales.
What does this have to do with craft beer? Nothing. And yet everything at the same time. Admittedly, craft beer is hardly ever bought in a clearance sale, and the trends don’t seem to be chasing each other either. But it seems to me that there are certain signs of fatigue in the market.
New isn’t always better
For example, breweries have to keep bringing new beers onto the market in order to satisfy the “new is better” mentality that is spreading among beer drinkers. “New” is basically not bad, otherwise we would all still be drinking monotonous mainstream lagers. But it can be the same beer twice, if it is good. Or five times. Or twenty-three times.
But if this mentality leads to the fact that craft breweries have to launch a new beer every other week, as in the USA, then it becomes absurd. Because nobody can tell me that breweries manage to launch a beer with a really new recipe every two weeks – and all the brewers I’ve talked to confirm this. So the same recipe is simply mixed with a different hop combinations and voilà, new beer. The fact that this tastes almost the same as the last one doesn’t matter to “new is better” drinkers. They celebrate the new, not the different or better. They are basically the same pants, simply in a different color.
At the same time there are also trends in the craft beer world. Hoppy, bitter West-Coast IPAs made the beginning, then Double IPAs and Tripple IPAs, Session IPAs and finally New England Pale Ales and IPAs. In between there were some smaller trends like Saisons, Imperial Stouts, all kinds of barrel aged stuff and many other that I forgot about.
It all tastes the same
At the beginning these trends lead to great new products with new tastes and wow experiences for the drinker. And then the new trend becomes mainstream and everyone starts doing the same. With the result that beers become more and more similar to each other like the New England Pale Ales and IPAs, where even sommeliers say: “They all taste the same: sweet, fruity, zero bitterness”. For example, the recipe for the “All together” NEIPA (great initiative for the struggling gastronomy) has an IBU of 0.
This is so not in the spirit of the Craft beer revolution, which had its origins in “doing something different”. And so it reminds me of fashion, where all fashion brands suddenly produce the same thing and customers are forced to take up the new trend – because there is hardly anything else.
Even the hops used are always the same: Citra, Columbus, Chinook, Galaxy, etc., which produce the “tropical fruit” flavors typical for New England styles, are now everywhere. Currently there is a new hype hop, Talus. I don’t know it yet, but it is said to taste like, exactly, tropical fruits.
Six weeks isn’t old
A third problem arises from this . Because the New England style beers have heaps of fresh hops in them and the hop flavors are unstable because they evaporate and change quickly (i.e. the ethereal oils), a real hysteria has arisen around the freshness of the beers. Sure, a 6-month-old New England Pale Ale does not taste the same and probably not as good as when it is new. But when a judge at the Brau- und Rauchshop Biercontest told me that customers don’t want to buy beer anymore because it is 6 weeks old (and thus allegedly too old), I miss common sense. And I think back 10 years to the days we drank IPAs from the states. They were hardly available at that time and thus old when they arrived here. Nevertheless, they were good anyway, although probably not as good as they could have been.
Strongly connected to this is another problem: cooling. Due to the volatile ethereal oils, these beers have to be refrigerated at all time. Do they really have to? Of course, this will certainly stabilize quality. At the same time, a judge at the Brau- und Rauchshop Beer Contest explained to me that he had taken a course on beer freshness at Doemens. There, they checked on different beer styles how taste changes when the beer is always cooled, stored at room temperature or at 50 degrees. Not surprisingly, the beer was ruined at 50 degrees. But the difference between chilled beer and beer at room temperature was minimal, which surprised even the instructors.
So dear beer drinkers. Relax a little. Neither is new always better nor does a beer go bad because it was brewed more than 4 weeks ago. And even if it is not cooled for a few days and stored at room temperature, you can still drink it. Also stop drinking beers only once. A good beer is a good beer and you can drink it several times. After all, you also put a T-shirt on several times. And you buy the clothes in the clearance sale, even if they are already the “old” trend.
Now it’s your turn. What’s your opinion?