Beer to be Thankful For

Unfiltered by | Nov 2009 | Issue #34

Illustration by Chi-yun Lau

With fire-colored leaves gently falling from the sky, and intensely fresh and cooling breezes cascading, autumn is the season many people secretly enjoy. Despite the inevitable promise of a chilly future, the atmospheric changes of scenery often more than make up for what follows. It also doesn’t hurt that the changing landscape is accompanied by a much anticipated bevy of seasonal beers, from soul-soothing Octoberfests to insanely popular Pumpkin Ales.

As I have been accused from time to time of being too critical of the craft beer world, I thought, at this contemplative time of the year, that I’d take a few moments and reflect upon some of the things I am thankful for when it comes to the business. From modest, ambitious, even naïve origins, the beer industry has seen incredible changes in the short lifespan of better beer. And we can never take for granted the bounty of incredible flavors, aromas and textures that talented and passionate professionals—from grain harvesters to bottle manufacturers—have made available to us.

I am most thankful for simplicity. In an era of bigness, between hops, barrels and alcohol, the surprising complexity of what appears the most simple keeps me coming back for more. Whether single-hop or malt beers, these singularly expressive offerings acutely capture the essence of their carefully chosen ingredients, demonstrating a clear beauty that can often be lost in more involved, yet less complex, attempts.

I was also very pleased to see craft brewers venturing into the world of lager beer. Often a good barometer of what is happening in the industry as a whole, this year’s Great American Beer Festival played host to a sizable increase in German and Czech-style Pilsner beers. While plenty of Double IPAs filled the floor, strongly hopped yet artfully crafted Pilsners matched their presence. It’s a guilty pleasure to watch craft brewers branch out from the ale-monopoly and extend an olive branch to this long-neglected wing of the beer family. I hope to see these creative folks draw greater inspiration from many of the less-represented lager styles at next year’s festival. Maybe craft beer drinkers will someday respond in kind and end lager discrimination forever.

Thanks should also be given to the enterprising craft brewers who took a giant risk in putting their flavorful offerings into the once-dreaded coffin of good taste that was the aluminum can. Starting slowly with a handful of breweries across the country, from the New England Brewing Company to 21st Amendment, with Oskar Blues and others in between, this was a sizable gamble that paid off big. An excellent receptacle for protecting delicate craft beer, cans have long stood as an icon of mega-beer. By donning the uniform of big beer, craft brewers have shifted the paradigm and demonstrated that great beer can come in many forms.

After more than two decades of brewing top-notch craft beer, I am also pleased that the Boston Beer Company doesn’t just seem content to brew hundreds of thousands of barrels of its flagship Samuel Adams Boston Lager and popular summer seasonals, such as its Summer Ale. Despite its success and growth, Boston Beer has never lost the urge and passion to innovate and the brewery continues to engage in an eclectic assortment of projects that push the brewing envelope, perhaps long after they became a financially good idea to do so.

And finally, like Tiny Tim and the Cratchit family praying for Old Mister Scrooge, I wish the best for the big brewers, who continue to brew and release new beers, even with their varying degrees of success. It is a testament to the growing strength of the craft beer industry that these breweries have been driven to improve the flavor profiles of their products, even if many beer enthusiasts continue to dislike their efforts. But with the benefit of places like the Sandlot Brewery at Coors Field and the AC Golden Brewing Company, we can see glimpses of how different the future might really be for beer.