Three Threads

Three Threads by | Jan 2010 | Issue #36

This issue, we asked BA mag readers: As brewers strive to make “the world’s strongest beer,” do you think beers produced using unconventional methods like freeze distillation, aging in “wet” liquor barrels or cultivating super-yeast strains so they can power through sugar comas should be considered “beer”? Do they cross the line into the world of spirits or is this just another example of brewer innovation that should be celebrated?

sawbones420 (Massachusetts)
I think hyper-powered brews should indeed be considered and celebrated as beer, but perhaps it wouldn’t be totally inappropriate to classify some of the sweeter of these super-ABV concoctions as “beer liqueurs.” Whether or not such a labeling is a stretch, from a licensing standpoint, it wouldn’t be unimaginable that some of the higher-percentage creations will end up being considered spirits (the law tends to be blind to taste and style). In my eyes, if anything more than a vestige of the traditional brewing process has occurred, it’s beer.

Ultimately, it’s not like the introduction of crazy new beer beverages is going to reduce the number of “regular” lagers and ales on the market, so there’s no reason to shun the trend, no matter how “out of hand” it gets. You vote with your wallet, so if you don’t like it, don’t buy it! Beer geeks who choose only these wackier styles while ignoring completely more traditional ones are certainly the exception, not the rule. There’s no reason to push such experimentation outside the realm of brewing culture entirely. It serves only to widen the beautiful beer landscape.

RunawayJim (Rhode Island)
I have to say that yes, they are. Beer became beer through many changes. Some define it as requiring hops, while the first beers did not include hops. Some may say that it must have brewer’s yeast, but what’s wrong with a little experimentation with new ingredients? After all, wasn’t hops an experiment at one point? Heck, wasn’t making beer an experiment before it became mainstream?

The brewers who are making these really strong beers through various methods are simply experimenting and pushing the limits, using nontraditional methods to enhance beers made by traditional methods. While tradition should be respected, it should not be law when it comes to beer. Brewers making these stronger beers are respecting the past while looking forward at the future of beer. We should applaud their boldness and willingness to experiment with what could turn out to be a major hit to their bottom line.

Marty Nachel Beer for Dummies and Homebrewing for Dummies
I appreciate your delving into this topic, but I suspect you knew the answer long before you asked the question… which is really no question at all. Of course it’s beer!?

The most basic definition of “beer” is this: “a fermented beverage made from grain.” Regardless of what is done to the malt-based wort after it’s been created, it’s still beer. Debate over. Now let’s all go enjoy our favorite brew… Cheers!

P.S. I think it’s even a bit disingenuous of you to question the veracity of an extreme malted product, when [in “Beer Smack,” issue #35] you admit you’ve been actively promoting it.

P.S.S. Oops. I should clarify my comment “whatever is done with the malt-based wort after it is created” to say this excludes steam-distillation. Ice distillation, on the other hand, should be allowed for two reasons: 1) It only increases the alcohol content by about 30 percent (nowhere near the ABV of steam-distilled spirits), and 2) Eisbock has been part of the beer world for over a century. 

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