September 15, 2014 0 comments
Seems almost every-other tweet I see over the past day or so has to do with Heineken's rejection of an SABMiller takover bid. Now, beer industry watchers everywhere are breathlessly predicting a new round of mergers between the world's mega-brewers.

For most craft beer drinkers, the issue is moot. They don't drink that stuff anyway. Most watch with a degree of satisfaction as the market share of the large industrial brewers continues to slip while the number of microbrewers and craft breweries continue to expand almost daily. It's like watching the slow end of the Age of Dinosaurs--remembering, of course, that it took a long, long time for them to finally become extinct.

Some observers are already predicting a possible purchase of SABMiller by Anheuser-Busch InBev, which--for nostalgia's sake alone--would be slightly disappointing. For someone older like me, it's just hard to accept that the Gog and Magog of the brewing universe would ever be joined together. The huge international brewing conglomerates have long been blamed for everything that was wrong in the beer world. But they were not always so huge.

I can remember when brands like Budweiser, Miller, Coors, Strohs, Pabst, Schlitz, Carling, Hamms and others were all separate entities. Yes, they all brewed a similar product, which was generally undistinguished in overall character--but an experienced palate could still tell the difference between them.

When there wasn't a huge variety of beer available, the concept of a "Champagne of Bottled Beers" seemed to have some merit. I may not have been clear about the advantages of being "fire-brewed"...but a cold bottle of Stroh's was not such a bad thing--especially if it belonged to your dad, and you thought he might not miss one if you snuck it out of the fridge. One of the most enjoyable beers I can remember was a fresh, tasty Black Label I had at the Frankenmuth Carling Brewery tasting room back in 1983.

That brewery is no longer there. It's gone, now. Just like a lot of other things.

But that's not a lament. In may ways, things are better for American beer drinkers now than they've ever been--at least in my lifetime.

I still drink a lot of "major" imports along with my craft beers, and I really don't care who owns them, since they generally taste just as good as they did 30 years ago. I do refuse to drink almost any domestic light beer, with the exception of Bud Light Lime, which is a mainstay in my pool on a hot summer afternoon, along with Corona and Modelo. I don't automatically "write off" any product that comes from a large brewery, just because it comes from a large brewery. I drink for satisfaction, not to make a political statement.

I sit here now writing this and watching Monday Night Football with a Miller Fortune next to me. It's not a superb beer, but it's decent, not over-hopped, and reasonably priced. I'll save my better craft beers and local offerings for the weekend, and time with friends.

As for the dinosaurs, well--I guess it takes one to know one.

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September 14, 2014 0 comments
I would never say hops are a bad thing. They're an essential part of beer--and well used, are critical to imparting great aroma and flavor to our beers and ales.

But the current tendency in American Craft Brewing seems to be adding hops to the point where they often dominate the taste profile...and where their over-use almost becomes an end in itself. As a result we are left with double and triple-IPAs, "Hoppinators," "Hoppus Maximus," "Hop Killers," etc. etc.

While some of these beers are fine for sampling, their bitterness and "hit you on the head with a hammer" qualities make them impractical for any type of session drinking, and I've found many to be almost undrinkable. (I've had some beers that were loaded with so much Simcoe that I thought someone had poured a cap full of PineSol into my beer.) At best, I find myself saying - "Well, that's good, but I couldn't drink more than one."

For those who like these kinds of beers, fine. But my worry is that this hop craze is having a detrimental effect on Craft Beer overall--to the point where the high-hop focus is insinuating itself into beer styles that are not traditionally hoppy. Even experienced craft brewers seem to be falling into this trap. I've always loved GLBC beers, but over the years, I find their offerings all morphing into a very similar hop taste profile. Over the past year, I've had an Oktoberfest and a Pilsner from them that were far too hoppy for the claimed style--and many other quality craft brewers seem to be heading in the same direction.

It's easy to think that the hop-craze we've seen here in the US might have filtered into our general approach to brewing. A lot of Americans under 35 have become accustomed to highly-hopped beers...perhaps to the point where brewers feel a certain amount of bitterness is required if the beer is going to "taste right" to those folks. If so, that would be a shame--since those of us that don't need a ton of hops in our beer to know we are drinking a good one will be forced to suffer.

Of course, I'm not the first to complain, and I won't be the last. It may get worse before it gets better. I've heard about an upcoming hop shortage (we can only hope) - but then I am also reading so many articles about how many people are growing hops in the US now (and why not, you can grow them in your backyard) that it seems inevitable that more and more are going to end up dumped into our beer by the bushel-full. Why? Just because we have them.

I'm beginning to think US brewers should do us a favor and label some of these beers "American Oktoberfest,"  "American Helles," etc. -- so we get fair warning that we shouldn't expect these beers to adhere to the traditional beer styles at all; that they have been "hop-boosted" to please what they have come to believe is the common American preference.

That way, they would not disappoint experienced beer drinkers who are expecting something more refined, subtle and well...traditional.

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