Shifting Beer Styles

Too Much Hops (not a good thing)

Too Much Hops (not a good thing)

The fact is that beer, beer styles, and how beer is being consumed and discussed has changed. The craft beer movement 2.0 (I consider the first movement to have occurred in the 1980s) has brought a lot of good things to those of us who crave quality beverages. On the other side of the coin there has been a growing movement rooted in the more is better theory. Subsequently we have more alcohol and more IBUs (International Bittering Units scale that essentially measures the level of hops in a given beer).

Today we have more brewers than ever before and a rapidly growing number of beer styles. In 1995 The Great American Beer Festival (GABF) identified 33 styles that they recognized in their annual competition of American beers. In 2014 the GABF’s style guide identified 90 categories with as many subcategories (180 in total).

The bulging number of styles has many contributing factors that chiefly include the innovative nature of the brewers, the re-emergence of some old and nearly forgotten styles, and a great many styles created that carry the “American-Style” prefix. In 1995 the GABF had a single category for the popular India Pale Ale (IPA) style. By 2005 the American-Style prefix could be found for the IPA, as well as 18 additional categories in the style guide.

In 1995 IPA was defined as having an alcohol strength between 5–7.5% abv and IBU levels at 40 – 60. In 2014 the American-Style IPA was defined at a whopping 50-70 IBU and ABV 6.3-7.6% abv). So what was a moderately hopped and potent IPA in 1995 is now a minimum for the style.

Consider the numbers on some popular beers found in most any American craft beer bar:

  • AleSmith IPA, IBU – 73, ABV – 7.25%
  • Stone IPA, IBU – 77, ABV – 6.9%
  • Firestone Union Jack, IBU – 70, ABV – 7.5%

If these beers were to time-machine back to 1995 they have to be entered into the Barley Wine or “Specialty/Extreme” beer categories. Today’s mainstream beers are yesterday’s extreme beers and today’s extreme beers are a bridge too far for this alcohol beverage enthusiast.

Here is a brief list of things found in beer that should never be in any beer served to me: grilled jalapeño, bacon, peanut butter, bull testicles, pizza crust, doughnuts, beard yeast (not a typo), hickory, and Oreo.

While some argue that adding everything but the kitchen sink is creative I humbly disagree. Being creative should never be confused with doing something new. I could make a beer with garden slugs. Is this creative or palatable?

In much of the “craft” beer brewing world extremes are prized over balance. Let there be no misunderstanding in regards to the craft of brewing. It requires far more skill to create a mildly hopped 5% abv ale than it does to produce a 75 IBU, 7.5% abv brew flavored with habanero peppers. High alcohol, high IBU, and potent flavors can hide a multitude of sloppy brewing practices.

An Olive Branch (no olive ale please…) from a Dedicated Session Beer Fan

A word to my beer loving contemporaries and those who seek flavor and moderation, be patient with the Millennial beer loving bartenders when seeking session beers. It’s likely that they simply don’t have a point of reference.

A word to the Millennial beer geeks, we session beer seekers are simply looking for classic styles of beers that satisfy the palate while never dulling our senses. If you’re a little curious, join us for a session.

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