Housekeeping & the Great Disconnect

First, the housekeeping. I haven’t been posting much during March and I don’t expect that situation to change much in April. Or May, for that matter. This has to do with a bunch of projects that all converge over the next sixty days or so, including the new book I’m co-writing with Tim Webb, a consulting job to develop a new bar-restaurant on the Toronto waterfront and a number of events I’ll be hosting, like the whisky tasting I have coming up April 7 at the Monk’s Table — call (416) 920-7037 for info and tickets — and the Great South Beer Cup in Buenos Aires.

So while I will do my best to keep things interesting in this space, I can promise nothing. Sorry.

Now, the Great Disconnect. Like many other beer scribes, I recently attended the remarkably large — almost 4,000 attendees strong! — Craft Brewers Conference in San Francisco last week. And like most if not all of my peers, I was amazed at the energy and enthusiasm on display there. This craft beer thing, in case you haven’t noticed, is red hot.

One of the things I felt to be of particular note, however, is the gap that is developing between the committed beerophile and the average, ordinary beer drinker. Take sour beers, for instance. At what must have been one of the most popular seminars of the event, a standing room only crowd crammed a large ballroom to hear Vinnie Cilurzo, Jean Van Roy and Yvan De Baets talk about what have become known as “sour beers,” or in other words, beers affected by certain yeasts and bacteria, notably Brettanomyces, which contribute a tart and often fruity flavour. Sour beers, in case you haven’t noticed, are the latest craze in US craft beer circles.

Thing is, while sour sells in craft beer land, most restaurateurs, bar managers and patrons will look at you askance, to say the least, when you start talking about sour beers. To them, sour means bad, and bad ain’t good. (I know this because I do a lot of work with the hospitality industry in the United States.) Hell, for the most part, they’re still trying to get their heads around hoppy!

Now, I’m not saying this is a bad situation or something the craft brewing industry needs to rein in. Craft beer has always been led by styles and flavours the general public doesn’t understand, from the cascade hop to fruit beers, and whether it’s sour beer trends or the barrel aging of beer, I see no reason to stop now. But as we craft beer consumers continue to get all hot and bothered over the latest sour this or tart that, and more brewers join the stampede to acidified fermentation, it’s probably wise to bear in mind that the public, that great morass of drinkers trailing our leading edge, are still largely wondering what in hell we’re talking about.

9 Replies to “Housekeeping & the Great Disconnect”

  1. …the public, that great morass of drinkers trailing our leading edge, are still largely wondering what in hell we’re talking about.

    Hah? Isn’t that why we do it? Seriously, it sure seems that way to me, and has for years. It’s like finding the new indie band no one else has heard of, and then dumping them as soon as their Facebook page goes over 75 “likes” because they’ve “sold out.”

  2. Not to nit pick, but in the interest of accuracy Brettanomyces is a type of yeast rather than a bacterium. Otherwise great post.

    1. Right you are, Vern. My bad. I get so used to grouping together Brett and all the other wee beasties in lambic that I missed that slip up. Thanks for the correction.

  3. I think you are looking at the world of beer drinkers a little too digitally. You see “the committed beerophile and the average, ordinary beer drinker”. I see three groups: the ordinary beer drinker, the industrial beer drinker and the extreme beer drinker. A “beerophile” could actually belong to any of the three groups, although more likely to the first. I consider myself, for example, to belong to the first group and yet still a beerophile.

    People who drink industrial beer or extreme beer do not like the taste of “ordinary” beer for opposite reasons – industrial drinkers think the taste is too strong or strange and extreme beer drinkers think the taste is not strong or strange enough.

    Beerophiles, by comparison, are those who enjoy drinking beer – as opposed to the fanatics who rant and rave on the beer rating sites or write beer blogs (present company excepted, of course).

    1. A reasonable view, Mike, but one complicated by the fact that fewer and fewer people sit in any camp exclusively. Most beer consumers today happily switch back and forth between major brewery and domestic and imported craft as the occasion suits. And I have a hard time fathoming the idea of someone devoted exclusively to so-called “extreme” beer.

      The point I’m espousing related to the drinker who is content with a Bud at the ballgame or a pale ale or weissbier at the bar. For them, sour is still way off the map.

      1. I, as well as most of my acquaintances, sit in one camp exclusively, however, I can well imagine there are others who do as you say.

        Extreme beer to me is beer that is radically unbalanced – that could be excessively bitter, excessively sweet or, as your example, excessively sour.

        Regarding your point about someone exclusively devoted to extreme beer – although I don’t know any personally, I would imagine any card-carrying “hop-head” would qualify.

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