My father once regaled me with tales of yore…
Back when I was in college, beer options were more limited. There were no craft beers like there are today. Everyone drank Miller, Budweiser, Pabst, Schlitz… If you wanted something special, you got Coors. You could only find Coors out west. If you brought Coors back east, you were a hero.
They were hard times, those days of yore, but simple. Today’s decisions are more troublesome. The issue of what one should drink has become complex, and we, the consumers, are left befuddled as our eyes scan across the rows upon rows of dark ales, light ales, belgians, lagers, hefs, pale ales, stouts, porters…. what does it all mean, and why?
Thus began in the 1980’s a revolution on the West Coast. Two brave home brewers, as inventive as they were courageous, stood around a vat of gurgling wort as one said to the other: “Hey, I wonder what would happen if we threw a shit ton of hops in this sucker.” And the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was born.
What followed was a war of brewers, battling to make each beer more hoppy than the last. There were many failures and fewer victors. But, much like the escalation of the USA-Soviet arms race, the consequences were unavoidable. Global superpowers must have nuclear weapons. Microbrews must be bitter enough to kill small animals. Weapons were produced, wort was hopped. Thus, today our dueling nations have stockpiles of nuclear bombs, and our dueling breweries have ales more bitter than once thought possible. Is the world a better place?
The innocuous Pale Ale gave rise to the India Pale Ale.
The IPA gave rise to the Double IPA.
Then the Double IPA Plus!
The Super Duper IPA Madness!
The Holy Shit This IPA Knocks Your Socks Off Wow!
And if that didn’t sell, throw it in a bourbon barrel for a year and double the price.
The good ones are great. Artistic mastery, really. The bad ones are offensive, but like so many failures, they hide under the veil of connaisseurism. You just don’t understand good beer. For many connaisseurs, the worse it tastes, the more they defend its quality.
Where do we go from here? The escalation of the Beer War was at first conceived upon a linear scope.
Not Hoppy <——————–> Hoppy
Like post-Darmstadt western art music, producers were desperately searching for answers to their oft-alienated audience. Then the lightbulb flickered, and a new dimension was added:
Light <——————–> Dark
The world of novelty beer was saved momentarily, but even this system wears out quickly, as brewers search for ways to one-up their competitors. Various flavors are added. Apricots. Notes of chocolate. A slight hint of coffee. Chipotle peppers. Smoke. Novelty beer production begins to follow a flowchart of the absurd. Make something new. Make something better. What can we do?
The craft brewery industry has long since exploded. We are in the Golden Age of Beer. But why stop at beer? It seems as though, looking at freeway billboards, liquor just now got the memo, however unlike brewers, who have been waging this constant battle for over thirty years, distilleries still have no idea how to advance their consumer goods towards artistry. It’s most evident in the Craft Vodka industry, whose discourse resembles a group of teenage virgins comparing penis size.
“My vodka is distilled twice.”
“Yeah? Well mine is distilled three times!”
“Hah! That’s nothing! Mine is distilled six times.”
“Oh yeah? Ten times.”
“A hundred times!”
Meanwhile Smirnoff and Absolut are chilling comfortably at the top of worldwide vodka sales and in college apartments nationwide. Suddenly one distillery gets the bright idea to add artificial fruit flavoring, and the industry wets itself, because it’s not like 90% of people drinking vodka aren’t mixing it anyway.
The gin industry, not to be outdone by vodka, has exploited the use of botanicals as its defining feature (gin is literally juniper-infused vodka). No longer content with juniper berries, these gin-makers begin battling one another by throwing in orange peels, mint, coriander, and basically anything else you can find in a boreal forest, moose hoof pending. What results is akin to spinning a Wheel of Botanicals about ten times, and slapping a label on the resultant concoction, penned “Limited Edition Variety!”
Meanwhile in Whiskeyworld:
“We threw it in some old barrel for like fifteen years and called it a day.”
“How’s it taste?”
“Like money. Lots of money.”
And here we are today, the Age of the Connaisseur: an industry of boozers desperately seeking yet another way to one-up their competitors, and millions of consumers confused by the ever-growing array of choices in the pursuit of taste, snobbery, and elitism.
What results is, if you sift through the gimmicks, mistakes, red herrings, and failures, you might actually stumble upon something unique, delightful, or even sublime. A great beverage can be a memorable experience, and there is no end of what we can explore these days with our taste buds. The universe expands evermore.
Of course, if you’re just looking to get smashed like most people who drink, may I recommend forgetting this blog entry and going back to the isle of 32-pack cans and plastic handles of paint thinner you’ve come to know and love.