Monday, June 18, 2012

The Craftiest?

Martyn's most recent post about his collaboration with the Welsh brewery Brains to create and brew Col. Williams East India Pale Ale, got me thinking about the role of IPA in the craft beer world. It helped also, that I mowed he lawn directly after reading his post, so I had a good bit of thinking time on my hands. I questioned I pondered against the hum of my lawnmower's 5.5 horse power, single stroke, was this:

Is IPA the craftiest of all beer? That is is to say, does IPA exemplify good or bad, in all it's forms—American, English, Belgian, black, white, double or imperial—all that "is" craft beer?

IPA is, unto itself, a conundrum. It's far and away the most popular "style" of craft beer—at least in the U.S.—but I'd expect elsewhere as, well. Yet, it's defining character—bitterness—is what most non-craft, or non-beer drinkers for that matter, say is what they don't like about beer. It wasn't always the darling of the beer world, either. Its height of popularity—prior to the rise craft beer movement over the last 20 years—was the 1840s. After that, IPA settled into a comfortable chair and let its brethren Bitter, Burton and Mild take the spotlight. It was a long slow ride downhill for IPA, occasionally popping up here and there, but generally keeping a low profile. It's kinda' funny, actually—a beer that really wasn't all that popular—and in fact, nearly died in its home country—is now at the forefront of the craft beer movement. That's pretty amazing.

Outside, as Jeff phrased it, the beer geek bubble, IPA seems to have become the poster-boy for craft beer—by intention or not. Love them or hate them, IPAs are ubiquitous—BeerAdvocate lists 5,080 of them. So, what's the draw? Do IPAs provide a better canvas for the brewer, or have they just caught the imagination of the beer drinker? Is IPA the beer thought of—collectively—when the phrase craft beer is mentioned? Regardless of what its made of, or how it's made—be it in Bulgaria or Baltimore—it appears that IPA has become the beery benchmark to judge craft beer by—right, wrong, or otherwise.

I've posed a good number of questions in this post, and I'll be the first to say, I'm in no position to answer any of them—just a few thoughts thunk whilst mowing the lawn. 


  1. I guess it depends on how you define craft. Surely there is a sliding scale. Yeungling is much craftier than AB-InBev, but isn't a craft brewery per se.

    Love the pictogram!

  2. Okay, so how do you define craft?

  3. I believe you nailed the answer to the popularity of IPA in that it is a 'better canvas for the brewer' to express his/her creativity. Excepting craft lager breweries, virtually every craft brewery has an IPA among their flagship beers.

    I will order an IPA before any style expecting pilsner, Berliner Weisse, Kölsch, or a known Saison. The IPA establishes the brewery's cred.

    We have guests. We visited a biergarten and two nano-breweries today. I had a nitro-infused milk stout and two IPAs; Tom had three IPAs. The women drank golden ales.