I performed an experiment this weekend, coincidentally, just before a discussion of the beeriness of beer over at Alan’s place. More on the experiment later. First though, an explanation of said discussion. It stems from Jeff Allworth’s assertion that, as a generality, the new-ish fad of extreme ingredient beers is, in his opinion, un-necessary and the results are usually pretty lousy—not always, but usually. In a nutshell his argument is that just because beer can emulate pie, or fettucini alfredo, or whatever, doesn’t mean it should. As he puts it:
“…anything that might plausibly be sold as a candy bar, salad, or entree is not worth drinking.”
I can get behind that. In fact, I argued a similar sentiment when I wrote about the crime against nature that is Wynkoop’s Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout.
|When it comes to breakfast, the chicken is |
dedicated, but the pig is committed.
The good doctor McLeod’s position, however, is less about taste and more about identity. He argues that the more non-fermentable ingredients that are added to a beer the less of a beer it becomes. At some point he surmises, beer will have so many add-ons that it will no longer be beer, or at the very least become beer plus something else. Furthermore, he suggests that these added on to beers will end up (or perhaps have ended up) being sold at a premium, as he has often coined as suckerjuice. He believe these products should be classified as non-beer or beer plus X ingredient(s), and marketed as such. All of this, he believes, results in a loss, or at the least the shrouding, of skill in brewing, and the moving away from the simplicity of the nuanced flavors of malt, hops yeast and water, to an over complicatedness of the beeriness of beer.
Fair enough, but I don’t agree.
Let me put it this way. I like pancakes—and $2.00 pancakes are a great deal, but I don’t think $3.00 blueberry pancakes—even though I may have paid a little more for them—have diluted the essence of the original pancakes. The other thing is, sometimes I don’t want simplicity—and this is where the experiment comes in.
Founders Breakfast Stout surprised me—and I’m not often surprised by beer. Arguably, it is one of the most adulterated brews out there—two kinds of chocolate, two varieties of coffee and oatmeal for good measure. The intention of this beer was to emulate a great cup of coffee. I have to say it does amazingly well. From the tap it’s creamy and dense with a whollop of roasted coffee-ness. It’s nearly 9%, but it’s also one of those beers that I could drink all night long—that is until I slumped off the bar stool, onto the floor in a puddle of my own drool. It’s fantastic, complex stuff.
I wondered, however, could this Breakfast Stout really stand up to an actual breakfast? So, off to the cast iron skillet I went to find out. Two eggs, bacon, a buttered English muffin and a pint mug full of the Founders later, I was pleasantly surprised. Even with those formidable flavors and textures—the saltiness of the bacon, the creaminess of the eggs and crisp buttered crumpet, the Founders held up. Gone now, however, was that coffee-essence. No longer, did I taste strong espresso, but rather bittersweet cocoa—like a rich, Belgian dark chocolate with every bite and sip. It was almost as if the breakfast was needed to reveal that layer. Truly, and again, Founders Breakfast Stout is fantastic stuff. But how amazing would it be without all those elements? Is it it's stoutness, or is it the coffee? Is it the oatmeal or the chocolate? Maybe it’s all of them doing somersaults overtop of each other. I don't see how any of that dilutes or convolutes it's beeriness. Honestly, I don’t care. Call it beer—or beer + oatmeal + chocolate + coffee. Sell it for ten dollars or 100 dollars. Sell it only on Wednesdays from the back of a van that says “THE NOT BEER VAN”. I don’t care, it’s good, and that’s what matters to me.
Maybe I’m the sucker of the suckerjuice, but I don’t see how creating another classification within the already convoluted beer taxonomy is going to reduce the cost or give added value to anything. Honestly, that ship has already sailed. The beer biz is not about, nor has it ever been about, great beer at a great price. Some beers are good and some are bad, some are cheap and some are a rip-offs—regardless of their add-ons or purity. I don't think it's as slippery of a slope as Alan might want to believe. I don't think that five or ten years down the line, all will be lost to eggplant parmesan infused non-beer. Just as is beauty, beer will always be in the eye of the beholder.
In the end, I just hope my love of beer doesn’t ever come down to a cost benefit analysis.