Friday, June 21, 2013

Zymurgy Magazine Proves Jeff's Point

Strength and intensity. American brewers aren't minor key kinds of guys. They brew like John Philip Sousa. Beers are rarely brewed below 4.5% and a good many are stronger than 7%. When we make hoppy beers, we make damn hoppy beers. (Some of our beers that aren't supposed to be hoppy are damn hoppy, too.) Our sours are really sour. Our imperial stouts are liquid fudge.
Now, that's intense.
Maybe it was coincidence, but I have to say I don't think that the good Doctor Alworth's point about what makes American beer beer American, could have been made better than having Zymurgy Magazine release its list of what it deems as the top 50 best American-made craft beers. Granted, the above quote is a snippet from his blog—just one of five criteria needed to be met to qualify for a beer to wear the red, white and blue—but it rings Liberty Bell true when reading through Zymergy's list.  

33 of the 50 beer chosen by the magazine are IPAs, Double IPAs and/or Imperial IPAs and Stouts. 80% of the top 10 are also IPAs—and 10% is one pretty strong Breakfast—if not Imperial—Stout. The other 10% is Arrogant Bastard, a Strong Ale. Speaking of strong—the average strength for the beers on the list is 9.4% ABV—the lowest being Deschutes' Black Butte Porter at 5.2% ABV; the highest is Goose Island Bourbon County Stout at 15% ABV.

Subtle, generally, American beers are not.

I do have to say, I like Jeff's use of the word intensity. I may have to co-opt that phrase when describing American beer from now on.  


  1. But - like that saison I had when I was there - intense includes crappily unbalanced. Maybe this reflects a risk based culture.

    1. I think that's why I like the term—it expresses all. Be them good, bad, hoppy, bitter, sour or strong, "intense" fits the bill.

  2. It struck me a while ago that American geeks often confuse intensity with complexity. A beer can be complex without being intense.

    In the days when I used to give beers scores on my website I had a very simple scoring system. I gave 5 points for each distinct flavour I could identify. It didn't mnatter how intense they were. The point was to reward complexity.

  3. And a beer can be, unfortunately, intense without being complex. Or intense, complex and yet horrible. An eye to subtlety is much more inclined to brew a better beer.

  4. I agree with all these comments. A contrast is Bavarians, who brew for subtlety. At one poor, I used the word "volume" and was thinking of making a reference to Spinal Tap (IPAs that go to 11). In some ways, it's even more obvious in "lighter" beers. Nobody brews Berliner Weisses at 3.5% or bitters under 4%. Americans just don't know how to do that.

  5. I think Americans do like strong tastes, you see it too in the vinifera wines (buttery vanilla Chards, fruity brambly Zins, etc.), the coffee-subculture with coffees more roasty than any expresso from Italy, and take-no-prisoners straight bourbon and rye whiskeys. Modern soda pop is fairly bland but originally sarsparilla, root beet and ginger ale were strong-tasting - a revival could come in there too but is blocked by the sugar factor I think, too sweet is not hip.

    Other cultures of course have examples in these various areas, but the U.S. style is to go all out and you get great results or abject failures - I like the spirit behind it.


  6. But, intense doesn't always mean bad either—just as balance doesn't necessarily mean good.

  7. Well, balance isn't a flavour and not really the opposite of intense. I had an Arrogant Bastard ale last night that I find intense and balanced with it's crystal malty goodness matching the loud-mouthed hops.