Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Is the Next Best Thing, Maybe Not So Best?

I wouldn’t say that I’m a particularly reminiscent person. I like studying history and revisiting the past, but I’ve never really gone in for re-living the glory days or pining for days gone by. I’m a keep moving forward ind of guy. Alan’s post form earlier this week about the effects of styling beer to meet the demands of a trend, however, has got me thinking about something I do miss from the past—Brown ale.

Brown ale used to be a staple during the early days of American craft brewing. Hoppy Pales, malty Ambers, and nutty Browns were the got to brews, and just about every brewpub and micro from here to Palo Alto offered those three—without question. But something has changed. Brown ale, and to some extent Ambers have been put in the corner.

I understand that beer evolves, tastes change and styles wane—look at Burton. I also know that I’ll most likely get 800 examples of fantastic Brown ales in the comments below. Yes, I know they’re still around. In fact, working the jockey box with Ethan at the Craft New York Festival, back in March, showed me how much Brown ale is still beloved. The Whale—CBW’s variation on a Brown— was one of the most popular beers at the festival—and deservedly so.

But that’s not the point.

The point is we have a tendency to forget the good for the new. Is the race to be innovative and the charge for new and exciting, obscuring the simple goodness of beers like Brown ale? Are we swinging for the fences when we should be trying for a solid single? I’m not asking for a total about face, nor do I expect breweries to stop making there session IPAs and lavender-spiked Sour ales. I want breweries to experiment and try new ideas. But, maybe, revisiting an old friend—like Brown ale—might have an unexpected result.

Maybe good is good enough.


  1. The original Pete's Wicked Ale, going back 20 years or more now, was just as you describe, simple, hearty, delicious. And then it went away, to be replaced by the thing du jour which wasn't half as good. I still can't figure out if it is back, you hear different things, but that was a classic American brown.


    1. I might have to add "thing du jour" to my linguistic arsenal.

  2. Feel free! :)


  3. I first started enjoying craft beer back in 1992. I would smuggle samples from Saranac's stable into the restroom while employed at Delmar Beverage Center when I was 18. Pete's Wicked first caught my eye believe it or not at a run down corner store on Judson Street in Albany where we used to buy "40's". Until that time Saranac black & Tan was my favorite. I bucked up the extra dollar and instead of buying two Mickey's Malt Liquor's I bought one Mickey and one Pete's... From that point I had taken my first step towards quality over quantity and I still miss the original Pete's Wicked Ale to this day. I even remember in the late 90's paying $18 for a Pete's Wicked Winter Brew that was "smuggled" into Mahar's Public bar because they weren't selling it in NY yet.

    Fast forward to 2014 and to kind of stay on point to where Craig was going. Let's face it.... (my opinion) Lousy sickeningly hopped bastardized American IPA's are the "thing du jour" right now. But what has me a little concerned is this. I am a huge... I mean HUGE proponent of cask conditioned ale. At my pub ( we serve a minumum of 3 all on beer engines 7 days a week and don't center it around some sort of gimmick or event. I am hoping through our efforts along with the folks at Cask Marque we will be able to encourage other establishments to try cask and put in the extra work to serve what I consider beer at its finest. That being said... I will get back to Craig's topic. What I am starting to observe is a disturbing trend with cask beer. Dry hopping. This means that brewers are filling their firkins and suspending a porous cheese cloth baggie of dried hops in the beer. when you draw a pint with your beer engine the beer is dragged through the baggie and it adds a stinging hop taste to the beer. To me, this can be construed as a cover up of mistakes made by brewers and cellarmen. Like, "hey guys, this didn't quite turn out right, let's just dry hop the heck out of it and sell it anyways"... So now, more and more I am trying to get relationships going with brewers where we can have casks that we own filled on request to stay stocked regularly but it is hard to convince them to stop messing with their beer. Real ale in and of itself is different every time you have it which to me is enough uniqueness... Just my two cents. I hope cask conditioned ales don't go the way of the triple imperial mango hopped 195 minute 300 IBU catastrophes we are dealing with nowadays.