Love is Blind: Perceptual Screens and Beer Evaluation (Christmastime Edition)

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There's a certain IPA that hits the market in the late-fall of every year.  It has a red label, features a snow-covered cabin, and is festooned with poinsettias.  I buy it every year.  I can't wait to pop open a few bottles of it to celebrate the assorted holidays of the season.  I love, love, love this beer. 

I honestly don't know if it's any good or not.  

Why?  Because I love it.  

A Tenuous Relationship With Reality

Human beings have a highly conditional, tenuous, perverted relationship with "reality."  The perceptual screens and stereotypes and blind spots we employ to make sense of a "bright, fuzzy world" (to quote one social scientist) and navigate it efficiently (if imperfectly) mean that we don't evaluate things as they are.  We don't "see and then define - we define, and then we see."  

The same logic that makes evaluations of politics and society so thorny applies to beer evaluation, and for the same reasons.  It's a noisy, crowded marketplace out there for beer.  We, as individuals, employ stereotypes and heuristics (informational shortcuts) to make sense of the craft beer world, and in doing so we distort it.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's something we should be aware of, since a common in-subculture sport of craft beer folk is the sharing our personal evaluations of the beers we consume.  We wrongly describe this as what we "think" about a beer.  If only - instead, what we're really sharing is a combination of things (what we feel, what we perceive, what we assume, and, yes, also what we think) that lead to what we conclude about the quality and/or desirability of a particular beer or brewery.

We all drink in the same world - but we think and feel in different ones.

Draw a Line

I try to take this approach to chatting about beer quality: the stronger my preferences, the more I condition them when making recommendations to others.  That way, any firm impressions (the literal, etymological definition of "stereotype") I pass on are qualified by an equal-in-magnitude, fair-warning communication that they're based on my acknowledged biases, for better or worse.

Let's go back to my seasonal IPA.  Since I know I love it, when asked about what seasonal beers I might recommend, I have no problem at all saying, "I love _____________ IPA!," because I then follow it up with (as I have above), "but I don't know if it's any good or not."  

What this does is draw a clear line between preferences and quality.  If I have no particular feelings about a style (let's say, for Cream Ale), then I don't, when sharing an evaluation, hesitate beyond the normal acknowledgment that beer evaluation has an unavoidable element of subjectivity.  But when I know I have a marked preference or prejudice about a beer, or style, or brewery, I acknowledge that whatever I'm saying should be taken with a grain of salt because I'm viewing it through a glass, darkly (and maybe literally).  

I'm reminded of this every year, about this time of year, when I look at that snow-covered cabin, and I'm glad for it.  It reminds me to be humble about making recommendations, evaluations, and judgments.  

After all - love is blind.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

 


Forget Beer Aging

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Another year of a certain commonly-hoarded beer release has passed, and what has followed it is as inevitable as the sun rising on your stale-ass beer: a riot of discussions across social media and beer forums about how long to wait to drink such-and-such a beer.

This one isn't hard: drink it now.

I'm not saying I've never had beers that have gotten better with some age.  It happens.  I don't mind a vertical tasting of some beers, even years after they've gone into the bottle.  I'm just saying that I've enjoyed those at about the same rate as I've enjoyed Disney films: sure, some are really good, but mostly I feel like I just wasted my time and money.

Look, nearly all beer is at or near its best right after it hits its appropriate level of carbonation.  From that point forward you're losing ground to oxidation, a shifting flavor profile as things physically fall out of your beer, contamination, light, and more.  Hoarding it like some kind of alcohol-dependent squirrel with too much shelf space on its hands probably isn't helping you.

Don't think about it: drink it now.

"But what about..."  Yes, properly-stored beer can be "flavor stable" for a long time.  Yes, some attributes of beer can make it more likely to age well.  Yes, certain characteristics mellow out or develop with age.  From where, though, does this optimism arise?

You're trusting that the folks at the brewery, and the distributor, and the retailer/vendor are all taking great care of this beer?  Arrhenius' Rule cuts both ways - yes, storing cold will dramatically slow chemical reactions/aging, but a few days in hot temps can create months worth of staling effects.  "But it's a dark, high-ABV, bottle-conditioned IPA!," you say?  OK.  So maybe - just maybe - thanks to these attributes it will be generally as-drinkable in four months, but why wait?  Is it going to get better?  Maybe.  But how do you know which bottle will improve and which will just get slowly less impressive, like the work of Aaron Sorkin?

Don't trust: drink it now.

And besides, you don't need to do your own aging.  This is why you have beer nerd friends that still buy into the "I'm going to build an awesome cellar..." mentality.  Use them.  Keep your ears pricked up to catch wind of when they're popping open those six bottles of Brooklyn Black Ops, 2009-2015 (thanks, Adam!).  I'm not saying to be a moocher or a deadbeat: bring them something in exchange.  But don't be the beer equivalent of the person who dry-ages their own steaks.  In both cases, the risk isn't worth the reward.

Maybe I just don't get the allure.  I'd trade a bottle of vintage Old Ale for a six-pack of fresh Pilsner any day of the week.  And sure, there are exceptions to any rule - I'll sit on bottles of Cantillon until Jean tells me they're good.  Mostly, though, I want to buy a beer and drink it as close as possible to that moment, sometime in the past, when a brewer tasted it in the tank or barrel and thought, "Yup, I want to sell that NOW."  

Forget beer aging: drink it now.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).


Be a Beer Nerd - Not a Beer Jock

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At a homebrew competition this weekend, I was part of a conversation about boorish, pushy alehole behavior, and one of the participants opined, "Beer nerds - what are you going to do?"

It occurred to me, though, that what we're talking about doesn't really fit with generalized "nerd" behavior.  Deeply knowledgeable, overly-committed, willing to talk a subject to death - that's nerd behavior, for sure.  Shaming, bullying, exclusive?  That's not "nerd" terrain, no matter what the canonical Revenge of the Nerds films would suggest.  

What we're talking about here aren't "beer nerds."  They're beer jocks.

The Beer Jock

I should probably point out at the outset that I'm not casting aspersions on athletes as a group.  I'm simply using the 80's-nostalgia-film-fueled paradigm of nerds v. jocks as a rhetorical device.  Some of my best friends are jocks.  There - I've covered myself, right?

Now, back to those awful, cruel, high-handed beer jocks, shoving us beer nerds into our chest freezers...

I'm not talking here about a garden-variety "beer talk terrorist," horning in on conversations and holding forth on the proper glassware for a Kolsch v. a Pilsner.  No, I'm talking about the people that are so committed to craft beer that they're openly mocking and shaming other beer drinkers.

Sometimes the target of their ire is just a rube who stupidly thinks s/he actually likes their preferred macro lager.  Let's all have a laugh at their expense!

Often it's a fellow craft beer lover who isn't sufficiently nerdy - "what do you mean you haven't heard about Rainbow IPA?  The BA better update its guidelines to include them.  They have negative IBUs and are no discernible color, which means they're every color.  They're everywhere in Pittston, bro.  Wait, you don't even know about the hot new brewing town of Pittston?  Wow..."  

Could also be the beer jock who's too cool/postmodern for pumpkin beers, except the ones that get released in March "and are really more white squash beers, which is way more authentic."  In fact, the beer jock rejects all seasonal beers, and the people who drink them.

Or maybe it's a soulless capitalist who still buys the occasional case of Boddington or Goose Island, not realizing that they're coughing up money so that some rich CEO can get a third beach house - what a POS.  "Can you believe he still does that?  I mean, I've consciously uncoupled from any of my relatives and friends who still insist on drinking Devil's Backbone Vienna Lager.  Who needs that kind of betrayal in their lives?"

And I'm not even going to bother (well, I guess I am) pointing out the irony that these same aleholes never miss a chance to talk about the importance of camaraderie and fellowship in craft beer.  

Nerd Out

By all means, nerd out.  I'll spend hours in a discussion of the futility of secondary fermentations and the virtues of floor malted grains.  We enjoy the minutiae of beer and brewing, surveying the beer scene, analyzing what we see.

There's nothing at all wrong with a deep dive on a topic.  Malcolm Gladwell, writing in The Tipping Point, discusses a type of person he calls a "maven," who is an active expert on a subject.  Mavens are useful "tippers" because they can provide more than superficial knowledge on a specialized and not-yet-broadly-engaged topic.  Mavens are obsessed with ideas, not people.  

And therein, I think, lies the difference.  When you turn from an obsession with knowledge and ideas to a preoccupation with how others engage with your chosen nerdified field of interest, you weaponize your nerdism.  When you do, you pivot from Beer Nerd to Beer Jock, and that's when we see the kind of bullying behavior that's so common to this archetype.  

If you see me doing this, please let me know - I'm sure it happens.  As I've always said, I am, without question, a carrier of the alehole gene.  It's one of the reasons I love writing Beer Simple - it lets me engage in a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde-like analysis of my own beerhavior.  If this applies to you, too, then we all have some work to do.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).


Thinning the Herd: The Upside of Big Beer Buyouts

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I know that there are good reasons to be deeply concerned about the effects of Big Beer getting into the game of buying out craft breweries.  Ownership confusion, pricing effects, tap and shelf space, and all the rest are real...but I still can't help but think that we're overlooking at least one big benefit and one significant advantage.

Bear with me here.

The Benefit: Rationalizing the Market

In some markets, you only have a few real craft breweries.  For the most part, though, these aren't the places that see buyouts.  Now, that doesn't mean that Goose Island being available everywhere can't choke out a small production brewery in a place with a nascent craft beer scene - I'll concede that risk.

I mention it only because it's in the crowded beer markets that this can be a good thing for we craft beer enthusiasts.  How so?

Let's say you have ten breweries in your metro area.  Each is only getting 1/10th of your beer money.  Now let's imagine one of your breweries takes a buyout.  What's the effect?

Well, if you think, "oh well, don't care," then the action has no real impact on the other local breweries - you're still spreading your cash around in the same way (each gets 10%).  But if you're in the "Never ABI" camp, then you're never going to patronize that bought-out brewery again, which means that the other local breweries are about to see an increase in their sales (each gets 11.1%), thanks to you and those like you.

So, in this case, in terms of the local economic impact, it's either neutral or positive with respect to the spending of what we might call the "core" and "aware" segment of the local beer drinking community.  ["But that's not enough to keep a brewery going!!!," I can already hear you saying - I'll get back to that, I promise.]

A corollary benefit is that it simplifies the market a bit.  As it is now, my metro beer market is so crowded I need to take a special "tour" every May to the local breweries I haven't had the chance to visit yet.  Now, that might not be true everywhere, but it certainly is in craft-heavy markets.  One bought out means one more I don't need to consider buying, which means I can try out something new.

The Advantage: Beating Big Beer

The strongest objection to this "benefit" is that it's ignoring the idea that most people aren't craft beer geeks like me/us.  Believe me, I'm aware of it.  Someone recently told me they don't like Dunkelweizen because it "finishes so hoppy."  I don't expect most people to be intimate with beer styles, the merits of canning v. bottling, or the differences in strains of Brett (why would they???  It's a waste of time and brainpower!).  And I also know that most aren't going to be paying attention to who owns whom, so when they're at a restaurant or their local beer shop, they're going to buy based on something other than local, independent ownership (or not).

Doesn't matter.  Because the way to beat big beer is to keep things small and local and brewing in-house.  And that brewery actually can be kept going by a combination of beer geeks and local sentiment.

I live just over the river from Phoenixville, PA.  Now, you may not know it, but Phoenixville ranks 10th in the United States for breweries per capita.  How does a place with about 50K people in a 5-mile radius support ten breweries?  Easy - they're all relatively small.  

You can't outcompete Big Beer as a massive production brewery.  You might not even be able to do it as a small production brewery.  But you can do so at street-level.  These breweries in P-ville compete, but only in the same general way that restaurants on the same busy main street compete with each other.  Then there's the fact that brewpubs yield a higher return on their beer products than production breweries do (no packaging, shipping, etc. and a captive population).  And since they're not sustaining a massive brewing and distribution infrastructure to do it, they're not as susceptible to the kinds of pressure and market distortions that the big breweries can bring to bear.

Big beer can choke off access to ingredients and supplies, buy off competitors, lobby for advantages in distribution rules, and more.  But they can't do much about a local, 3-barrel, 75-cover brewpub.

The Right Outcome

I also have to say that I think a trend towards smaller breweries in general (and brewpubs in particular) is exactly what we should want in our beer world.  It means that you get a high level of product diversity and fresher beer.  It should mean better beer, because market pressures will thin out the herd of a larger collection of smaller breweries in a way that they probably won't for 2-3 medium-sized local breweries.  Brewpubs often do, also, bootstrap small production operations off of their on-premises sale profits.  Hell, it probably even has sustainable economic benefits - more small breweries mean more hiring in what is already a labor-intensive sector, compared to larger automated craft breweries.  

The masses will never be sold on buying Saison and Bock and even IPA (the most popular craft beer style is still pretty polarizing among non-craft beer people).  And craft breweries that try to outcompete Big Beer on lite lager have a massive uphill battle, undoing decades of brand loyalty, to say nothing of the maybe-monopolistic tactics of those breweries.  

Let's stick with what we might call the "Phoenixville Model." 

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

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In Praise of the Pounder: The Perfect Beer Package

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We're lucky enough to live in a beer world that no longer looks down its nose at a beer in a can.  Gone are the days when an amber (or, worse, green) bottle is some kind of nonsensical sign of sophistication.  Maybe someday soon we'll evolve past the idea that a cork has some kind of magical benefit, too.  In the meantime, however, please allow me to propose that the best of all possible beer packages is...

THE POUNDER.

Yes.  The 16-ounce can is the ideal beer package.  And I can prove it.

Keeping the Wolves Outside the Door

When it comes to beer quality, the two great enemies are light and oxygen.  One turns the beer into skunkwater, the other makes it a flaccid, flabby mess of a beer that tastes like something that once knew what a beer was but has since suffered severe head trauma and can now only mutter incoherent words like "biscuit" and "citrus" while shuffling around the glass, chewing cardboard and bumping into itself.  

Cans, generally speaking, solve both of these problems.  Bottles - even dark bottles - still allow in some of the evil UV light that will wreck your beer (assuming it has/had actual hop plant material in it - not all, but most, do).  It might take longer in that brown bottle, but it'll still happen.  And while glass isn't oxygen-permeable, that crown cap with its plastic gasket isn't a perfect seal - as the beer warms and cools, small amounts of air will make it in/out, and so you'll stale more quickly.

But not cans.  A real airtight seal, and no light penetration.  The staling and off-flavor producing wolves stay outside the door.  

If 12 is good, 16 is better

Then there's the actual volume.  Pour that 12 oz. can into a pint glass, and you know what you get?  Answer: not a pint.  It's psychologically unsatisfying.  

Now imagine you have that pounder.  You're pouring, gently, and you get a full, full glass with a slight head - and a little bit leftover in the can, like a kid with a milkshake.  What's better than that?  You get a full beer, and somehow, magically, you also get more beer!  

Also, think of transport.  If I'm carrying a six-pack around, I'm moving six beers, one way or another.  Six 8-oz. pony bottles?  48 ounces.  Six 12-oz. cans?  72 ounces.  Six pounders?  96 ounces, baby.  Now I can share two, or even three, and still feel good about it.

Then there's just how it feels in your hand.  A 12 feels immature, like something you drank back when you were 17 and hiding out in the woods with a six-pack between three of you (which it is, and which you did).  But a pounder feels like a real can of beer - and maybe something you could defend yourself with if accosted by a particularly rowdy Dallas Cowboys fan.  Throw in a dress sock and you've got yourself a legit deadly weapon.

The Odd Insanity of Beer Buyers

There's one more good reason to love the pounder: who came up with pricing strategies on these things?  Whomever it was saw deeper into the fundamental irrationality of humans than I ever will.

It's not an uncommon occurrence for me to see a case of 16s priced at an identical price to a case of 12s in the same store, on the same pallet, of highly similar beers, even from the same brewery.  Now, I can understand that, to an extent, because the per-case pricing has a lot of marketing juju behind it, and if Brewery A wants to sell all of its cases for about the same price, then I get that. 

What I'll never understand, to the day they pry that pounder can of Kostritzer Schwarzbier out of my cold, dead hands is why I also see a beer buyer buying that case of twelve-ounce cans when the 16s are right there.  It's insane.  And I'm not talking about "oh, I want a hefe, and the pounders are IPAs."  No, I mean a case of 12-oz. IPA cans, and a case of 16-oz. IPA cans, sitting right next to each other for the same price, and some jabroni happily whistling his way to the counter with the case of 12s.  

It's 33% more beer, bro.  WTH is the matter with you?

Pound It

Start asking for this, from your favorite breweries.  If they already do it, ask why they don't do it more.  Because until the day we can all drink from self-propelled hovering 10L mini-kegs that follow us from place to place, there will never be a better package for beer.

And don't even get me started on the crowler.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).


A Year of Unique Beer: Into the Home Stretch

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Nine months into my Year of Unique Beer challenge, which means three months to go, but all the same I can't help feeling that it'll be an easy coast to the finish line.  

We've entered the Month of the Pumpkin.  All downhill from here.

For those who need a quick recap, I accepted a challenge, this year, to drink no more than one serving of any single beer, which means that the bottle of Victory Prima Pilsner I had on New Years Day was the only one I was allowed for all of 2017.  

Initially, of course, it was pretty easy: lots of beer out there, right?  As the weather got warmer, things started to tighten up, and I saw my first "available everywhere" macro beer go off the list (adios, PBR).  Summer was the hardest, what with the weekends at the beach that might knock off 20 varieties (which I had to supply myself) and bars with limited options on tap (RIP, Sam Adams, Miller, and Yuengling Lager).  

I have now, though, entered the victory lap, for I have come to the time of joy for one in my position.

The OPC Train

I've purchased my ticket for what I've come to call the "OPC Train."  OPC: Oktoberfest, Pumpkin, Christmas.  

From hereon in, the tap lists of the world will be a never-ending rotation of Oktoberfests and Marzens, which will roll right into the pumpkin beer glut that I'm already seeing, and from there it'll be wall-to-wall Christmas and Winter-spiced beers right through to 11:59PM on December 31st, 2017.

What to many is a cause for a groan and a head-shake is to me the sight of salvation.  No more wondering whether I've already had that particular "summer ale" or blonde, no more worrying I'll be stuck on vacation with nothing but Barefoot Chardonnay and a fridge full of Miller Lite.  Hell, I could throw darts at these tap lists and feel confident I'm getting something new!

Call it some kind of bizarro-world pumpkin ale Stockholm Syndrome if you will, but this year, for me, the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg is the best beer aroma I could hope for.

Pride Goeth After the Fall

Having said that, I'm not going to get complacent.  Fall will end, and when it does, a final dangerous beast looms: winter holidays.  What to do with the inevitable parties of the holiday season?  For that, I need something more: cold weather.  Once we get there, I can justify passing on the beer in favor of a glass of Scotch, if push comes to shove.

But I'm going to try to keep the beer thing going.  It's been wonderful to see how many friends and family members have gone out of their way to hold onto unusual beers, haul things back from vacation for me, or reserve one beer out of each case they buy as a gift.  Hopefully the spirit of the seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas will keep the unique beer lines open and flowing.

I can't pretend, though, that it's not starting to wear on me a bit.  My mouth literally waters when I think about what it will be like to say, "I'll have another!" on January 1st.

And how, you might ask, will all of this end?

New Year's Eve with, oh, let's say 7-8 bottles of some special things I've been saving, as well as the rankest, most-ubiquitous macro lagers on the market, will round out the year.  

And then, at 12:01AM, the first of up to 24 Sierra Nevada Celebration IPAs.  Any bets on how many I can get through before the day ends?

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).


"Yes, VIRGINIA, There Is Bad Beer"

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DEAR EDITOR: I am 28 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no such thing as bad beer.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in BEER SIMPLE it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there bad beer?

VIRIGINIA O’HANLON.
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the optimism of an optimistic age. They do not believe in bad beer except they see a BA label.  They think that nothing can be bad which is local to their little palates. All palates, Virginia, whether they be beer geeks' or normals', are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his palate, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of hops and barley.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is bad beer. It exists as certainly as acid and fusels and oxidation exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its dullest mouthfeel and disappointment. Alas! how unrealistic would be the world in which there was no bad beer. It would be as unlikely as if there were no VIRGINIAS. It would take a childlike faith then, with no criticality, no objectivity to make rational this existence. We should have no credibility, except in ZIP code and neighborhood. The eternal foam with which beer fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in bad beer! You might as well believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch all the mash tuns on Brew Day to catch bad beer, but even if they did not see the pH coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees bad beer, but that is no sign that there is no bad beer. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the draft system and see what makes the bubbles inside, but there is a veil covering the bad beer world which not the strongest Cicerone, nor even the united strength of all the beer judges that ever lived, could tear apart. Only objectivity, palate training, education, social media pressure, polite feedback, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the infernal ugliness and gore beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else so real and abiding.

No bad beer! Damn Ninkasi! it lives, and it lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, it will continue to make sad the heart of adulthood.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

The preceding is a parody of an item you might recognize.  Its inspiration was in hearing aleholes constantly exclaiming "the best beer is the one in your hand!" and "there's no such thing as bad beer - it's all personal preference!"  There are lots of things that can be wrong in a beer that have nothing to do with personal, subjective preference.  You might enjoy hot alcohols, rampant goat-crotch funk, ash-tray-like phenols, and more - but that doesn't make what you like a "good" beer.  I can burn a steak black and say I like it that way, but it's still a bad steak by the collective agreement of all Christendom.

I don't write this to bring you down - I do it to highlight the joy we should take in the good beers of the world, and that we should appreciate them even when they're not to our taste, like how I appreciate the quality of a lot of Belgian Strong Ales even though I don't like to drink them! 

Drink GOOD beer, not just popular, trendy, or local beer.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).


Bring On the Pumpkin Beers

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I know it's fun to rip on pumpkin beers.  Hell, it's practically an annual tradition: too soon, too many, not really pumpkin-made, etc.  But you know what?  I really can't wait to see them taking over the taps this year, and the sooner the better.

Why?  Because for as much as we make fun of them, pumpkin (or pumpkin spice, or squash) beers have become, at least in my humble opinion, some of the better seasonal beers on the market, in a market where almost everything seems to be a seasonal beer (or an IPA...or both).  

It's September.  Bring on the pumpkin beers.

Changing of the Seasons

The "anti-pumpkin" crusades made a bit more sense to me when there were genuinely few seasonal beers on the market.  I don't mean one-offs or limited releases or beers generally made at a certain time of year, but actual seasonal beers.  Lately I've been seeing (in part thanks to my self-imposed no-repeat beer challenge for 2017) an impressive cavalcade of spring beers, summer beers, hop harvest beers, and more, all tuned to a specific available ingredient or seasonal affectation or condition.  In that context, it feels much more that pumpkin beers are simply a logical extension and progression and less like a kitschy gimmick.

Not only that, but the other seasonal beers aren't always well-tuned to the season in which they're offered.  A few weeks back I picked up a mixed "summer celebration" case from a major regional craft brewer, and the thing had a Pilsner (makes sense), two IPAs of 6.8 and 7.2 percent ABV, and a double IPA.  What are you "summer celebrating" there?  Alcohol poisoning and/or heat stroke?  

Say what you will about them, but at least pumpkin/spice beers are well-fitted to their season.  Temperatures start to drop, the beers get a little darker, and we all get that nice sense memory of pumpkin pie to get us primed for football and Thanksgiving.  Works for me.

An Island of Consistency

This is, admittedly, just my subjective interpretation, but it also seems that pumpkin beers are an island of consistency in the otherwise heaving, frothing maelstrom of beer quality.  

Last year I attended an event with about a dozen pumpkin beers available to taste and evaluate.  And you know what?  They were all at least OK.  None were exceptional.  But none were bad, either, and many were genuinely good.  

I've had to dump three beers in the last three weeks (the most recent a fruited Gose that tasted like it was brewed with straight seawater).  I'm ready for a little generic amber/brown ale with some obvious spice additions, even if it isn't the next "hot" thing.

At Least It's Not...

...fill in the latest craft beer trend.  Probably hazy IPAs.  Those damned things are everywhere, which at least might hopefully mean they'll disappear soon (except for the good ones, which with some luck the market might be able to sort out).  Pumpkin spice beers might be cliche and annoying, but you can't pretend they're trendy.  They're probably the most hated-on beer style in the world, and yet every September, back they come.

You gotta respect that.

So, it might not be a five-star, life-changing, Earth-shaking beer, but grab yourself a pint or a sixer of something with an orange label and a punny pumpkin name, and sniff deep.  

And know that the Christmas beers are right behind it.

Keep it simple.

JJW

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