2011 was a monumental year for craft brewing, which saw overall beer sales down but sales within the craft industry increasing like never before. Craft was like a metaphorical Robin Hood taking money from the deep, evil corporate pockets of the AB InBevs and MillerCoors of the world and putting it back into the brewing community. 2011 also saw more independent breweries opening or being scheduled to open than any other time in recent history. The homebrewing community also became more popular than ever, with people of all ages and walks of life taking a genuine interest in how their beer is made. 2011 was a great time to be an Alehead. All that being said, 2011 was not without its disappointments in the brewing world, from once local hero breweries sidling up to the corporate teat, to marketing campaigns that insulted consumers, to the never ending pissing contest of gadgetry in the light beer world, I give you dear reader, the year in disappointments.
1. Goose Island Sold to AB InBev.
Long a cornerstone of Chicago, Goose Island produced some solid everyday beers (Honkers Ale, IPA, Matilda), some not so solid beers (312 Wheat Ale, Green Line Pale Ale) and some interesting and delicious experiments (Pepe Niro, Night Stalker & Bourbon County Stout). They were the label that came to mind when you heard the phrase “Chicago craft brewery,” and my bi-yearly trips to the Windy City always ended with me shelling out $25 to check my suitcase at O’Hare, as it was teeming with the latest and greatest Goose Island limited releases that had to be experienced by my crew of ne’er do wells back in LA. It is this sense of connection and loyalty shared by many drinkers of Goose Island’s ales that made the news earlier this year of their purchase by AB InBev, aka the Brazilian Plague, feel like a knife in the back of anyone who supported them. The “official release” stated that this was the best way to grow to meet demand and that the product and their relationship with the good city of Chicago won’t change. While we may be constantly drunk, we aren’t stupid. AB InBev is in the business of profit, first and foremost. They would bottle yak pee, slap a color changing label on it and spend a billion dollars on ads to market it if the FDA allowed them to do so. I’m even willing to bet that most people on their Board don’t even drink beer, as if they did drink beer they would be too ashamed of themselves to soldier on and would have already committed seppuku with a mash paddle beneath a giant “Grab some Buds” banner. Remember, they were the pioneers who decided to add rice to beer in the first place, so clearly they know a thing or two about maintaining quality at the expense of shareholder profits. Goose Island, we had some wonderful times together, but it is time for me to move on. I simply don’t believe that the corporation that has singlehandedly done more to ruin beer and make things difficult for the American beer entrepreneur cares about you, your employees, or your city…and I don’t want to spend my money to support anything affiliated. My Chicago based benders will now be fueled by Revolution and Half Acre.
2. The Major Brewer’s continuing disdain for their customer’s intelligence.
Remember the classic Simpson’s episode “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy,” where Lisa, not liking the message that Malibu Stacy was conveying to young girls, spends countless hours developing a “Lisa Lionheart” doll that carries a positive message. Buzz circulates and kids can’t wait for the doll, yet at the last minute the shills at Malibu Stacy roll out the same Malibu Stacy doll, now with a “new hat,” and the kids don’t know any better and ignore the product of Lisa’s hard work. I can’t think of a more appropriate metaphor for the current state of major brewers, in that rather than innovate or improve their products, they subject the drinking public to a “new hat” every few months. Everything from labels you can write on to cans that tell you when your beer is cold…and super cold. 2011 even saw the infamous “wifebeater” getting a “chalice can” treatment.
Ignoring the obvious problems here (encouraging people to write on their beer bottle using their car keys!!??), these half-assed “innovations” are corporate marketing and laziness at it’s absolute worst and are clearly an insult to the intelligence of those who consume this stuff. If you need a can to tell you that your beer is cold or need to feel classy as you fish a cold Stella from your icebox, or you need a shit-ton of Bud Light with a writeable label to get the number of that girl that you’ve been eyeing, your problems go deeper than the beer you are drinking. If you are a billion-dollar corporation and you need to rely on gadgets to sell your product, rather than innovation and the product itself, then you should set fire to all of your breweries with bourbon barrel kindling and humbly sacrifice the boardroom blowhards that encourage this stuff to Dionysus.
3. The “If its craft it must be good” mindset.
There is nothing worse than dropping $10-20 on a limited edition bottle to save for a special occasion only to be absolutely disgusted with the product when you get around to drinking it. This happened to me a few times this year and as has been discussed here before, it would seem that as the craft beer movement gets more and more popular, quality control standards are becoming less and less important, especially in the one-off releases. While most folks will try any brewery once, the key to surviving in a tough business such as brewing is loyalty, the ability to create products that keep consumers coming back. While wacky, off-the-wall beers are fun, let’s be honest, they aren’t going to warrant a purchase more than once and a bad experience with one can forever sour an Alehead’s perspective on a brewer. A few such cases I experienced in 2011:
Hoppa the Younger brought back a bottle of this for me from MD, which ran him about $14. This blueberry and blackberry fermented golden tasted less like beer and more like something that would have been better off smeared on toast. Clearly an experiment gone horribly wrong that in my opinion should have never been bottled. I had this in August and it has managed to scare me away from anything else Dogfish Head since.
I brought this back from Chicago and paid a hefty $20 at Binny’s for the privilege of owning it. It came in a beautiful box, similar to those which house the Firestone Anniversary ales, but any similarity stops there. I brought this out of the cellar for my birthday and got about two sips in before I was too disgusted to carry on and wished for my $20 back. Think barrel aged Dayquil, but sweeter and less appealing and you are on the right path. I’ve had many other Southern Tier ales so I know they are capable of doing better, but this was a $20 disappointment that I have no desire to relive.
I have a lot of respect for Stone and enjoy the hell out of (most of) their releases, but this beer brewed with Anaheim chiles and cinnamon failed miserably to capture my fancy, instead resembling a watered down mild chile salsa that someone dumped some weak cinnamon into & topped off with a pale lager. Did about three sips and down the drain it went before I turned back to old faithful Oaked Arrogant Bastard. I have a real problem with chile beers in general, as I have yet to find an example that tastes halfway decent, and I have tried many. A lot of people have been defending this and accusing those who don’t like it of not being “open-minded” enough, but I challenge anyone to defend this beer and explain in an articulate manner why it is good. I consider myself very open-minded when it comes to beer and will try pretty much anything that won’t (permanently) blind me and this crossed the line.
There you have it folks, my take on what ground my gears in 2011. 2011 also saw many spectacular releases from breweries new and old, but that will have to be another post.