CRAFT BEER IN 2015

Gose Approximately two years ago, Aleheads more or less ceased to exist. The reasons for this cessation of beerly wisdom-slash-inanity are legion. Babies were born, jobs became jobbier…Breaking Bad really started coming on strong. But if I had to point to one, critical tipping point, it’s that the Aleheads became jaded towards craft beer.

Now, I don’t mean to imply that we stopped liking beer…far from it. I love beer even more today than I did two years ago and I assume the same is true for my colleagues. What I’m trying to say is that when aleheads.com was born, we were dewy-eyed, wet-behind-the-ears, add-your-own-moisture-and-body-part-related-idiom naifs. Even for those of us that felt we had a decent handle on the whole craft beer movement, jumping feet first into the craft beer lake (ah, I knew I could come up with another one!) was bracing and exhilarating. Founding Aleheads gave us all an excuse to learn as much as possible about craft beer…who made it, how it was brewed, its history, its economic impact, etc.

It was a heady (topper) time to be an Alehead and at the risk of boasting, many of our crew truly captured the zeitgeist of craft beer as it existed five years ago. Doc’s old articles continue to bring in thousands of viewers years later. Slouch became the editor of a popular Pittsburgh craft beer publication and scored interviews with such brewing luminaries as Greg Koch and Tony Magee. Kid Carboy, the only true journalist of the lot, became the News Editor for Paste Magazine and now writes beer posts that pull in exponentially more viewers than we ever dreamed of in our pathetic little corner of the beer blogging world. Aleheads may have fizzled out, but at least some (one) of our crew went on to bigger and better things. As for the rest of us…we may not have a blog that has its finger on the pulse of craft beer these days, but I assume all of us have become the go-to beer experts in our respective lives. Most of my local friends (other than a handful of fellow Aleheads who have far surpassed me in beerly knowledge) look to me for advice on suds. I found a little craft beer niche for myself and fell into it easily. I stopped thinking about how to describe every beer I drank to our thousands (hundreds? dozens? Dad?) of readers. In truth, Aleheads didn’t seem to be an outlet I really needed anymore.

Which gets me back to my point (admit it…you missed my four-paragraph tangents). We became jaded not because we stopped loving craft beer, but because we were TOO immersed in it. Writing a craft beer blog was an utter joy when everything I learned about beer was new. The history of Witbiers? Fascinating! Let’s write a post about it. My first experience with a Black IPA…intriguing! To the Blogmobile, gents! But over time, that novelty and excitement wore off and I realized that instead of breathlessly describing every beer trip, every tasting note, every beer festival…I kind of just wanted to drink my beer. I stopped writing…we all did. I stopped recording my brews on Untapp’d (though that’s just me…Doc and Sudsy still do it religiously). I didn’t resent Aleheads or think it was stupid (I’m still awfully proud of this awful thing), but my need to shout to the world about how awesome craft beer is faded. Perhaps more importantly, the rest of the world didn’t really need a craft beer blog telling them that…

In 2015, craft beer has made it. There are THOUSANDS of breweries in the US now with many, many more in the pipeline. Beer styles, hop varietals, beer bars, and media attention to craft beer have proliferated in an unimaginable fashion. What need is there for Aleheads when everyone and their Mom are drinking Gose at the beach or sipping barrel-aged Imperial Stouts after dinner? Hell, even that backlash from Big Beer that we predicted so long ago came to pass with a woefully misguided Superbowl ad (an ad I didn’t really pay attention to when it aired because the actual game was destroying my nervous system). We initially started Aleheads to inform the world of our love for craft beer in the hopes of convincing others to climb aboard the craft beer bandwagon. That bandwagon now includes pretty much everyone in America (and yes, I know, Aleheads didn’t actually impact anyone…just allow me my flight of fancy).

So here we are in the middle of 2015 and I’d like to announce that Aleheads is returning. Not as it once was, of course. I doubt we’ll post as frequently. We may publish in fits and starts. And our focus won’t be on convincing the world of the importance of craft beer. That battle was fought, and won, by others (brewers mostly since they, you know, actually make the beer). I don’t imagine we’ll spend much time railing against Big Beer in the future…really, what’s the point? And I doubt we’ll waste any words on which brewery was bought up by which conglomerate or which is suing another for copyright infringement. Craft beer is so massive now that trying to keep track of the corporate shenanigans and legal gambits would make your head spin. Instead, we’ll be focusing on what really matters…the beer.*

*Also, stupid Photoshop articles and terrible Podcasts.

********************************

With all that said, let me discuss 5 things I’m loving about craft beer in 2015:

Finally...the one thing light beer had over craft, the ability to drink 20 of them, has been conquered!

Finally…the one thing light beer had over craft, the ability to drink 20 of them, has been conquered!

1. Session IPAs: Fine…the nomenclature is kind of dumb. Basically, these are just hopped-up pale ales…but I love the Session beer trend. Aleheads was birthed under the motto “They’re All Session Beers”, and while that may still be true to some degree, the Aleheads are now old (mostly on the wrong side of 30), have children to raise, and don’t enjoy suffering from hangovers. The ubiquity of low-ABV, hop-forward, tasty brews has been a godsend to those like me who want to quaff a few brews on a weeknight but don’t want to have to pay for it in the morning. Firestone Walker’s Easy Jack, Stone’s Go-To, Founder’s All-Day (love it!), Lagunitas DayTime and Ballast Point’s Even Keel have been lifesavers for me. I know there are some that argue against paying full-price for lower-ABV beer, but at my age, it’s not about the alcohol, it’s about the experience. I LOVE the session trend and I hope it insinuates itself into other styles beyond just IPAs. Session porters, session saisons, session coffee ales…there are already some out there, but I want more, dammit!

I don't know that I actually like Kvass, but I'm glad it's being revived. No beer style deserves to be forgotten.

I don’t know that I actually like Kvass, but I’m glad it’s being revived. No beer style deserves to be forgotten.

2. Style Resurrection: Much like Jurassic World, brewers have discovered that they can make a killing reviving extinct beer styles. While such styles as Mild, Kvass, Sahti and Berliner Weiss have all made huge comebacks, it’s Gose which has really been the bellwether for this trend. I had my first Gose not two years ago…it was from Westbrook and it was sensational…like alcoholic pickle juice. Now, there have to be two dozen Goses on my package store shelves and I’ve had a ball trying every new one that arrives. Some are great…some terrible, but it’s a totally new flavor profile which this jaded ol’ beer snob appreciates. And sure, none of these styles ever TRULY went away. But they’re practically mainstream now…and that’s a great thing.

Prairie's Bomb series is, dare I say it...the bomb. I'll see myself out.

Prairie’s Bomb series is, dare I say it…the bomb. I’ll see myself out.

3. Non-Traditional Barrel-Aging: Mostly I’m speaking of the use of tequila barrels to age beer. Gimmicky or no, I had about a dozen tequila-barrel aged beers on my last trip to Fort Collins and they were all spectacular. Also, Prarie’s Pirate Bomb aged in rum barrels. More of this.

I had my doubts, but like all things Ballast Point, this one's great. Also, I dig the use of the octopus to represent a many-armed Hindu God. Unless that's offensive, in which case I denounce it.

I had my doubts, but like all things Ballast Point, this one’s great. Also, I dig the use of the octopus to represent a many-armed Hindu God. Unless that’s offensive, in which case I denounce it.

4. Insane Adjuncts: Not so long ago, this blog spent thousands upon thousands of words bashing Sam Calagione for his seemingly insatiable need to throw everything but the kitchen sink into his beers. What’s wrong with just brewing solid, well-crafted, true-to-style beers we would shout? Today, my tongue has been so beaten down by the thousands of competent but cookie-cutter IPAs and each-the-same-as-the-last barrel-aged Imperial Stouts that I all but beg for novelty. Ballast Point’s Indra Kunindra with traditional Indian spices? Sign me up. Stone’s Chai Spiced Imperial Stout? Why not. Imperial Stouts with chili peppers, vanilla, coffee, cacoa nibs, cinnamon, etc…I’m not made of stone! Sure, many of these are garbage (hence our harsh words for Dogfish Head in the past), but these days if it looks odd or unusual, I’ll usually take a flier on it. And then I’ll go back to crushing a sixer of Session IPA.

Delicious

I avoided this beer like the plague because the gluten-free trend has gotten out of hand, but damned if this beer wasn’t as advertised!

5. Hops! Hops! Hops!: Equinox, Cashmere, Yakima Gold, Polaris…Lemondrop (the primary hop in Stone’s surprisingly tasty gluten-reduced Delicious IPA). New hop varietals are sprouting up as frequently as new weed strains (their botanical cousins). While I may have just waxed poetic about adjuncts, in truth, there’s nothing more exciting to this Alehead than cracking into an IPA featuring a heretofore unknown (to me anyway) hop varietal. It’s absolutely incredible what this versatile little strobile can do.

Alehead Nation…I hope you’re willing to let us back into your busy lives. I’m sure you’ve found other blogs or on-line outlets (like Paste Magazine!) for your craft beer fix. I can’t promise we’ll say anything profound or informative (I know…why start now?), but it’ll be nice to reconnect with all of you again over this thing we all love…a nice glass of beer.

So tell us…what are you loving about craft beer in 2015?

Barley

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20 comments

  1. San Diego county will have 147 operating breweries by the end of this year, seems like every single one of them is brewing a sour beer this year.

    1. Doc and I tried to hit as many as we could when we visited you, Czar, and we barely made a dent. San Diego is Alehead Heaven…

      Any newcomers to the scene that you strongly recommend?

      1. Jimmy Hoppa · · Reply

        I was down there a few weeks ago. Barrel Harbor and Belching Beaver are a must visit, as is Modern Times and Hess if in San Diego city proper.

  2. I’ll tell you what I’m not loving in 2015:

    The fact that we still can’t go to a brewery and get a growler in Alabama.

    1. I feel you Drew. You still can’t buy beer at a brewery in any shape or from in Mississippi. My brewery is missing out on $250k in revenue this year because of it.

    2. Agreed, Drew. Although, in my dotage, I find myself siding more and more with Garrett Oliver in regards to growlers. I don’t really like ’em. It really is like getting take-out from a great restaurant…it just loses something in the transition. I much prefer a draft at the bar or a bottle-pour at home.

      That said, the fact that you can’t buy beer direct from the source in ‘Bama (whether that be a sixer from Good People or a growler from TrimTab) is infuriating. We’ve come a long way in the Yellowhammer State, but we’ve still got a long way to go.

      1. I agree about the slight loss from the brewery to home, but for times when it’s not feasible to spend a large amount of time at the brewery (or you’ve just finished up at the brewery and want to take a growler home for people you’re meeting for dinner), it is wonderful to have that option.

  3. Glad to see you back. So, how would you guys like to finally try some Lucky Town beer? We now operate our own facility in Jackson, MS and are canning two of our year round beers while still developing and releasing new beers on draft. And it’s funny you mention Gose – we’re brewing our very first batch of Lucky Town Gose Gamblin’ today. Welcome back!

    1. Let us know what the response to the Gose is, Chip! Yes, the fact that I’ve lived in ‘Bama for 8 years and have never set foot in Mississippi is a borderline crime (pun clearly intended). I am SORELY overdue for a trek to Jackson. I did score a Lucky Town Pub Ale about a month ago and loved it! That’s an easy-drinker to say the least!

      1. Awesome, I’m glad you were able to try Pub Ale. Not many Southeast breweries have offered a mild ale (or Gose for that matter), but we’ve never been one to follow local trends. Let me know if you ever travel to Jackson – the food & beer scene here is quite special.

  4. Birmingsam · · Reply

    First off, welcome back!

    You speak for the people: sessions and gose are our go-to brews these days as well but the great thing with the expanded craft beer movement is when we travel we now really focus on the local flavor.

    “Back in the day” we used to get so starry eyed going out of state and finding Green Flash, Stone, New Belgium, Oskar Blues, Victory, Founders, Lagunitas, etc. that we’d hone in on those and drink them the whole time and that’s the majority of what our haul back to our deprived southern state would consist of.

    But now those “big” craft breweries are old news. We can get them whenever we want ’round these parts, save for a few (ahem, Firestone Walker). This has really led us to really seek out the local breweries with limited distribution, making vacations all that more fun. Some notables around our region are Wiseacre in Memphis, Wedge and Wicked Weed in Asheville, Four Hands in St. Louis, and Yazoo’s “Embrace the Funk” series only/mostly available at the brewery in Nashville.

    1. Preach on, Birmingsam. The Southeast may not equal SoCal or Colorado’s Front Range just yet, but it’s edging closer. And since California will run out of water soon, we may even surpass them in the not-too-distant future!

      Wicked Weed and Four Hands are killer and even the local Birmingham and Huntsville beer scenes are starting to get some national recognition. The artist-formerly-known-as Kid Carboy just wrote a great piece about the Rocket City beer world:

      http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2015/06/the-craft-beer-guide-to-huntsville-alabama.html

      1. I just checked to see if Jim wrote this piece on Mississippi, but it appears to be authored by someone else:

        http://www.pastemagazine.com/blogs/lists/2015/05/the-craft-beer-guide-to-mississippi.html

  5. Jimmy Hoppa · · Reply

    About damn time. I feel better about myself when I write about my frequent drinking, like I’ve accomplished something at the end of the day.

    1. I expect at least three posts a day, Hoppa. Agreed, it’s much easier to justify drinking 10 beers a night when you have to “write” about it.

  6. I traveled to Portland in April for CBC. Wow… walking from brewery to brewery was fantastic. That town truly supports their Oregon brewers with 80+% of taps being Oregon beers (and half of those were IPAs). Even the strip clubs had majority Oregon beers on tap. One stat they threw out at the welcome reception was that 58% of all draft beer sold (this includes macros, exports, all beer) in Oregon in 2014 was brewed in Oregon. Think about that for a moment.

    1. Oregon is utterly unique in terms of the cultural support for local craft beer. Maybe it’s Portland’s inherent “remoteness” from other major metropolitan areas…or maybe it’s just that Portland seems to be a completely separate country at this point. Regardless, I love that even the non-local brews come from, at furthest, Seattle or NorCal.

      And talk about world-class breweries! Cascade is just indescribably delicious. Hair of the Dog. Deschutes. Hopworks. Ninkasi. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a killer ale factory.

      What were you doing in a Portland strip club, Chip? Counting face tattoos and nipple piercings?

      1. Cascade and Commons were among my personal favorite breweries. The Hop & Vine, Green Dragon, and Apex were great beer bars too. I had a good conversation at The Hop & Vine with Larry Bell and had a chance to meet Chad Yakobson of Crooked Stave.

        Oddly enough, or perhaps maybe not so, there was a loosely planned but highly promoted beer pairing at a place called Sassy’s the first night we were there. When someone offers me an open bar with nothing but craft beer on tap, none of which I have ever had the pleasure of trying, I don’t ask silly questions about the type of establishment or their entertainment choices.

  7. Gramps McHops · · Reply

    Gramps McHops is thrilled way beyond his extremely limited knowledge of beer to be reading you again. I do know now to go all the way to the end of the shelves to get the ones you might like.

  8. Welcome back Boys! Twas a pleasure reading you again. 🙂

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