Three styles good?

At the end of last year the blog hoster, Posterous, was consumed by Twitter and users of the service, myself included, needed to make other plans.  Much pain & grinding of teeth was involved and just last week normality felt like it was being restored when I reconnected with one of my original ‘Follows’ in the beer blogosphere, Malt Jerry.  He’d posted a piece on Fuller’s ‘Frontier Craft Lager’. Jerry writes thoughtful pieces with interesting angles on topics. In this case the bait that hooked the fish was the wriggling worm of a web forum where the question was asked if Fuller’s should brew lager. Responses included, “Why in the world … would they choose to brew an inferior type of beer?” and, “No. Leave the chemical beers to chemical brewers.”

Elsewhere, there will be voices that are pro lager. What the comments underlined was how, once perceptions are built, they are difficult to shake.  To summarise a whole category with a headline like ‘lager = chemicals’ is patently wrong, but it only takes one turd in the swimming pool to stop you swimming, as an old boss of mine liked to say.   And we seem to be in a critical period now when ale is both rebuilding its reputation but also becoming anchored to associations that may in time, prove to make its growth more difficult.

Which is where we find ourselves today, a category classified broadly threefold:  a ‘everyday’ (bitter? Pale Ale?), an ‘IPA’ and a ‘golden’ – and brewers following the money. I find myself pondering whether a category defined by these three styles – at a drinker level not a beer connoisseur level – is an advantage or a disadvantage.  Commercially, it’s a good thing.  Too often, small brewers fragment their range to such a level that they end up with un-commercial brew lengths and stock issues, write-offs and a declining spiral around beer quality.  Reputationally, it’s a worry. If ale is to continue to grow – both in scale and in renown, then it needs to be a broad, encompassing school – catering to those who ‘know what they like’ and happy to drink in depth across those styles, and those who continue to experiment and discover, who we must ensure are not put off by the conventions being established today. ‘Black IPA’ is a case in point:  the for : against debate centreing on the apparent contradiction of whether a ‘pale’ beer can be ‘black’.  Rather, the debate should be on how we can establish this new exciting beer style into the lexicon of ale and help it be part of its continued growth – and more to the point, protects its reputation from future assessments similar to ‘chemical beer’.

©Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2013

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