Session #80 – Is Craft Beer a Bubble?

On the first Friday of every month, beer bloggers from around the world all write their own perspective about a single topic, as chosen by a monthly host. As this month’s host, I have chosen the top to be “Is Craft Beer a Bubble?”

I’m going to take a local approach to my answer and talk specifically about craft beer in Ontario.

Let’s start with numbers. There are 31 breweries in the Ontario Craft Brewers Association, the newest of which are Ramblin’ Road Brewery Farm of La Salette and Sleeping Giant Brewery of Thunder Bay, and there are a few more craft breweries in the province that don’t belong to the OCB. The total number is probably around 40.

For a comparison, Belgium, with a population less than that of Ontario, is served by nearly 200 breweries. Closer to home, Michigan, again with a smaller population than Ontario, has around 140 craft breweries, having grown from only 3 in 1991.

The incredible growth rate in Michigan is representative of the US as a whole – in the 1970s there were less than 100 breweries in the States, including the BMCs, while today there are over 2,500. This is an all-time record; the number had previously peaked at a little over 2,000 before Prohibition.

Clearly, if we take the States as a comparison (and I think it’s fair to do so), a craft beer bust is not imminent in Ontario. If anything, the boom here is just getting started.

Keep reading…

Session #80 – Announcement

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday, is an activity where beer bloggers from around the world get together (not literally) to write their own perspective on a single topic. Each month, the Session is hosted by a different beer blogger, and I will be taking my turn for Session #80, on Friday October 4th.

Session #80 – Is Craft Beer a Bubble?

It’s a good time to be in the craft beer industry. The big brewers are watching their market share get chipped away by the purveyors of well-made lagers and ales. Craft breweries are popping up like weeds.

This growth begs the question: is craft beer a bubble? Many in the industry are starting to wonder when, and more importantly how, the growth is going to stop. Is craft beer going to reach equilibrium and stabilize, or is the bubble just going to keep growing until it bursts?

I look forward to reading everyone’s opinions about this. I have an opinion of my own, of course, but you’ll have to wait until October 4th to find out which way I lean.

I’ll be sending out a reminder toward the end of the month. Make sure to leave your contributions as a comment here or send them to @derekgharrison on Twitter to be included in the round-up.

IPA: What’s the Big Deal?

Happy Beer Blogging Friday! This month, Justin from his eponymous Brew Review wants beer bloggers to talk about the India Pale Ale, the best selling craft beer style, and have a crack at pinpointing why exactly it is so damn popular. “What is it about an IPA that makes craft beer enthusiasts (CBE) go wild?” asks Justin.

I’ve written about IPAs before, lending my two cents to the “Great Hop Debate” which briefly ignited after a now-infamous poorly written article suggested that “hoppy beers are awful.” I do think the popularity of IPAs is partially at the expense of other styles, a representation imbalance which often gives us many IPAs to choose from but only taken representation from some of the other styles.

But Justin doesn’t want to know whether the style’s popularity is a good thing or not, he wants to know how it got so popular in the first place. There are many valid answers, so it’s a good thing so many beer bloggers will be writing about this.

Keep reading…

Compulsion

It’s that time of month again – “The Session” – when beer bloggers around the world get together (not literally) and write about the same topic. This month’s Session is hosted by Glen at Beer Is Your Friend, and the topic is “Compulsion.”

Why do we do this? What is the purpose of Beer Blogging Friday? Why would anyone want to read dozens of beer blog posts about the same thing? What compels us to participate in The Session?

Sometimes I wonder if beer blogging is one big circle jerk. Is there anybody reading this who doesn’t have a beer blog of their own?

Keep reading…

Finding Beer Balance

On the first Friday of every month, beer bloggers around the world are invited to participate in The Session (aka Beer Blogging Friday). This month’s Session is hosted by Bryan at This Is Why I’m Drunk, and the topic is “Finding Beer Balance.”

What is balance in beer?

Short answer – I don’t know.

Long answer – Actually I do have an idea, but it’s vague and multifaceted and, rather than try to squeeze it into a twitter-sized sound-bite, it’s easier (and possibly more accurate) to say “I don’t know.” For the purposes of this article, I will try to express the long answer by taking you for a walk along my own personal road to finding beer balance.

From Pole to Pole

If I were to chart my taste in beer, it would begin very low on the graph, back in my teens when, as far as I knew, there were only two kinds of beer: mass-produced American-style pale lagers (MPASPLs) and Guinness. “Well geez,” I thought, “I know they say beer is an acquired taste, but this is just plain boring. Why would anyone go out of their way to learn to like this?” Still, Guinness is a good beer, and I’d drink it when it was available, but I’d opt for wine or hard liquor more often than not.

Then, when I had my first taste of something “different,” I realized that there is more to beer, and my taste entered the next stage. I jumped right past the middle of the graph and went straight to “extreme.” Coffee-porters, high-gravity beers, and of course, hop bombs.

I think the following is true of most craft beer drinkers in Canada – IPAs are what got us started. The first time we had a hoppy beer we were blown away. We didn’t know beer could taste like that. It was such a jump from bland, watery malt liquor to a flavourful, spicy/citrusy/flowery/grassy IPA. We wanted more.

IPA is the Gateway Craft Beer Style

Smashbomb Atomic IPAIPAs (and their relatives, APAs and hop bombs) are now the most popular style of beer after MPASPLs, and are far and away the leading craft beer style. The craft industry is built on the taste buds of craft beer drinkers. Craft beer drinkers in general, myself included, want IPAs. They are the gateway craft beer.

This is, in some ways, unfortunate, because a lot of people don’t like them. The reason why we like them is because we thought the mainstream lagers were bland and boring and wanted something more exciting. Hop bombs are made for people who like things extreme and in-your-face, hence the name. The problem with this is that when we see someone drinking a mainstream lager, we say “don’t you know there’s better beer out there?” and they go “yeah I’ve tried that craft beer crap, it’s like licking a lawnmower.” And they’re right. And it’s because hop bombs are wildly unbalanced.

Finding Beer Balance

Most people who gravitate toward craft beer at a young age jump right to the extreme, one reason being that it seems to be the diametrical opposite of the mainstream lagers. They’re choosing their side, carving out their territory – that’s what I did. But after some experimentation in the extremes at the top of the graph, my beer palate entered the third stage: balance.

I discovered that there was something more interesting than extreme beer, and that thing was quality. More and more I shunned the beers with violent names that did violent things to my tongue and grossed out my friends. I set aside my obsession with tasting as many different beers as possible in exchange for just drinking good beer. I realized that if I could only drink one beer for the rest of my life, I would choose a session beer, not a mind-bending drinking experience.

That’s how I found beer balance. There’s nothing better than a beer that hits all the right notes on your tongue. I think that’s something that craft beer drinkers and MPASPL drinkers would agree on.

The Point

As long as hop bombs remain the standard bearers of craft beer, they will keep turning people away at the door. They are a pompous bouncer, telling the lager-drinkers “You can’t come in if you can’t handle the heat.” Non-craft drinkers who aren’t actively searching for a beer that will surprise them are not going to like hop bombs. Maybe it’s time to start looking for a gateway beer that’s not designed to blow minds, but designed to open them, a little bit at a time.

Ultimately balance in beer is shaped by our experiences and varies depending on our palates, but I don’t think it’s entirely subjective. I think it’s possible to say objectively which beer between a given two is more balanced. And I think that, given time to adjust, mainstream lager drinkers and craft beer enthusiasts can find a place in the middle of the graph, between boring and extreme, where they both have to admit that beer is at its best.

Tweet Version

IPAs scare away people who might have been interested in craft beer. A good, balanced session beer has a better chance of convincing them.