Thursday, March 20, 2014

At What Point does a Special Release Just Become "Special"

I love a nicely done coffee beer, or even a beer with cocoa nibs added into the boil. There are some outstanding special releases out there that have unique combinations, but as the community grows brewers are doing crazier and crazier stuff. This leaves me wondering at what point have we gone too far?

In the 1500's the Germans created Reinheitsgebot, the German beer purity law. It dictated that beer could only contain water, malt and hops. At this time they didn't know about the existence of yeast, so that wasn't included to the rules until much later. This may sounds silly, but we have similar laws here in America defining Bourbon Whiskey. Just like with the American Bourbon specifications, the law was made to help regulate beer, its quality and its price throughout Germany. A lot of brewers believe that the Reinheitsgebot still have a big place in our craft beer culture, but the spirit of American individualism is all about pushing the envelope. At the other end of the spectrum are brewers have thrown the rules out the window and set the book on fire.

I love a lot of the beers with adjunct flavors. Some of my favorite beers that have added flavors are part of the Bourbon County series by Goose Island. They've added everything from coffee to coconuts and the beer tastes outstanding. One of the key points with this experimental beer is that the base beer is excellent. Goose Island took a lot of time creating a great beer, and then they thought about the flavors that would go well with the base beer and added them. Likewise, some of the variants at Flat 12's anniversary party were outstanding and followed that same model of building on a solid foundation of an excellent brew.

For every home-run, there are bound to be a few that strike out. Creating "extreme" beer has almost become more important than creating good beer and many breweries jump right into the crazy variants before they've mastered the basics of a great beer. If you've ever watched the show "Brew Dogs," they do some of the most ridiculous things to make a beer. One of the beers was made on a boat with flavoring herbs they picked on the shore. Sometimes the reactions from the crowd are good, sometimes not so good; but the beers never sound like something you want to drink over and over again. I know that Brew Dog makes some excellent beers and I would never claim that they don't know what they're doing, but they are making things for the sake of making them. It seems like we're pushing the boundaries for the sake of pushing boundaries.

Flat 12 just put a suggestion box in the brewery for people to submit ideas for unique beers. I have to be honest here, the idea of the general public creating flavor combinations scares the living shit out of me. I know the brewers will be able to veto really bad ideas etc., but to give that much power to people that aren't trained and are probably pretty drunk seems like a bad call. In contrast, Cartel Brewing Co on the west side has set up a "Customer Tap." This is one beer that will be available regularly that is chosen by the patrons of the brewery. It will give the people power but so far it has been limited to style choices on a survey put out through social media. We know they are planning on doing some creative beers, but so far they've made sure the general populace can't get too carried away.

When we look at things like crayfish beer, bacon maple doughnut beer and beer soured by men bathing in it we have to wonder where the line is. I know that if we don't push the boundaries we may never find the next great flavor. I just hope that brewers remember that their main job is to make a tasty product without unintended flavors and constant quality issues.

I love some of the unique combinations out there but as we continue to create the most extreme beers my question to the community is "what is too far?" Leave us a comment to let us know what you think.

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