Are we really in a “golden age” of beer?

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5 December
12:19
December
2016

I’d like to think so. The beer that the industry is producing now is so innovative. We’re also using brewing techniques that nobody was thinking about ten or 15 years ago. People are now taking a lot of big risks in how they make their beers – some are working out, some aren’t – and it’s resulting in a fun time for the beer drinker. 

Those risks and techniques include the barrel-aging of beer; we’re using different yeasts outside of the ones traditionally used to really drive flavours, like Brettanomyces, which are wild or non-domesticated yeasts. As a result, we’re getting beers with intense apricot and pineapple flavours, and really cool characters in beer that we’ve never experienced as brewers. 

"This experimentation has been helped by the fact that consumers are now more open to different tastes."

It’s the same with hops: we’re learning about flavour. Some have a citrus character, such as Cascade, which is found in America. Others are earthy like German tannin, or floral like East Kent Golding and Fuggle from England. This experimentation has been helped by the fact that consumers are now more open to different tastes. I don’t like using the comparison to wine because it’s a very unique beverage, but like wine producers, beer makers are putting more emphasis on the farmer. 

We’re respecting the product coming off the land, rather than treating it as an intangible ingredient. That’s led to an understanding that the hops they’re giving us are evolving and changing, which means the taste of a beer can evolve and change too. People have been raised to believe that if you drink a certain brand of beer, each glass should taste the same. Now we’re more understanding of the fact that these tastes can vary, in the same way that wines of a certain style made by a certain producer can have a different vintage. 

There are also different growing regions, and we see changes within those regions from year to year, which means that a certain type of beer can evolve and change. We’re a long way from being at the same level as wine in terms of appreciation, but we’re getting there. Meanwhile people are open to trying new things. Consumers aren’t stuck in their ways on what type of beer they like to drink. 

"If customers weren’t willing to spend money and take risks on our creations, I don’t think we could experiment as much as we’re currently able to."

Creativity is high. In regions where there is a lot of art, music and culture, you can usually find good breweries alongside it all. And you’re seeing beer pairings with food as a concept. I remember five years ago I did one of my first beer dinners in Fort Collins, Colorado. They’d been popular in some of the major cities before then, but it wasn’t super common in Colorado and people were blown away by it. We were giving people IPAs with their dark chocolate, and they loved it; likewise more unusual combinations such as a stout with a fruity dessert. 

So consumers have developed diverse taste. They don’t want to go out and drink five pints of the same lager every night. They’re receptive to the creative push that brewers are going for. That’s what’s really driving everything. If customers weren’t willing to spend money and take risks on our creations, I don’t think we could experiment as much as we’re currently able to. 

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