I have to chuckle when I consider the arbitrary distinctions offered up by the craft brew crowd to distinguish themselves from their macro mainstream brethren. A good example of this can be found when a particular beer from a particular brewery is sought after and coveted. Bell’s Hopslam is one of those. A tasty offering that some enthusiasts consider the final word on great beer.
A sales representative was shocked that I was more modest in my assessment. I told the gentleman that Hopslam’s use of honey in the recipe provided fermented strength that simply would not be there without it. Besides, when it comes to honey beers, La Binchoise Biere des Ours, is, for myself, the world’s benchmark example. But then, how many craft beer drinkers in the United States have sampled the beer of the bear?
Then there is the use of adjunct grains, which, once upon a time, was considered a no-no, when purity, that is the German definition of using only the four ingredients (water, barley malt, hops and yeast) helped define what was considered good beer. Well that is no longer the case. Just ask Joe Kesteloot, head brewer at Peach Tree Brewing, in Knoxville, Iowa, who makes a Belgian-style ale using bushels of corn, called Cornucopia, in celebration of the Iowa sweet corn harvest. The key here is Belgian-style, since the Belgians use fruit, honey, candy sugar, and numerous spices in their creations. Reinheitsgebot does not exist in such circumstances, and many so-called cutting edge brewers in the U.S. feel the same way. Which is fine, but this does not change the fact that some of the world’s greatest beers, such as Aventinus and Fuller’s 1845 Ale, achieve their flavorful distinctions by using only the big four, where the strain of yeast, or proprietary house yeast, becomes incredibly important. Belgium’s Duvel was created by using a stolen yeast from Scotland. You might have thought that reverse engineering started with electronic devices, well think again.
The great beer writer James D. Robertson taught me long ago that when it comes to approaching beer, it is vitally important to meet the brew half way, without preconceptions.
So whatever the style, the final question is: does it taste good or not? The Alstrom Brothers founders of the web site Beer Advocate, certainly understand this, while some of the members there, not so much.
To paraphrase the late Justin Wilson: What kind of beer should you drink? The kind of beer you like!