At his blog “Desperately Seeking Session Beer,” Ken Weaver posted a really interesting interview with Dan Carey of New Glarus. The interview was supposed to focus on the Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart (which fit the definition of session beer laid out by Lew Bryson’s Session Beer Project, whether or not they really are sessionable beers), but much of the interview is spent looking at the state of the craft beer world as a whole. There are quite a few interesting opinions and revelations. The first of which is that the next unplugged beer will be an Abt:
“We’re making an Abt. Our next Unplugged will be an Abt, like St. Bernardus or Westvleteren 12, something like that. We’re going to be brewing that here in a few weeks, and that’ll be released in August.”
I thought that the Unplugged Quadruple they made a few years back was pretty good, but really intense. I’m excited to see what their Abt will be like.
Most of the interview focused on something that comes up a lot in conversations with beer geeks: whether “extreme” beers are a good or bad thing for craft beer in general. Dan seems to lean more toward session beer, making some interesting observations about craft beer sales and how extreme beer fits into the market:
“The easiest way for me to say it is, is the extreme beers are doing an important job for the beer business by forcing the medium up. Thirty years ago, a pale ale with 30 IBUs – that was like, woah, this is woah, this is, this is like way out in left field, this is, this is crazy beer. Now we have people who are pushing 100 IBUs and god knows what percent alcohol, so what that does is it pushes the medium up. Although the average person is never going to go for a 100-IBU beer, because these people are pushing the extreme, now the average person who was raised on Coors Light is drinking a 30-IBU beer and liking it. And so I think it’s a good thing.” I never would have thought about extreme beer in this way, but it makes complete sense.
There is one point Dan makes on which I disagree, or at least don’t agree completely, and that I bring up because similar sentiments have been made by many other people at one point or another:
“The problem with Ratebeer.com and BeerAdvocate is that you get this little snapshot, that people will drink a glass of beer sitting around in their underwear in front of their computer, and you have to scream really loud to be heard, but beer is not meant to be drank that way. It’s a social beverage, and something that you sit around with friends and enjoy. So personally, I don’t want to drink a 9% alcohol beer. Anything over 5 or 6 ounces, I can’t take it, I can’t buy a 22-ounce bottle of 9% alcohol, because I’m going to dump about two-thirds of it down the drain because there’s no way I could drink it.”
This is a very common complaint about the craft beer movement, and one that, setting aside underwear-clad internet-screamers, I can’t really understand. Beer obviously has an important place in larger social situations. At the bar-b-q or the baseball game or the family reunion, beer is, as Kirby Nelson would say, an adjunct to the enjoyment of life. This is one of the things that beer can do, but it’s not the only thing. It can be a beverage that you enjoy without thinking too much about it, or it can be something you analyze and scrutinize. It doesn’t have to be taken seriously, but it can be. Writing off hard-core beer geeks who write reviews and trade beers and take pride in having tasted all of the top fifty beers on rate beer, or whatever it may be, ignores the fact that these internet interactions with like minded obsessives are social interactions, albeit non-traditional ones. And while you may not want to drink a whole 22 oz 9 percent abv beer by yourself, sitting in your living room with a couple of beer geek buddies enjoying that bottle can be a great social experience.
Whenever I hear people say something like “beer is about enjoying a few pints with friends and family on a cool summer evening with the breeze blowing through the trees and bla bla bla…” I always think yes. I love doing that. That is one great thing that beer can do. But it’s not the only thing. It’s far too dynamic a beverage to be shoehorned into only one use, and ignoring or writing off everything else is a bit dismissive. And while this interview focused on all the positive aspects of session beers, of which there are many, I feel like the man who chose to brew an Iced Barley Wine probably agrees with me.