The brewer gave me a loathsome, disdainful look as he handed me a three ounce pour of the IPA I had chosen as my first drink at the Atlantic City Beer Festival that Saturday night. Perhaps it was my shirt, which read “I’m Really Starting to Hate Craft Beer – Doesn’t Taste Good, Too Many Calories” that may have offended him in some way.
Of course, I didn’t actually mean it – I’m at a beer festival to drink as many different possible beers as my stomach could allow in order to boost my Untappd credibility. That's the only reason to go to these things, right? But after an hour of tasting I was beginning to wonder just how ironic my shirt really was.
There has been a bit of a shift in craft beer recently with a major boom of new breweries competing for precious space on the shelves of distributors and on the taps of bars. The number of unique choices available to the average beer connoisseur has never been higher.
Perhaps I’m spoiled by just how many choices there are, but it seems as though this competition has moved brewers to push the envelope just a little too far in the (perhaps) misguided attempt to stand out. Aggressively explosive hop bombs, unnecessarily spicy hot pepper beers, and overly sweet bowling ball heavy stouts have overshadowed simpler styles.
Each stall was full of palate wrecking brews that seriously made me reconsider if the 25 pounds I’ve put on since I’ve gotten into craft beer was worth it.
My curmudgeonly attitude toward alcohol continued throughout the night and after chowing down on an absolutely abominable smoked pork roll sandwich, one of the featured dishes from walking meme Guy Fieri’s casino restaurant, I had a realization: What Fieri has been doing to food, so have some brewers to beer. As they try to up the ante of taste at the Flavortown Casino, they’ve lost focus on what makes beer drinking an enjoyable pastime.
It was something I had never tasted before.”
Beer is allowed to be weird, don’t get me wrong.
One of my favorite breweries in the world is Carton Brewing Company, located a few blocks away from the Atlantic Ocean. While they make the occasional small batch odd brew, such as a beer that tastes like barbeque rub or Deli, a beer brewed with pastrami spices, they also full time make 077xx and Boat, a well balanced East Coast Double IPA and session ale respectively.
This balance is lost on many and I fear that craft beer is worse off for it.
As the night wound down, I found myself at Stone Brewing’s stand, located by the exit of the convention hall. Ironic, as Stone was my first foray into craft beer.
10 years ago in college was the first time I was introduced to “real beer,” beyond just Natty Light. My friend Tim, the self-proclaimed Beer King of Scranton, PA, handed me a Stone Brewing Arrogant Bastard and it blew 21 year old me away. It was something I had never tasted before – complex malty and hoppy flavors my young palate didn’t appreciate or even fully understand at the time.
This one beer put me on the path of enlightenment toward trying to parse the language of the flavor of beer and I thought to myself that retrying this classic would give me my alcoholic version of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past – a reminder and retelling of my life in the past decade; a fond bittersweet reminisce of who I was then and who I am now.
Expecting to drink a pinecone, I was instead struck by its simplicity and drinkability.”
The Stone Brewing representative handed me my pour, the same dark reddish brown hue so familiar to me. I took my sip and while it wasn’t bad, I wouldn’t say it was necessarily good, either. Ten years ago, Arrogant Bastard was considered a weird, inaccessible beer to the point where the, well, arrogant labeling proudly states that most people wouldn’t be able to appreciate it.
That day, it was just another beer.
A few weeks before the event, I was lucky enough to acquire a bottle of Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, long considered to be the pinnacle of the West Coast style IPA. I was worried when I drank it that the years of hype and anticipation would ruin it yet my expectations were opposite of what I ended up drinking. Expecting to drink a pinecone, I was instead struck by its simplicity and drinkability.
In the grand scheme of things, beer styles have progressed past my original palate. My tastes have changed, I have grown up, the enjoyments of the past don’t necessarily line up with what I find delicious now. Every new beer (and for that matter, old beer) should probably be met (or re-met) anew, with this new understanding of my own tastes.
I was not prepared for a beer drinking existential crisis arriving to the Atlantic City Convention Center but I sure found one walking out into that night.
My shirt was wrong – I wasn’t starting to hate craft beer. I simply needed to be open-minded once again.
Thanks to Remo Remoquillo for the header illustration.