A little while back in this very spot we discussed the difference between a beer geek and a beer snob. Shortly after that a thread appeared on a web site called Beer Advocate that really drove home this point. The thread dealt with “overrated” breweries. Interestingly enough it seemed that overrated in this instance meant any brewery that has achieved commercial success. Sure enough, as the thread grew in length virtually all of the top volume craft breweries showed up on the list. Bell’s was there, so was Abita, I saw New Belgium and Deschutes, and Boston Beer also made the list.
To add to the mind boggling nature of this thread, the smaller breweries that showed up were some of the very same ones that the same people were hyping up as recently as a year ago. Apparently in the beer business you can go from the next great thing, to one of the most overrated breweries in less than 12 months. In fact, one thing that is true of every brewery listed is that at one point they were the darling of the beer geek/snob community. It seems as if success breeds resentment with some members of that group.
Before we dig any deeper into this issue, I think the most interesting post in the whole thread came from Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head, the first brewery to make the “overrated” list. I give you here Sam’s response in it’s entirety:
It’s pretty depressing to frequently visit this site and see the most negative threads among the most popular. This didn’t happen much ten years ago when craft beer had something like a 3 percent market share. Flash forward to today, and true indie craft beer now has a still-tiny but growing marketshare of just over 5 percent. Yet so many folks that post here still spend their time knocking down breweries that dare to grow. It’s like that old joke: “Nobody eats at that restaurant anymore, it’s too crowded.” Except the “restaurants” that people shit on here aren’t exactly juggernauts. In fact, aside from Boston Beer, none of them have anything even close to half of one percent marketshare. The more that retailers, distributors, and large industrial brewers consolidate the more fragile the current growth momentum of the craft segment becomes. The more often the Beer Advocate community becomes a soap box for outing breweries for daring to grow beyond its insider ranks the more it will be marginalized in the movement to support, promote, and protect independent, American, craft breweries.
It’s interesting how many posts that refer to Dogfish being over-rated include a caveat like “except for Palo…except for Immort…etc.” We all have different palettes which is why it’s a great thing that there are so many different beers. At Dogfish we’ve been focused on making “weird” beers since we opened and have taken our lumps for being stylistically indifferent since day one. I bet a lot of folks agree that beers like Punkin Ale (since 1995) , Immort Ale (wood aged smoked beer) since 1995, Chicory Stout (coffee stout) since 1995 , Raison D’être (Belgian brown) since 1996, , Indian Brown Ale (dark IPA) since 1997, and 90 Minute (DIPA) since 2000 don’t seem very weird anymore. That’s in large part because so many people who have been part of this community over the years championed them and helped us put them on the map.These beers, and all of our more recent releases like Palo Santo, Burton Baton, Bitches Brew continue to grow every year. We could have taken the easy way out and just sold the bejeezus out of 60 Minute to grow but we like to experiment and create and follow our own muse. Obviously there is an audience that appreciates this as we continue to grow. We put no more “hype” or “expert marketing” behind our best selling beers than we do our occasionals. We only advertise in a few beer magazines and my wife Mariah oversees all of our twitter/Facebook/dogfish.com stuff. We have mostly grown by just sharing our beer with people who are into it (at our pub, great beer bars, beer dinners, and fests) and let them decide for themselves if they like it. If they do we hope they tell their friends about. We hope a bunch of you that are going to EBF will stop by our booth and try some of the very unique new beers we are proudly bringing to market like Tweason’ale (a champagne-esque, gluten-free beer fermented with buckwheat honey and strawberries) and Noble Rot (a sort of saison brewed with Botrytis-infected Viognier Grape must). One of these beers is on the sweeter side and one is more sour. Knowing each of your palettes is unique you will probably prefer one over the other. That doesn’t mean the one you didn’t prefer sucked. And the breweries you don’t prefer but are growing don’t suck either. Respect Beer.”
Lengthy I know, but it really drives home the point. Respect Beer. When I started writing this I wanted to drive home the absurdity of calling some of these breweries overrated, and perhaps I still do. I wanted to give you different opinions from the mouths of the brewers, but each one I spoke with, small or large, national or local, pretty much said the same things Sam did. So that eliminated a good bit of the article. But I kept thinking about those last two words, “Respect Beer”, and I realized that ultimately, that is what needs to be done…Respect Beer. This by the way is also the tag line for the Beer Advocate web site, so the irony of the overrated breweries thread is even more apparent.
How do we do that? First is to accept the fact that all beer is inherently good. You may not like Coors Light, but those folks make a consistent beer every time no matter where or when they brew it. So respect that. Respect the fact that without these big guys, there would be no craft industry to be exploding right now. Oh and if you need more convincing, look at what their craft arm, Tenth and Blake, is doing with the Brewers Unleashed series (the Rye and Bourbon Barrel Aged Big Eddy Imperial Stout from Leinenkugel were both amazing). Rogue Brewing created a Voodoo Doughnut maple bacon beer that, in my opinion is an overly sweet, strangely enticing beer that I needed to try once but would never touch again. But I respect their effort; I respect them daring to do something so bizarre that most craft beer drinkers would laugh at them, and many have. Dogfish Head has made some pretty strange beers including a Chicha beer. This is a style from South America where the grain is not malted to release the starches to begin the brewing process. Rather the grain is chewed and the enzymes in the saliva prepare the grain for brewing. Weird, sure, but daring and worthy of respect. Especially when you know that Sam chewed the grain for this beer. Having had it at the Great American Beer Festival, I can say it was interesting, but not necessarily something I am ordering in my local bar.
So as you go through life, whether you are a craft drinker or a Miller High Life drinker, respect the folks that drink what you don’t, respect the breweries that make the beers you don’t care for. Realize that a beer isn’t bad just because you and your friends don’t like it. It just doesn’t hit your taste profile and that is okay. All beer can’t appeal to all people. Once that starts happening we move towards a more homogenized beer drinking society, brewers have no incentive to be creative and beer becomes less exciting. After that they may even start trying to regulate the internet and where will that lead? Okay that last sentence was my way of encouraging you to contact your congressman to tell him or her your feelings on the SOPA/PIPA bills being considered. Decisions are made by those who show up, so show up and be a part of your government. Back to beer mode. The last thing to discuss is the reaction on the Beer Advocate web site to Sam’s response. After he posted, it was almost an overwhelmingly positive outlook on beer and there were no overrated breweries anymore, and people loved everything. The End!
Cave Creek, Arizona