Beer and Pavement

10 American Craft Beer Myths

Posted in Beer by SM on December 23, 2011

I had a lot of fun responding to Ding’s list of ten American craft beer myths, but I figured that I should provide my own list. Ding’s was a pretty solid and engaging list in its own right. So, I will have to come correct with my own.

10. Higher ABV beers are just better.
I’ll admit that I fall under this myth’s spell from time-to-time. It’s that easy trap of “more is better” we Americans find ourselves in on a consistent basis. Then, after we’ve suffered through a nauseating night of thick, molasses-like beer product, shaking off the alcohol-induced blindness, we realize that reaching only for beers over 10% ABV is not always advisable. Conversely, we are often pleasantly surprised that the 6% beer in our hand might be the tastiest experience we’ve had in a long, long time.

9. Lower ABV beers demonstrate a brewer’s skill better than high ABV beers.
This is a big myth I’m seeing all over the beer blogosphere, particularly from beer purists. While I won’t deny that it takes a particularly skilled brewer to make a flavorful beer at 5% ABV or lower, I also won’t pretend that there’s no skill in making double the ingredients work in conjuring up a light and refreshing 9% beer. Let’s face it, there’s skill in brewing good beer that both allows you to drink all night and that puts you under the table with one sip. The point of these first two myths is that ABV really should have little to do with judging a beer, yet many enthusiasts and bloggers spend a lot of time on the subject.

8. Imperial stouts are the ideal pairing with chocolate desserts.
My favorite dessert beers happen to be imperial stouts, especially of the chocolate or bourbon barrel variety. However, when considering what pairs best with my chocolate dessert, the most ideal match is something that contrasts the chocolate. Beers such as lambics and krieks, brewed with tart fruits, make the best pairing with a rich chocolate cake. Why overwhelm and muddle the taste experience with more of the same? When we drink imperial stouts with chocolate desserts, it’s hard to tell where one taste begins and where the other ends. Pairing a cherry lambic with chocolate leaves no doubt.

7. The more hops, the better.
Although I am a huge hop head, I understand and respect constraint. I love Mikkeller’s 1000 IBU, but going that beer is incredibly balanced and nuanced. There can be too many hops in a beer. Aside from the overwhelming bitterness that can leave you cotton-mouthed, there can also be unintended consequences. Let’s take into consideration some of the bigger double and even so-called triple IPA’s out this year. Particularly those east of the Mississippi, there was a presence of onions and garlic in these highly-hopped beers. I don’t think this was due to brewer error. I just think there was something off about this past year’s hop harvest. When you’re dumping an enormous amount of an ingredient into any concoction, the  smallest off flavor will multiply exponentially. Besides, we need some malt in our beer-y diets now and again.

6. Bourbon barrels are nothing but awesome.
Here’s another trend in brewing that I actually like: bourbon barrel aging. However, I grow tired of every heavy beer tasting like bourbon. It seems to me that we could all cut out the middle man (beer) and just drink bourbon straight. This is something to which I am not opposed and have imbibed on many occasions (thanks to my bourbon whiskey and scotch drinking wife). Sometimes, it’s preferable to just drink beer or bourbon.

5. Bombers are a headache.
I’ve recently read a few rants over the economic failure and wastefulness of the bomber. While I cannot argue that the bomber is economically a better choice than the individual 12 oz. beer, there are other advantages that come with bombers. If you do the math, the bomber is ripping you off. The trouble is that many states, including this one, do not offer extensive sales in individual 12 oz. bottles. So, comparing the two bottle options is not usually applicable. (In MO, one has to buy at least three individual bottles that originate in six-packs.) What the bomber does better than any other delivery system is that it promotes the sharing of a beer with a friend. Sure, a big 11% imperial stout should be shared, but the 11 oz. each friend receives seems about right. If you’re not into sharing, the bomber is also ideal for one evening’s worth of beer as two is my usual number when not getting hammered on the holidays.

4. Anything with a cage and a cork is excellent, not to mention classy.
As with many a beer myth, this one is all about image. It’s not so much that beers that are corked aren’t good; it’s that capped beers aren’t sophisticated. Two of the classiest, highest-of-the-highbrow beers that I know and enjoy are Stillwater Artisanal Ales and Jolly Pumpkin (also of the artisanal ale varietal). These breweries brew beers that are perfect for a special dinner and/or occasion. Who needs a cork to be classy?

3. Craft beer must overtake wine.
Seemingly, American craft beer’s entire existence has been spent fighting for a spot on the table next to wine. Wine is seen as the classier, more apt to pair with food alternative to the blue-collar drink. Maybe that’s true for some, but we beer folk know better. Beer pairs better with food than any beverage. It has a range of complexity that wine just can’t duplicate. Still, the craft beer community feels it has to fight the myth that beer isn’t wine’s equal. Well, they’re not equal and neither are apples and oranges. Beer and wine are just different, not different in all the ways we’ve been taught by food and wine critics, etc., but different culturally, chemically, and nearly every other possible way one can imagine. Beer doesn’t need to surpass or even equal wine. Beer presents its own strengths at the dinner table, but it also contains the unique ability to go anywhere: the ballpark, rock show, fancy-pants dinner party, children’s birthday parties, etc. The zero-sum game between beer and wine just doesn’t exist and why should it?

2. One has to know the history of beer to truly appreciate its value.
Once again, I get the sentiment. I understand why the controversies over the Oxford Companion to Beer are so…well… controversial. However, I don’t think one has to know the full history of beer to appreciate what’s in one’s glass. Remember that first beer epiphany? Likely, you didn’t know that beer could taste that way. You probably had no clue as to what monks in Belgium do to pass their free time or that Asheville, North Carolina is a craft beer mecca. The true story behind the IPA probably had nothing to do with your first love affair with a big American IPA. The history of beer is important, but it shouldn’t override the enjoyment of great craft beer.

1. Breweries growing larger means their quality sinks.
I’m pretty anti-corporate around these parts, but that doesn’t mean independent businesses shouldn’t grow and expand. Several larger craft breweries  receive a lot of slack for expanding production. The argument is that the quality they produced as small breweries is lost in the expansion as they approach the size and production of corporate, rice-adjunct swill makers. I’m sorry, but no matter how many hotels and European breweries Stone Brewing Company builds, they will never make beer like BMC. The same goes for Fat Tire, Sierra Nevada, even Sam Adams. Despite some fatigue over these breweries and their ability to over-saturate the market, a lack of quality is not a quality these larger craft breweries share. If anything, growth has allowed them to experiment with new lines of beers and special releases. Would there be a Lips of Faith Series had New Belgium capped their growth? Would Stone be able to put out all those collaboration beers? Would Founders have ever released CBS in a bottle had they not expanded? The fact that these companies can grow in this economy proves that they are doing something right.

Now, poke some holes in my arguments in the comments and like me on Facebook. I’ll post a list of indie rock myths as soon. Stay tuned…

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6 Responses

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  1. Barleywhiner said, on December 23, 2011 at 8:46 am

    New Glarus Raspberry Tart is killer with chocolate desserts. Where did you hear about the Missouri law requiring the purchase of three out of six bottles? I’ve bought plenty of singles in Missouri. My fridge is getting filled with high abv bombers, because I can only drink them on the weekend. I was so happy when Boulevard came out with the little smokies.

    • Zac said, on December 23, 2011 at 11:15 am

      Sorry. The way I understand the law is that one has to buy three or more of 12 oz. beers that were not marked for individual sale. Yeah, I love the 12 oz. Smokestacks as well.

  2. a.m.d. said, on December 23, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    May I submit a request for a blog post for next year’s holiday season? I want you to go all indie Martha Stewart on how to wrap beer presents. I just wrapped a six pack and that sucker looks quite terrible. Anyway, I’m officially requesting a DIY/crafty post. And I’m talking really wrapped here, not sticking the beer in a bag and calling it a day.

    • Zac said, on December 23, 2011 at 1:33 pm

      I’d just wrap it in my belly, but this does make me want to suddenly run out and buy a sixer just so I can wrap it. The other route is to only give away bombers and just stick them in those wine bags, which goes against #3.

  3. jeffmenter said, on December 24, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Your arguments are sound. The only criticism I have is that I was totally unaware that some of these myths were myths.

    One myth I would tackle is the “there’s a time and place for all beers” canard that makes it OK to drink light adjunct American lagers on a hot summer day. I hear hardcore beer nerds say they drink BMC occasionally as if this gives them some kind of extra credibility or makes them appear open minded and less snobbish.

    I’d say this is horseshit. There are plenty of quality light beers available and there’s no excuse to drink crap.

  4. Alex said, on January 2, 2012 at 11:48 am

    Great post. I agree that imperial stouts with chocolate dessert can be overkill. I much prefer pairing them and barleywines with strong blue cheeses. Better contrast, IMO. I had some Stranahan’s-barrel Yeti with smoked Blue cheese over the holidays, and it blew my mind.

    Beer and wine really are two different animals, but I do think it’s fun to compare how they work with the same foods. I recently attended a beer vs. wine cheese pairing event, where six different cheeses were paired with appropriate wines and beers by a cicerone and a sommelier. Participants then voted on whether they liked wine or beer better with each cheese. I went in with the idea that beer would win every matchup, but my votes were evenly split at the end of the night. Beer ended up winning, but it had to come down to a popular vote count. I’d highly recommend attending a similar event if one comes your way.

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