I have recently come across some thought-provoking and somewhat controversial topics in the beer world that I wanted to share. The three topics below seem to challenge accepted rules, trends and definitions. Included are links with more background information. After reading, please let us know your thoughts at the bottom of this post, in our forum, or on our Facebook page.
GREEN BOTTLES ARE BAD, OR ARE THEY?
Back when I was in college, we reserved the green-bottled import beers for special occasions. When I had a few extra bucks, I’d spring for a sixer of “fancy” beer from Holland or Germany (i.e., Heineken, St. Pauli Girl, Beck’s, etc.). Those beers always had a skunky quality, which I incorrectly attributed to intended hop character. At low levels I actually enjoyed the funkiness, but sometimes it was overpowering and I was forced to choke it down. Looking back, I think I appreciated those beers more for their uniqueness than for their actual flavors. When I finally tasted an untainted version in Europe, I thought I was served the wrong beer.
Beer 101 – backed up by lots of hard science – tells us that brown bottles offer some light protection, but clear and green bottles offer virtually no protection. Even with this knowledge, many imports refuse to ditch their signature green bottles because they have become part of their brands. (As an aside, some beers are made with hop extracts that contain no isohumulones, so they do not become lightstruck, even in clear bottles.) Some European breweries, however, especially lambic brewers (Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, etc.) and saison brewers (Dupont, Fantome, etc.), have been packaging in green bottles for many years with great success.
Now, in an attempt to emulate those breweries from Belgium and France, some U.S. breweries are intentionally bottling their beers in green bottles, in the hopes of introducing an extra layer of funkiness into their saisons and sour ales.
This article from All About Beer Magazine explains things in greater detail.
Personally, I’m all for brewers experimenting, pushing the envelope and challenging conventional wisdom, and this is a perfect example of that.
I’m sure some Beer Geek Police will try and bash this whole thing, but they should know that these brewers are putting saisons, wild beers and sour ales in green bottles, none of which are brewed with high levels of hops (some are even brewed with aged hops). So it’s not like they’re putting IPAs or pilsners in green bottles, which I would be vehemently against.
Empirical evidence from Jester King Brewery owner Jeffrey Stuffings and others suggests that something positive is going on in the green bottles – beyond light cleaving off free radicals from hop molecules. Could light be reacting with Brettanomyces or bacteria and creating new flavors?
WILL GROWLERS FADE AWAY?
In recent years, growlers have exploded in popularity. Growler-filling stations and taprooms have sprung up everywhere, including unlikely places such as grocery stores and gas stations. Plus, the market is now flooded with all sorts of growler accessories and gadgets. But is it all just a fad? And is it sustainable?
Growlers are nice because they allow beer lovers to enjoy fresh draft beer at home (or wherever) in a portable, reusable and sustainable vessel. But on the flipside, they’re a hassle to keep clean, they’re clunky, they’re breakable, they require pre-planning (because you have to remember to bring it with you) and they don’t allow for impulsive beer purchases. Growler beer also has a limited shelf life (which isn’t a problem for me, but some complain about this).
This article suggests that the growler fad will fade, and I tend to agree. Of course, I don’t believe growlers will completely disappear, as I believe they have their place (and I still occasionally get one filled), but I don’t believe people will continue to use them as much, and I don’t believe growler-filling stores will be as prevalent.
My biggest qualm with growlers is how much more expensive they are to fill compared to the equivalent amount of canned or bottled beer. The standard 64-ounce growler holds a bit less than a 6-pack of beer, which amounts to 72 ounces. Growler fills often cost $10 to $15 (or more for some beers), which ends up being much more – ounce for ounce – than your average 6-pack. Because you’re essentially buying in bulk and saving the brewery lots of money on packaging and shipping, you’d think growler fills would cost half as much, but for some reason that savings isn’t passed on to the consumer.
When I first started buying growlers, most fills were about $8, and I thought that was kind of high. Now the average rate seems to be around $12, which is high, in my opinion.
SHOULD WE DROP THE ‘CRAFT’ TERM?
There seems to be a growing movement to drop the “craft” from “craft beer.” Ariana recently wrote about it and brought up some great points. We also asked you what we should call it, if not craft beer.
The definition of craft beer means something different to every person, and opinions seem to be continually adjusting. As a result, consensus is fading and lines are becoming blurred. Meanwhile, the Brewers Association has to keep tweaking its definition to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape. Is Elysian a craft brewer? How about Yuengling? Or Lagunitas? Is Sam Adams Boston Lager still a craft beer? What about Blue Moon?
If you’re in the camp of people who think we should drop the term “craft,” how do you differentiate between small and independent breweries that make relatively small batches of beer from multi-national breweries that appeal to the lowest common denominator drinker and put profit above just about everything else? How do you differentiate between full-flavored, all-malt beers as opposed to industrial light lagers that are dumbed down with adjuncts such as corn and rice?
This is why an efficient, single-word qualifier, such as craft, indie or whatever we finally decide on, comes in so handy.
Many years ago, “craft” replaced “micro,” and if “craft” ever gets dropped, I’m sure another word will just take its place. And then a movement will probably rise up to drop that word, too.