A Plea for Subtlety
"One of the worst side-effects of the American craft beer
movement is that, in a desire to distinguish from bland industrial
lagers, the flavor scale has been tilted too far, and far too many
people think that for a beer to be good it has to bitch slap you with
-- Steve Jackson (no relation), on the USENET newsgroup
Never let it be said that I was scared by a beer.
Disgusted, perhaps, nauseated occasionally, but I have never come across a
beer that made me shiver and say, 'No, it's too much for me."
Umm...with the possible exception of a very young Thomas Hardy's Ale I had
back in the early 1990s. I was young, too.
Hoppy beers? Bring 'em on, I love 'em. Malt bombs?
Hey, I drink EKU 28 for laughs. Smoke, sour, funk, weiss-clove,
roasted barley, I've done it all, and smiled. I don't think that makes me
anything particularly special, I just like those beers. Lots of people
Lots of beer enthusiasts, that is. I've seen them
line up for barleywines, rush a brewer's table for a massively bitter IPA,
mark off the days on their calendars till a huge Belgian-type ale comes
on-line. I've heard them rave about those beers in conversation,
praise them mightily on beer rating websites. I've even had some e-mails
That's fine, but...don't you ever get tired? Do you
eat limburger and scallion wrapped in thin-shaved spiced goat meat every
day? Do you always drink espresso? Is it always the stepping-out
clothes, always the fast lane, always the roller coaster?
Maybe...you need to slow down. Look at what you're
doing. I've heard beer geeks crush Sierra Nevada Pale Ale as "pretty
bland." Let me tell you: my first SNPA, exactly 16 years ago this
month, was damned exciting, and a fresh one will still light up my
You miss so much when all you do is run from one
hop-giant to the next. There's more to life than Belgian-funk or
Abbey-richness. I followed that path, mouth agape, hankering for one
mighty beer after another, and marveling at what lambics could do, at the
mouthy taste-chemistry of boldly hopped beers, and the weird esters you
get from highly malty lagers. But I found the other paths, too. Clean, dry
lagers that have a wealth of soothing subtlety in every sip, so teasingly
delicious that they disappear from the glass. Round, cool, lively real
ale, less than 4% ABV but so full of flavor. Saisons and witbiers, light
and spicy and quenching.
Again, do I think that my love for the more subtle
beers makes me special? Of course not. It makes me lucky,
because there is a huge, full spectrum of beers that I am able to
immensely enjoy. Many beer enthusiasts are stuck into a tight corner of
the range, really only happy with a few big beers, kind of like...the poor
benighted souls they laugh at for only drinking Bud and Bud Light.
If all you want is Imperial IPAs, Imperial stouts, and
Imperial pilsners, well then, call me a Red, because I'm fighting
Imperialism. What's next: Imperial Helles? Imperial Berliner Weisse?
Fight it. Re-discover the joys of a nice soft
pilsner, a spritzy hefeweizen, a cool glass of bitter. These are
great beers, delicious beers, and you're only cheating yourself if
you spurn them. I have a brewer friend who knows beers inside and out,
could out-geek your geekiest homebrewing buddy without breaking a sweat.
Man doesn't care for beers over 5%. Period. Thinks they're overdone.
Everything good and pleasing that can be done with a brewkettle and
fermentation tank can be done under 5%.
I still like hoppy beers, and big strapping beers, and
funky beers. I like beers. But Victory just announced that they would
be changing their Lager from an Export style to a Helles, and I'm so
damned excited to taste it...that I know I like the little beers
Think about it, if you're a beer-rater. If a
pilsner is perfect, dead-on in every way, doesn't it deserve every bit as
much credit, recognition, and points as a whopping great Imperial
stout that could be hiding God knows what flaws under that burnt black
And don't you have some respect for the pilsner for not