What I’m Happy for…and Worried About

by Stephen Beaumont

 

Well, it’s getting to the end of the year, which means it’s time for every writer worth their printer ink to start making lists. And since I have no problem caving in to peer pressure, I’ve decided to make mine a list of things I am very grateful for in beer this year, and what I expect to worry about in 2019.

I’m happy for…the brewery taproom experience. Every town and city I visit these days, including my hometown of Toronto, seems replete with brewery taps, and that is very much a good thing. The taproom allows the brewery to both control the quality of their beer, thus eliminating issues arising from old stock, dirty lines and grimy glassware, while also presenting a clear picture of themselves to the customer.

But I worry about…tensions arising between bars and restaurants and brewery taps. Increasingly, I hear about bar and restaurant owners and managers taking issue with brewery taprooms that are selling their beer in direct competition, sometimes just down the street and for less than a licenced establishment can afford. I expect such tensions to rise further in 2019.

I’m happy for…the astounding creativity found in brewing these days. Yes, sometimes a beer will evoke the old ‘Just because you can doesn’t mean you should’ sentiment, but equally I find myself facing down beer concepts that should be rubbish, but are actually quite wonderful.

But I worry about…the infantilization of beer. Microbrewing was born of bringing adult tastes back to beer, things like bitterness and alcohol that tastes like alcohol. These days, however, a growing number of beers are becoming either gimmicky or juvenile, and when we have to start questioning the difference between a milkshake beer that looks and tastes like a fruit smoothie and major brewery fruit beer that looks and tastes like a soda, well, that’s a pretty slippery slope.

I’m happy for…the resurgence of quality golden lagers. Where I used to have to shop European to find a decent helles or pilsner, I can now find great locally brewed lagers almost everywhere I travel in North America. And savvy beer drinkers seem to be responding with great enthusiasm!

But I worry about…a flood of poorly-conditioned lagers hitting bar taps and store shelves. As golden lagers grow in popularity, there will be the temptation to get new brands into the market, which could well result in the arrival of all sorts of under-conditioned, three-week lagers. And that’s almost certain to drive savvy beer drinkers away from the category again.

I’m happy for…the popularization of mixed fermentation beers. As a long-time fan of lambics and Flemish red ales and the like, it’s heartening to see such beers reaching much-deserved popularity, even if it does mean that I now have to pay more for them.

But I worry about…the equivalency of long-aged mixed fermentation beers and ‘kettle sours.’ If you’ve ever tasted a Drie Fonteinen Gueuze or Rodenbach Vintage or Russian River Beatification and then shifted to a kettle sour, you’ll appreciate that the much longer aged beers have a complexity, depth and character that no kettle sour can match. Yet all these beers, including simple kettle sours, are often grouped under the banner of ‘sour beers,’ as if they were equals.

And finally…

I’m happy for…the popularization of IPA.

But I worry about…never again seeing a glass of beautiful, golden, crystal clear India pale ale.