It’s been a while since I wrote a post, I know – but I’m going to try to get back into the swing of things more as the occasional spark does still flash in the deepest reaches of the beer-related brain. Next year will be the eleventh I have been writing about beer, so it’s just as much of a surprise to me as it must be to you that these internal questions still arise and make me reach for my laptop. The most recent fired into life in a hotel room recently after opening a canned IPA I had spotted being sold in Scotland from an American brewery I had never heard of. A few years ago this would have been unthinkable for various reasons – chief among them being the number of US producers that could (or would want to) export their cans to the far north of the UK.
The beer in question was Telegraph IPA from the brewery of the same name in Santa Barbara. Ironically a producer who will also be celebrating eleven years of production next year, one sip and it brought to mind the classic American IPA – bundles of crystal malt yielding that chewy baseline that has been bulwarking Pacific coastal hops for forty years. Once the analytical mind had quietened it got me to thinking about some of the other reasons an entire brewery like this has before now passed me by. I guess the reasons why would fill a major essay on the rise of craft beer and distribution – but the rotating clacker wheel in my head eventually flicked to a halt on one particular category – there is just so much out there.
By that I don’t mean the increased number of breweries we are all experiencing; the Brewers’ Association totaliser shining like a four-figured beacon across the Atlantic (with our more demure UK version blinking back, also registering four figures). We all know that the number of breweries is doing that thing on the graph that looks like a route map of an Alpine stage of the Tour de France – I got to thinking instead about the way in which people react to the proliferation. The hunters of course carry on hunting – Raters gotta Rate – but for those of us like me that have a core number of breweries in our circle of trust, things have also become much more busy lately (only without the emergency phone battery and printed beer spreadsheet).
The rise of craft beer into the public consciousness – whether you believe in the phrase or consider it meaningless – has spawned a proliferation from individual breweries of the like I’m not sure we’ve seen before in recent memory. One of the lesser-discussed consequences (if that’s the word) of the beery wave we are all surfing towards the mainstream shoreline is the increased output of those breweries in terms of numbers of unique beers. You could quite easily restrict yourself to Beavertown, Magic Rock, Harbour and Tiny Rebel and drink an amazing selection of newly-released beer from January to December. There’s no need to scan the shelves for the latest new producer when your existing favourites are so prolific.
I’m sure beer historians can weigh in here, but to my mind back in the day there were a few brewers who released a monthly special, but more likely it was a rotating line-up of cask or premium bottled releases that kept things fresh alongside their core line-up. Now, it’s all new. All the time. Take the brewery I work for – in September BrewDog released five different beers (Neon Overlord, Chili Hammer, AB:21, the newest Born to Die and Candy Kaiser). Admittedly the last one is a repeat of the previous winter seasonal and Born to Die varies only due to the profiles of the hops, but a beer a week is about as good as anyone could ask for. There is so much new beer from established brewers these days that it’s no wonder that the imported canned US IPA’s (as good as they are – and Telegraph IPA is very good) pass you by.
This can only be a good thing, surely. Each individual brewery will have its reason for cranking up the output – but whether it’s down to them revelling in the freedom of experimentation the market is now giving them, feeling the pressure to keep up with the Joneses or just riding that wave to see where it leads – does it really matter? About a year ago I wrote about the joy of ordering up a mixed case from a brewery you know and love. In that case, it was Thornbridge – and re-reading that post so as I can link to it here has got my wallet twitching – but whilst drinking that unknown Californian IPA from a plastic cup I realised that when breweries at the top of the tree over here are so productive, being unable to keep up isn’t surprising. Nor is it in any way a problem.