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When less is more

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Session beer rising?

A decade or so ago, there was an arms race among shoe companies over who could create the most over-the-top cushioned shoe. The more cushioning, the more expensive — and presumably the better — the shoe.

Nike introduced the $150 Shox, which looked like monster truck springs screwed on the soles of your shoes. Adidas released a $250 microchip-controlled shoe that adjusted the level of cushioning with each stride.  And if off-the-rack options weren’t enough, runners stores offered custom inserts for extra padding.

Every company had their own version of the heavily stabilizing shoe. Cushioning was the height of cutting edge. Until it wasn’t.

A booked called “Born to Run” came along and made many runners re-think their shoes. Maybe they were paying too much for extra cushioned shoes. What’s more, maybe they were better off with cheap, non-cushioned shoes.

And just like that, the minimalist shoe movement was born. The myriad styles of cushioned shoes were replaced by a huge variety of zero drop, five fingers and other lightweight shoes where less was better. Suddenly, if you were running in sandals, you weren’t an idiot. It actually meant you were probably a hardcore runner.

Running got back to basics.

It may be too early too tell, but there could be a parallel in the craft beer world.

As the craft beer industry has grown (much like the running industry), there has been at trend toward more extreme beers. Brewers have rushed to double or triple their IPAs, age their stouts in bourbon barrels, and create ever higher ABVs. It’s as if craft beer brewers and drinkers had to prove their bona fides by creating the farthest thing possible from mass market light beer. This resulted in what may be the first self-parodying extreme beer, Brew Dog’s 55 percent ABV The End of History.

So far this has worked out marvelously for craft brewers. Customers wait in line for limited releases, pay major amounts of money for specialty beers and the market has grown each year.

But where do you go from here? After you’ve pulverized your palate and paid your last dime for the rarest beer you can find, what do you do next?

I’m exaggerating a little bit for effect, but many believe there may be a craft beer bubble.

The answer may be in getting back to basics.

Two beers that have stood out for me this summer is Founder’s All Day IPA, at 4.7 percent ABV, and Central Waters’ Hop Rise IPA, at 4.5 percent ABV. Both prove that you don’t need to be over-the-top to produce an excellent beer, with the added benefit that you can enjoy more of them with the company of others. Maybe perfecting this style is where brewers will go for their next challenge after they’ve pushed the frontiers of extreme beers.

But there is one key difference where this analogy between running shoes and beer breaks down. With shoes, either you’re a minimalist or a traditionalist. You can’t be both.

But with beer, there’s  no reason why you can’t appreciate more extreme beers for what they offer, yet also seek out and enjoy a well-crafted session beer from a craft brewer.

Sometimes more is more, and less is more at the same time.

 

Author
Tim Cigelske is DRAFT's Beer Runner. (Beer Run•ner [noun]: Someone equally devoted to fine beer appreciation and an active, healthy lifestyle. Ex. "John downed four microbrews at the triathlon finish line. He's a total beer runner.”) Follow Tim on Twitter @TheBeerRunner, and email him at beerrunner [at] draftmag.com.

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9 Comments

  • Mike says:

    Doesn’t matter if it’s a $100, quintuple IPA brewed by a solitary Monk in a thousand year old monastery or an attainable 4.7% all-day drinker I can buy by the case…all that matters is that it is interesting, drinkable and not something that tastes like Bayonne tap water.

  • Chip says:

    Well said! Although I enjoy some of the over-the-top beers in small quantities, I tend to shift back to simpler ones in the long term. Given a Dog Fish Head 60 and a 120, I’d generally opt for the 60.

    I love your analogy with running shoes and the description of the “End of History” as self-parodying. Bottling the stuff in dead animals is a stunt that’s going to be hard to top.

  • Luke L. says:

    Don’t forget about sours!

  • Patrick says:

    Great analogy!

  • Lee says:

    This is great.

  • Joe says:

    Wholeheartedly agree with the article. Session beers will be the “next thing”. Foolproof Brewing in Pawtucket RI makes a tasty session called Barstool. Expect to see more session beers soon.

  • Rick Price says:

    You start homebrewing. Now legal in all 50 states. Easy, affordable and nothing more unique than your own recipes and variations on a style.

  • scott padgett says:

    I agree well written.
    I’m a home brewer and the main beers I brew are session beers I really like trying to make low ABV beers (around 3%) that have a bunch of flavor.
    Oh and I have a fresh 12 pack of the canned all day IPA in my beer fridge as I type this :)

  • Andy Flores says:

    Couldn’t agree more. I had a Stone Enjoy By on Thursday which was delicious but it was over 9%. I had a local IPA yesterday and the hopiness and freshness was there as well but it was at 4.5. I commented that I could drink those all day. Nice flavor but not overpowering.

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