The world really ends with a bang, not a whimper … Oct 2012 “The Session”

Ready for prom.

This is it. This is the end of novelty beers. A liquor-strength beer bottled inside the carcass of a dead rodent dressed in a tuxedo. With a top hat. We have reached maximum overload.

Or have we?

This is the question Tiffany over at 99 Pours has asked as part of this month’s “Session,” a monthly effort where a different beer blogger chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry.

So where is novelty now and where are we heading? Well, Rogue certainly has done a good job with a bacon-maple ale. And there are all those brettanomyces-based brews. Black IPAs are now all the rage. But are these honest efforts at offering something valuable to the beer-drinking community or are they simply an act of self pleasure? Novelty isn’t just a pissing contest. Or is it? BrewDog, makers of “The End of History” beer-in-a-dead-rodent sure went that far.

Certainly beers brewed to be like pizza aren’t necessary, but I sure had a lot of fun making my own batch of Poor Richard’s Ale, a novelty homebrew based on the recipe of beer Ben Franklin would’ve had. I think that’s pretty cool. I think bull testicles in beer is less cool.

So what we have then is all a matter of perception. Hit the jump to see if we can find out just what the hell that means.

I recently read a post over at “Called to the Bar” where Adrian Tierney-Jones pondered the idea of the beer fetish – “an excessive and irrational devotion or commitment to (a) particular thing.” To me, this runs parallel to the idea of a novelty beer. Craft beer in America and even abroad has seemingly turned into some kind of arms race to create the hoppiest or most sour or historic beer possible while only paying half a mind to the most important question – is it a good beer?

Literally a beer arms race. Novel, though, right?

When Brad Magerkurth got his hands on a bottle of Barack Obama’s white house honey ale, he admitted he didn’t want to drink it right away and wanted to share it. Why? Because it was too novel (and he’s not greedy enough). But this is beer after all – it’s meant to be drunk. What’s Brad’s beer fetish? Is it, as Pivini Filosof suggests, a matter of “people who seem to prefer to talk about beer than to actually drink it”? Why anguish over the philosophy of the beer and not just enjoy it? (to be fair, there certainly is a philosophy of beer which is another post all together)

Hell, it’s even novel now to have – gasp! – low-to-average ABV-level beers at a beer festival. How dare the merrymakers at such an event not have the opportunity to gorge themselves in a beer-induced orgy of yeast and hops! This is where we are now. There’s novelty in the non-novelty of regular, 5ish percent ABV beer. Bringing 4 percent ABV beer to a festival is now quaint.

Duke Wilhelm IV looks like he wouldn’t want anything novel in his Reinheitsgebot’ed beer.

I don’t mean to poke complete fun at the idea of novel beers, but there is a reason why the Germans came up with that whole Reinheitsgebot thing. Creating and enjoying beer shouldn’t be about one-upmanship, it should be about focusing talents and efforts to create something beautiful and tasty and maybe even consistent. Like those Budweiser people. (Not beautiful or tasty, but historically consistent.)

Can we get back to quality over quantity? Or is it really a bad thing that we have so many breweries making so many novel beers? Who are we to police what kind of fun brewmasters come up with as mad scientists in their own laboratories?

Yes, I have a lot of questions, but I guess what it really all comes down to is this: what drives the passion for novelty – and perhaps why we’ll never get away from it in the beer community – is that maybe the idea of mediocrity is just too scary.


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