It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill, -
I know you like me make it a point to visit almost every new brewery or brewpub that we hear is
opening up. It's fun and exciting to do; to boldly go where no one has gone before (my lone
homage to Captain Kirk today - I promise). Despite that, don't you sometimes get the feeling
when leaving many of them that at best their beers are undistinguished and at worse their
business is doomed to a quick demise?
It's sounds silly I know since the success rate of new breweries/brewpubs is amazingly high, far
exceeding the rate of every other industry. Throw in the fact that the craft beer boom is
continuing unabated so my complaint on the surface might not seem to make much sense.
Still I think it's something that should be considered. I have visited one brewpub and 2 new
breweries in the past few weeks and to me they were all producing essentially the same well
made but unimpressive beers.
Frankly, it seems at least to me that these places are from the cookie cutter brewing school.
Most will have an IPA of sorts that is inevitably underhopped, a session plae that is essentially
a Bud light with extra hops, and perhaps a bland lager or blonde ale. They all have great
names but the beer doesn't come up to that level. I could accept it if the beers had some
character or complex profile but they don't. By the way, generic brewing like this isn't confined
to new entities. I remember once asking the Regional Manager of Pizza Uno why their only
brewpub on the East Coast (Metuchen, NJ) makes the same 6 or 7 beers - all very basic - and
doesn't allow their excellent brewer to show his skills beyond a seasional or two. His answer
was to the point -" we sell a lot of this kind beer so we don't really need to cater to the beer
geeks out there."
I wouldn't be shocked to see that many of these new places are using recipes from the same
book. So here's my advice to them: most craft breweries have the independence and skill to
make a well crafted, full flavored beers so use it!. If you make the very best beer that is unique
to your establishment you can never go wrong. Show off your skills and strive to be the best as
any artist would for that's what a brewer is. Don't settle for being exactly like everyone else;
you may be brewing a IPA as most do but yours will be one that stands out in the crowd!
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time.
I'm impressed at how you come up with so many interesting topics each month. As for this one -
are you sitting down - I agree with you. Did I really write that? Making great beer should I believe
be the goal of every brewer with every batch. Brewers should want to make something that sets
their beer apart. Drinking really good beers can make for a wonderful, memorable experience.
And it's good business. Some of those brewpubs/breweries you talk about will never see a
repeat customer. It's the good ones producing quality brews that will bring the customer back
time and time again not only for that beer but to try different styles and variations.
I generally order a tasting flight when I go to a new place. I think it's the best way to see what the
intent of the brewer really is. I always hope to find a treasure but to be honest I'm often
disappointed. Most new breweries have the chance to pick their direction for success - go with
standard fare to please the least discerning palate or make beer that is uncompromising in
quality and flavor. I'm not saying that they should be producing batch after batch of
experimental brews with crazy ingredients or trying to revive an ancient style rarely seen. Beer
is about passion and love. Put that into an IPA or Stout or Pale Ale and customers will notice and
they will be a success.
Sadly it seems that some of the new people entering the beer industry are not worried about how
good their beer is but if it will be profitable. It's the Bud-Miller-Coors philosophy. Macro-swill
brewers have enormous skill but intentionally make bland lagers because it's a bottom line
business. Of course I know making a profit is the Prime Directive (see Gina, I can make a Star
Trek reference too) as it has to be. It has to be; A brewery is a business after all; if a good one
fails then we all lose. Still I believe quality will bring lasting success.
So, how can you tell if the brewpub/brewery really cares and/or has the potential to excel? One
thing for sure is that it's difficult to tell when it first opens. Most new places are usually jammed
despite having a very limited number of beers available. Those beers themselves might not be
impressive. However I suggest coming back a month or so later. That's when you'll see the
heart they have or the lack of one. Breweries like everything else can gain focus with some
maturity. They get a personal style that manifests itself in the variety of their offerings and its
quality. There have been many a place that I was not impressed with initially but returned to find
the brewer is caring as much about his product as he is to making his business succeed.
Now Gina, before you start telling me that most of I've said is incredibly subjective please
consider that while my opinion of what is a good beer might (make that usually- ouch) differs
from yours, I'd like to believe that we mostly agree on what's a pedestrian or poorly made beer.
For example, unlike you, I dislike smoked beers or those with heavy banana notes. Still I can
recognize and applaud well made beers with those flavors that are appropriate for the style.
Here's hoping that the craft boom never ends, that new breweries continue to open at record
pace, that they all are successful, and that they make fine, exciting products with a passion that
is undeniable to every who drinks their beer!
Here's looking at you Gina