A Good Beer Blog


Have you read The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer - A Rant in Nine Acts by Alan and Max yet? It's out on Kindle as well as Lulu.

Maureen Ogle said this about the book: "... immensely readable, sometimes slightly surreal rumination on beer in general and craft beer in particular. Funny, witty, but most important: Smart. The beer geeks will likely get all cranky about it, but Alan and Max are the masters of cranky..."

Ron Pattinson said: "I'm in a rather odd situation. Because I appear in the book. A fictional version of me. It's a weird feeling."


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Gary Gillman -

Just on the point whether Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was a foundational beer. It was, but there were others, especially Anchor's Liberty Ale. Liberty Ale preceded Sierra Nevada by about 6 or 7 years. And what came before them? American homebrewers making similar beers. I agree that we are always at a kind of mid-point, and looking back, I can discern earlier examples although not "perfected". Some of Ballantine's ales had an APA-type flavour especially XXX (still made, and a decent commercial example of APA). It's a continuum always, and trends develop when a critical mass is achieved. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale deserves special recognition though because it is a particularly good APA. The brewery continues to innovate, its new hop beer in particular is stellar.


dave -

It seems Jeff took down that entry, getting a "blogger: page not found".

Pok -

I look forward to having a good beer - not backward.

dave -

Follow up with my earlier comment. Jeff didn't take it down, it seems Blogger is having issues and all comments and posts made after 5/11/2011 have been removed (http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/blogger/thread?tid=7b6d0384a4f5fa00&hl=en). Too bad, sounded like an interesting conversation.

Alan -

What a drag! The #1 bloggy nightmare: the server fails.

Jeff Alworth -

Note: blogspot is currently down and they've lost recent posts. They're trying to restore them, but it seems to be getting worse, not better. Damn free services--so unreliable!

In any case, to the point. Alan, I thank you for dissenting on the thesis--you're the first one. I really expected more blowback from that hypothesis than I got. The only real dispute in comments was the Anchor v. Sierra Nevada point. Yours is more interesting, and cuts to the heart of what I was getting at. Still, I think you're wrong.

In 1980, the US was, beerwise, tabula rasa. We had two styles of beer, regular and "premium." At the moment the craft brewers started, nothing was inevitable. The craft market could have unfolded in any number of ways. I was in Madison, WI, about ten years after Sierra Nevada was founded, and there, the beers of choice tended toward lagers. That was actually the obvious direction--a zingingly hoppy ale was a bit of a wild pitch.

And yet here we are, lousy with zingy hops. I was talking to a brewery that's about to open in Birmingham, AL, which really wants its flagship to be a saison. But of course, to hedge their bets, they're also putting on an IPA. Birmingham. I dunno; I'm willing to be convinced that the current course was inevitable and we were going to land here whether SN Pale ever existed or not--but it will actually take some convincing. I think the evidence is on the side of SN Pale.

And that, of course, is why it, not Anchor, gets the nod. Anchor had been around for 15 years (under Maytag) by the time SN came along. It inspired exactly no one. No one made steam beers. But within 15 years of SN's founding, nearly every brewery in America was making a Cascade-hopped pale ale.

Alan -

"...Yours is more interesting, and cuts to the heart of what I was getting at. Still, I think you're wrong..."

Best. Comment. Ever.

Yet you, sir, are utterly incorrect. In 1980, there was plenty of happy beer consumers, differentiating themselves by subtleties of sensory experience, regional brand associations and personal preference. Some of those consumers drank Yuengling porter and malty Anchor and relatively hoppy Ballentine IPA praised in the early edition of Pale Ale by Terry Foster.

Some who were bored with the subtle elegance of corn and rice based beers moved to emulate English brewing in independent pockets. Brewers mainly came and went and some survived by luck and skill.

As long as foundational means anything, you really should be looking for home brewing texts from the 70s, regional beers from the 60s and memoirs of old guys from the mid-century complaining how everything tastes like crap, not like the old days.

Sierra Nevada may be a mile stone. But nothing started there.

Jeff Alworth -

Heh. Shades of the old political blogging entering in, I see. I may have to pull the ad hominem card out of the deck!

At the risk declaring someone as august and knowledgeable as you wrong twice, I must at least register a few observations.

Let us begin in the present, where craft brewing has led us to a state of hop-besotment. Now, let us track the thread backward, for, as you note, there are lots of antecedents in the craft brewing world. There are the macros and regional light-lager producers. There is Yuengling and Anchor and Ballentine. Where did they lead?

Anchor, for all Fritz's foresightedness, thought the future was steam beer. Which he trademarked, inadvertently ending the style's future. There was Yuengling making nothing with hops, which makes it an unlikely precursor. And then there's Ballentine, which by 1979 had moved to Indiana, where its legendary IPA had been watered down owing to the fact that in 1979, no one would buy assertively-hoppy (what to speak of "zingingly hoppy") beers.

The one argument that seems possible is that a sizable (yet proportionately small) group of Americans, unbeknownst to themselves, were nascent hopheads bound by a deep collective unconscious. It wouldn't have mattered if Sierra Nevada made a Cascade-hopped pale or not (even though, as we know, Cascade as a commercial hop was in grave jeopardy and needed someone to buy it, stat), because someone would have, precipitating the inevitable march to now.

It's not plausible, but it bothers me in its possibility. I don't find it even possible that Yuengling porter was an antecedent to Pliny the Elder.

Alan -

Not so much wrong as I am turning the question around in my head. Consider your statement "Anchor, for all Fritz's foresightedness, thought the future was steam beer." I think you have fallen down the pit of retrospectiveness and not realized it. I do not believe anyone brews to create a stylistic wave of historic proportions. They want to sell what they make.

As for the size of the group, hopheads are a niche group within the niche of craft beer fans. I am not one. If Sierra Nevada started something, it's a thing that interests about 4% of all beer buyers (and that is based on a generous estimation of the hophead's place in good beer consumption.) In a few years, a decade or two, hops will be like wide legged jeans or whisky based cocktails.

It's enough that SN PA is a flagship of a strong national craft brewer. Anything past that is a discussion about who was better at marbles back in '72.

Gary Gillman -

Anchor Brewing well preceded, even in the Maytag regenerative phase, Sierra Nevada Brewing. But Liberty Ale was introduced I believe in 1974 give or take a year. That's just a few years before SN really got going with SN Pale Ale. Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi were homebrewers and like 1000's by that period, surely - I don't know them so can't say for sure - were brewing beer from Cascades or other hops similarly flavoured. (I know Cascades itself dates from the early 70's, but that kind of taste has been around for a long time in American hops).

It's unquestionable SN Pale had a very large and probably decided influence on the future of hoppy ale brewing in the U.S., but Liberty Ale in my opinion was first in this direction and from a commercial standpoint. It's impossible to say today if Liberty could have done it on its "own". I don't think so because in my view again, SN Pale Ale is a superior beer in part due to not being pasteurized.

It's an interesting side point about the steam beer style not going further than the Anchor Brewery itself, in part that was due to the trademark issue Jeff mentioned, in part though steam beer just isn't as assertive and well-defined as APA.



Gary Gillman -

Can I just throw out another thought? In the immediate pre-craft brew era, there was another element, imports, that had a big effect on what people were brewing both at home and commercially, ultimately. In beer circles around 1980, I remember people being pretty familiar with some assertive Belgian beers, with numerous good English imports, with excellent German beers. By today's standards, these were not (mostly) generously hopped. But they were quite bitter, most of them, as compared to the premium U.S. category not to mention the mass lager norm.

People were inspired, also, by reading about IPA - good old Jackson again but also Papazian, Eckhardt and others - and its high hop content.

So all these forces combined I feel for people to make ale with a high hopping rate. They used though Cascade and other locally grown hops, as did Liberty Ale when first issued, because that is what was available and local.

So just more of the general history and background as I recall it. But still, SN Pale Ale might have been the "sine qua non" of the hoppy wave we are cresting on today. I do believe that because it was and is such a good beer. It is still heads and shoulders above most APAs I have had. That brewery just knows great beer as evidenced also by its Glissade, I'd never have thought a new hop beer could be as good. Their barley wine too had a big influence on big hopped aged ales, although again I'd point to Anchor's Old Foghorn as the first (modern) example of a highly hopped barley wine using American varieties.


Jeff Alworth -

Alan, with your new post and Stan's, we've probably said all there is to be said--and in all, a most entertaining discussion. However, I meant to loop back around to this, on Anchor Steam:

I think you have fallen down the pit of retrospectiveness and not realized it. I do not believe anyone brews to create a stylistic wave of historic proportions. They want to sell what they make.

Normally, I'd agree--and retrospectivenss is a terrible affliction, and one to which I am especially susceptible. But here I think we have evidence, owing to the way Fritz tried to protect the "steam" appellation. This is not about selling, this is about restricting others from selling. And the reason you'd do that, presumably, is because you think it's a hot ticket. We'll never know if steam beer was destined to become a ubiquitous American style, though, because in trademarking the style, Anchor made sure it woudl remain a wee niche in beermaking. They have 99% of the steam market, but that market is tiny. Not, probably, what they planned when they drew it up.

But that's a rabbit hole to a different argument.

Alan -

I would be a very small amount of money that it had little to do with beer and a lot to do with Maytag. There could well have been a family / corporate habit of protecting the intellectual property that predated the brewery. As we learned from the Monster thing of a year and a half ago, intellectual property lawyers are not discriminating. You cover everything you can because you do not know which asset will make you moo-lah.