There has been a bit of soul searching going on in the beery ether. It is neatly framed by Oliver in his post announcing the latest edition of The Session set for the first Friday in May which includes this statement about where he stands at the moment in relation to his beer hobby:
Recently, I’ve found my interest in said hobby waning. The brilliant luster of new beers and new breweries looks now, a few pounds heavier and a bunch of dollars lighter, more like dull aluminum oxide. The thing I have embraced so fully and spent so much time getting to know and love, suddenly seems generally, unequivocally: meh. It’s like I’ve been living a lie, and everything I’ve done is for not. I’m having a beer mid-life crisis, yo.
Excellent observations. And an excellent question to be answered in a few weeks - but look, it is not just Oliver. Look over at Boak and Bailey's post today. They have been asking about that one simple perfect ale that screams not of grapefruit, that's "a nice bit of engineering, but nothing flamboyant." And look over at Stan's place. He is praising old slightly dowdy Allagash White - well, if one can be zesty and dowdy - over some coolshipped sour that most folk never can find let alone taste. I wrote this in the comments about my only quibble with his point:
Being a Maine regular, I would agree except there is more to White than the brewery’s alleged soul given that it’s not just excellent, it’s pervasive in the community. Often in dives and diners its there on tap to fill a space next to a haddock sandwich or the fried clam platter. Fortunately, Mainers don’t need a beer to explain or prop up their identity. But White has found a place within the pantheon of what makes the great state, perhaps aspiring to be as loved as “Blueberries for Sal” or the Red Sox but maybe just content to be nearby on the same quilt.
Finding a place within a bigger context. That's the ticket. I am not picking on Jeff to point out that the search for greatness seems to me to be something of a misadventure . We have been inundated with the idea of greatness in beer likely long before the great promoter, Jackson, earnestly unleashed his concept of a classic upon the world only to watch it spin off in the wrong direction then follow it, perhaps unwisely. The problem with "classic" and its spawn "style" is that it decontextualizes. I am sure there is a reason for some to particularly like Sierra Nevada. I like it about as much as perhaps the beers of 200 other breweries I have tasted.
I like contextualization. Not to answer Oliver's question early, but the drive to establish some foundations in brewing history is a project with a very long arc. I am just that bit conceited enough to believe that the pattern of immediate triumphalism that we have been washed with is another well-meaning misdirect - perhaps one we have lived with since the ill-fated X-treme beer rock star brewer movement that started about a decade ago only to die a few years later. For me, history fights that - contextualizes, puts things in their place despite tensions and motivations to reorder things to immediate advantage. A close study of history is one way that we can be assured that beer is more than the transitional global zip of grapefruit, that beer and brewing have a lovely place in the bigger world which makes it all, in return, lovelier. That sort of understanding of place may be the "local" folks are looking for when they are routed instead to the terrior in brewing. It works for me right now.
For me. See, there may be other routes to that place. There must be. I do not care for food and beer pairing but that may be how you understand the world so it works for you. I don't really care much for the opinions of the owner's of big craft - what with the seemingly requisite revisionism - but if that floats your boat, go for it. Or seeking out greatness, even. What is wrong with greatness? Nuttin. One of the most interesting things about beer and brewing is how insidious it is, how it wheedles its way into so many corners of the culture. Of cultures over place and time. Sometimes that corner is where you find that perfect quieter pint of cask ale... or the dive in Maine that has Allagash White on tap. Or when you come across a 350 year old diary entry where you find someone happily mixing beer and Mosel. Which is just weird. Which beer can be as well. It's part of beer's place, too.