I’ve had this idea in my head for a couple of months, though it’s not so much an idea but a question. That question is “so what?” and I switch from thinking it’s obvious ands are-you-seriously-going-to-write-a-whole-post-on-this to wondering if it might be the most important question in craft beer today.
I’ll try to explain myself.
As beer geeks we tend to get caught up in the wonderful stories and romance in our favourite brews and brewers, I know I certainly do. We cheer and whoop at the notion of something dry hopped, barrel aged, soured or all of the above; or a beer with Brettanomyces, some weird ingredient or new hop variety. Whilst there’s absolutely nothing wrong with such excitement I think it’s important to still ask yourself, “so what?”
Tone is probably important to note here too, please don’t read my question with a hint of teenage angst or foot stomping bratty child. A longer version of this question may be,
“Tell me why this is important …”
So what if a beer has been vigorously dry hopped? The reason it was dry hopped so intensely is much more important and relevant than the mere fact it was done. Did it contribute positively to the beer? Was the beer still balanced and drinkable? The answer to these questions needs to be ‘yes’.
Doing an exciting and/or new thing to a beer doesn’t guarantee that the beer is amazing. Every sour, every barrel-aged, every weird ingredient doesn’t give the beer an automatic big thumbs up.
I think as beer lovers we should always be asking ourselves this question of “so what?”
Great examples that come to my mind are Two Birds Taco and Brew Cult Acid Freaks. Both beers with strange additions, coriander & lime peel and balsamic vinegar respectively and each beer is a showcase of ingredients used to genuinely enhance the beer and create something stunning and unique. You can taste the harmony of flavours and see what the brewer was aiming for. On the other hand, and this is obviously just my opinion, Rogue’s Beard Beer – a beer from the United States that uses beard yeast – I didn’t get the same feelings about. Other than a passing curiosity, I couldn’t find a reason to really care about this beer. For me the “so what?” was just novelty and whilst that’s not a bad answer, most of the time I’m looking for more in my beers than novelty.
Recently I listened to an excellent episode the Good Beer Hunting podcast, episode 75 with Lauren from New Belgium and she talked about a situation with a yeast bank who had been visiting as number of breweries in US (this part is approximately half way through the episode).
“We’re going to identify all the species of sour bacteria and wild yeast,” Lauren was told.
“Ok. What for? What’s the point?” was her reply.
“So that you know.”
“But what am I going to do with that?”
Whilst she was interested in what the results might be Lauren thought it was unlikely to result in better beer. A great example, I thought, of the important question of “so what?”
Asking “so what?” might be a good way to remind us to ask “why”, to get more of the story behind a beer or a brewery or why they brew the way they do.
Thanks for hanging on this long, that has certainly been one of the more rambly posts I have done for a while!