Carla Jean Lauter

The Beer Babe

Category: Hop Press Articles (Page 2 of 9)

Seeking Extremes – It is in our nature

I often hear comments from those who have been in the beer industry a long time, or people who keep up with Beer Advocate and Rate Beer rankings about the dominance of so-called “extreme” beers. It goes a little something like this – “Gee, there are a lot of high ABV or high IBU or extreme beers out there lately. Why doesn’t anyone appreciate the great session beers anymore?”

Perhaps you’ve heard yourself thinking this very thought. Perhaps the thought continues. “If only beer writers/distributers/bar owners would focus on the session (6% ABV or under) or “regular” beers – there would be more great beers out there to drink instead of just an arms race of extremes.” Or perhaps it goes something like, “Brewers should only brew great session brews and stop trying to cater to the extreme tastes, etc. of the craft beer enthusiast/rater.”

This refrain has been echoed by brewers, too.

“Consumers’ and retailers’ lust for the latest and greatest undermines established brands and trivializes the category as a whole, sacrificing quality on the altar of novelty. One could argue that this is the direction the music industry, which is in deep trouble, has been going for years.” –Peter Egleston, from this article on The Full Pint

So, I pose several questions for you to examine:

What is the cause of this situation? Sure, there will likely be an ever-growing variety of beer to choose from, but there does seem to be a focus on one-offs, rarities, extreme beers with strong flavors, bizzare or high ABV. Some have even posed that it is that because of the writers that write about these beers.

“By doing little more than parroting the marketing-speak of advertising companies, Dan believes American beer writers are largely to blame for an industry and drinking public that’s more taken with gimmickry than artistry.” –Valley Advocate story interviewing Dan Shelton (Shelton Bros.)

All of this buzz got me thinking about my own habits, and the habits of consumers in general. When I go out to look for beer to review, like many the first thing I do is to scan the shelves for what I have not yet tried. And, in a limited market like Maine, I leap on what I can get. Sometimes, these are great regular releases, and sometimes I make a mixed six pack with the latest local seasonals. But, more often than not, a new shiny bottle of someone’s “imperial” this or “double” that catches my eye. It is human nature to seek out the rare, the new and the novel and I am certainly no exception. Marketers and product producers count on this type of behavior – and it’s no more common in beer than it is in clothing, video games or other optional (non-commodity) purchases. The argument, then, is whether or not these brews are less artfully crafted than their session counterparts and get by on their novelty alone.

So, then, are all of us craft beer consumers (regardless of whether they blog, rate or review or not) responsible for a drift towards the more extreme and rare? Of course they are! It is by nature that these are what is attractive – there is a certain thrill to finding a “treasure” at your local beer store. I really do think it’s inevitable that this will always be the case – you can’t make the same product these days and just keep going on and on forever without change. If anything, our attention spans are shorter and shorter every generation – the pace of information has kept up with our desires. And the craft beer industry produces enough variety that no one person could ever try it all – which is part of the allure, draw and challenge of being a craft beer reviewer. The difference, perhaps, between some of the people who see this perspective and myself is that I do have faith that the palates of the consumers writing about or reviewing beer can tell the difference between novelty for the sake of novelty and the artistry and creativity brought about by craft brewers.

But back to the original thought….Is the dominance of high ABV, rare, and “extreme” things a negative influence on the beer industry? or will it all shake out in the end?

“Someone commented to me that the beer culture there was going through a “teenage” phase, where the obsession was with big, badass, high-octane beers, and he was personally looking forward to a time when people began to rediscover all good beer, regardless of its ABV. Personally, I look forward to the day when the BA’s top twenty-five list contains more than two dozen Imperial this and thats and represents a broader spectrum of great beers. I think that day is coming.” –Peter Egleston interviewed on The Full Pint

I think honestly there’s a healthy dose of both going on here. If we consider the extreme brews to be gourmet food, and the session beers to be comfort food, we can see a space for both to exist. Comfort food is simple, delicious and when made well, can be the perfect meal that’s just exactly what you needed. It also takes some skill to get it just right. But will the existence of a new high-priced gourmet restaurant next to the diner that makes the best grilled cheese sandwich you’ve ever consumed really have that much of an overall effect? I, for one, would hope that consumers should be smart enough to know where to go to get their desires met – whether that is at the counter of the diner down the street or at a private booth in the place with at 2-week wait for reservations.

A Thanksgiving Without Beer – A Run-in With “Blue Laws”

Sitting in my Aunt’s living room on Thanksgiving, I looked at the only remaining beer – some warm Budweiser that my Grandmother brought over – and sighed. Funny how the Pilgrims that we were thanking might have ruined my plans. How did I end up at a Thanksgiving with no beer?

As some of you know, there is a lot going on in my life. I have, essentially, five different jobs which is about to become six. I work a lot but I love what I do so I don’t mind at all. And as long as I’m not falling asleep at the wheel, then I’m happy to keep being busy all the time.

But then there are times where being busy really sucks. Like, the week leading up to Thanksgiving, for example. I wrote a post last week with the help of some great Hop Press’rs about beers to bring to Thanksgiving, but didn’t find the time to get to my favorite beverage purveyors before hitting the road for Connecticut to visit relatives. Thinking that I could find my carefully-thought out suggestions or find something like them in Connecticut when I arrived, I paid it no mind. I left early in the morning and stopped at the Stop and Shop around the corner from my Aunt’s house to get my last-minute beer purchases. When I found the beer aisle, I was very surprised to see a large, ugly, thick brown tarp covering the beer section. In peeling and faded vinyl letters it said, “NO BEER SALES SUNDAY OR AFTER 9PM.”

I looked down at my watch and noticed it was 11:30 am. On a Thursday. I thought, “Maybe I was trying to buy beer too early in the day and I’ll have to wait around until noon. That would kind of suck.”

I then asked a supermarket employee who responded gruffly. “No beer sales today. Blue laws. Can’t sell any beer at night. Or on Sundays,” I pondered this for a minute, reminding myself that it was the middle of the day on a Thursday until he said, “or holidays.”

Now, to back up for a moment, growing up in New York, I was familiar with the so called “Blue Laws” that restrict activities for religious or historical reasons. Originating (ironically) in Connecticut, these laws – especially concerning alcohol – took hold during prohibition across the country, but many have been completely repealed because of unconstitutionality. In my home state of New York, I remember not being able to buy beer before noon on Sundays, with the reasoning being that you should “be in church” on a Sunday morning instead of buying beer or drinking, so they restricted sales. As odd as that one is, I guess I can see the logic there. And is there really that much demand for anything on Sunday mornings? Most of the time I don’t get up until noon anyway!

But Connecticut, it seems, goes farther. The sales at night are supposedly to reduce drunk driving. Though that is a worthy goal, let us think about that for a moment. If you’re buying beer to consume at home (as most people are when they’re buying beer at a grocery store) then you’re not driving anywhere after consuming the alcohol, right? So personally, I’m not sure how the beer ban at night is helping the overall situation, but I welcome any state statistics if you can dig them up (I haven’t had any luck yet).

The part about this that was the most ridiculous, however, was the idea that selling alcohol on holidays is somehow wrong. I think this may come from the Puritan-esque misconception that all alcohol is 1) just for intoxication and/or 2) bad, morally wrong, or at the least a negative influence. Forget all of the benefits of pairing a glass of wine with dinner or dessert, or being able to actually enjoy good beer with turkey and all the trimmings. This confronts a fundamentally antiquated idea, and personally, I think it no longer fits in our American culture.

Blue Laws like these only serve to stifle the innovative, healthy and enjoyable things that alcohol can bring to a nice dinner, evening with friends, or otherwise. It also degrades some customs – such as bringing a bottle of wine to the host or hostess of a dinner party if the party falls on a state-sanctioned holiday.

While much of the blame for my beer-poor Thanksgiving does rest on my own shoulders for not planning ahead, imagine if craft beer enthusiasts, or even amateurs, read all of the wonderful ideas and wanted to try some pairing of their own? Well in Connecticut, at least, they’ve been cut off at the knees.

Beers to Bring to Thanksgiving Dinner (Hop Press Edition!)

Every year on my blog I write a post about what beers to bring to Thanksgiving dinner. I don’t do this soley because the variety of dishes served at this meal are just waiting to be paired with some great craft beer, but instead because its an opportunity for beer education. What better way to pass the time at the dinner table than discussing new and different beers that (in all likelihood) your family isn’t familiar with? Beats Grandma asking about your ex in front of your new beau, or talking about another family member’s digestive status….

I asked a few of my Hop Press brethren to chime in about what they would bring to their family’s Thanksgiving celebration, and a little justification about why. I hope you enjoy our selections, and I invite you to share your own in the comments!

Mario Rubio

1. Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin – Shipyard is festive in flavor and color. The amber base goes well with the all-at-once style of a Thanksgiving dinner. Also, what’s a Thanksgiving dinner without a rolling buzz.

2. Saison Dupont – Dupont also goes well with a variety of foods but adds a bit more bright flavors and effervescence which help scrub and cleanse the palate.

3. Anchor Steam – Anchor Steam is a lager and the lighter body might suit some to accompany the belly busting meal. The hoppiness is bright and present but not overpowering, providing a balance to the meal.

Ilan Klages-Mundt

1. Ayinger Oktoberfest Marzen – Every year before the big meal, the air would be chilly, yet refreshing. As I didn’t want to eat anything before dinner, an Oktoberfest really hit the spot with its light, biscuit characters, almost like an appetizer before stuffing myself later.

2.3 Fonteinen Doesjel – I consider wine a nice drink with thanksgiving dinner, for its flavorful in small volumes. The perfect beer to takes its place is a strong lambic, or gueze. 3 Fonteinen Doesjel is a great brew, giving me satisfaction in flavor as well as accentuating the staple cranberries at many tables.

3. Anchor Old Foghorn Barleywine – After dinner, Anchor’s barleywine goes extraordinarily well with pumpkin pie. The pie has the spice while the beer has the toffee and caramel notes that balance ever so well together.

Ken Weaver

1. Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze – For me, the epitome of nuanced, reasonably acidic gueuze. So much going on – lemons, funk, light oakiness, effervescent carbonation – and perfect as an aperitif.

2.Dupont Avril – A “table beer” from the brewers of Saison Dupont. 3.5% alcohol, lively green olive and herbal notes. This is a lighter-bodied saison that still leaves plenty of room for the main course.

3. New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red – I’m sort of an unabashed fan of most New Glarus offerings, and the fruitiness and mild tartness of Dan Carey’s fruit beers (see also: Raspberry Tart, Apple Ale, etc.) can serve the role of a liquid equivalent to cranberry sauce. At 4% alcohol with some residual sweetness, it also pairs well with a variety of dessert courses without overwhelming one’s palate.

Steve Koenemann

1. Victory Prima Pils – Like others, the pre-beer can’t make me too full or spoil my palate for one of my favorite meals of the entire year. This year I had picked up some Victory Prima Pils to start us off. Light enough to not be filling with only enough hops to make it interesting and not overwhelm…

2.Farnum Hill – Extra Dry Cider – For the meal… I am going to go a bit out of the box on this one. I have a couple of bottles of this… very dry and clean on the palate.

3. The post-beer is somewhat up in the air at the moment… only because I can’t decide which of a couple I might go with. It will likely be a “game day” decision as the football games after the main meal will take center stage versus the dessert. The choices will either be one of the Sierra Nevada 30th brews (I favor the Barleywine) or a Sierra Nevada Bigfoot… the combo of the meal and the ABV in either of these should ensure that I am peacefully snoring by halftime. :)

Carla Companion

1. Brooklyn Brewing Co. – Brooklyn Lager – After reading the other’s contributions I found that I liked the idea of a “pre-meal beer” so I have amended my list to include one. This has a nice clean finish and doesn’t weigh you down before a heavy meal ahed.

2.Allagash Curieux – This one has just enough complexity of flavor and spice to go well with a lot of the dishes on the table. And it’s a bit “out there” so it makes for good conversation.

3.Windmer Brothers – BRRRbonThis sweet, dark brew with a touch of bourbon (from barrel-aging) will be a great pairing with pumpkin pie – bringing some depth and richness to the spiciness. I wouldn’t pair it with Pecan pie, though, might just be far too sweet and take it over the edge.

Mark Dredge

1. Chimay Grande Reserve is a great beer for turkey – spice to match the extras on the plate with the meat and enough strength to not be killed by it.

2.Fuller’s ESB is another great choice. Full bodied, rich, fruity – nice.

3.Goose Island Sofie would be another. Dry and fruity, a little spicy and tart, easy drinking. Lighter than the other two choices I’ve put forward which might help with the huge pile of food on the table!

(Special thanks for weighing in even though the UK doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving!)

Lisa Morrison

1. For appetizers and cheese plate before the meal: Upright Brewing’s Four orCascade Brewing’s Apricot Ale (more widely available).

2. For the turkey and all the trimmings: Chimay Grand Reserve.

3. For dessert: Great Divide Yeti (such a favorite, our dog is named Yeti).

4. After dinner sipping: Mother of All Storms by Pelican Pub and Brewery. Just released. Oh. My. God. It’s soooo good!

Happy Thanksgiving from the Hop Press – safe travels!

Tasting the End of History

There were many valuable learning moments to be had at the first-ever Beer Bloggers Conference – and a lot of topics for thought. But one of the things that I know I’ll never have the opportunity to do again, and was incredibly lucky to eperience, was to taste Brew Dog’s 55% alcohol beer, The End of History – served in a bottle stuffed inside a road-killed stoat (or as they are known in the US, an ermine). While this might sound like an awful idea, I thought of it as one of those things that will just stick with me for a long time whether it tasted good or not.

So, I entered a contest sponsored by Beer Tap TV ( that required a 30 second video describing why youshould be able to taste the End of History at the Beer Bloggers conference. At 2am, I put some makeup on, sat in front of my computer and made a joke about moose, and referenced some Monty Python. I entered, then started a three day quest to get anyone and everyone who knew me to vote in the contest. After exhausting campaigning, I was ahead of the other two entrants – (both women, interestingly) – but overnight the day before I left, Tamre from Girls Pint Out had me thoroughly whipped. I gave up and smiled when asked about it. It was fun, and it was fun just to have a chance and to see the outpouring of support from people who know me only online. And if I got just one person to laugh at the Monty Python jokes, that was enough.

After talking to the guys at Beer Tap TV at the conference itself, they were nice enough to offer me a taste after the filming of their show was over – if there was any left. Flattered and excited, I waited for the moment to come.  I watched the look on the faces of The Beer Wench, the Beer Tap TV guys and Tamre as they took their sips of the brew.

Tasting the End of History

Pure pain, distain and, well, burning. I couldn’t hear too much else of their analysis, but by the time my opportunity to drink it came around, I was expecting paint thinner.

But, what I got was entirely different.

Imagine, if you will, a strong, strong IPA with lots of malt. So, something like a Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA or a Stone Ruination. Then, subtract a little hops but leave that extreme beer flavor… and follow it with a healthy serving of moonshine. When swirled in the glass, the legs were ridiculous – it acted like whiskey. Basically this beer started out as a beer, and you could still taste that is what it was, but ended as a too-warm-to-enjoy liquor. It finished with a burn, for sure, but it’s a beer through and through. And that’s the answer to the question that I’ve had on my mind since I heard about Brew Dog’s insane ventures… is it still a beer?

My only regret in this situation is that the beer wasn’t colder (Though I wouldn’t have wanted to see it put on ice or else there’d be quite a soggy stoat sitting on the table) but it was probably one of the most interesting things I’ve ever consumed.

A special thanks to Beer Tap TV and the organizers of The Beer Bloggers Conference for the fun opportunity.

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