This past Thursday, January 15, 2015, I appeared on a local radio show called Craft City listing to discuss craft beer and other business things, including my family law practice. The show can be listened to in full below. Be sure to check out the segment with Candace Moon the Craft Beer Attorney (she beat me to it!) discussing various legal issues in the news lately relating to beer. If you really just want to hear me, go to the beginning of the second half of the show.
If anyone else is interested in having me take part in a podcast or video feel free to hit me up and I will be glad to join. If you like this show, find Craft City Listings on Facebook to hear about upcoming shows.
Ipas are the latest big craze in the craft beer world. Reports on large increases in the costs of hops suggest that hops aren’t being grown as fast as would keep up with demand. But how does this affect ordinary consumers?
First off we might see the cost of hoppy beers increase, especially the extreme ones. Just as thick coffee and chocolate beers are priced higher we might see the double and triple ipas costing a lot more. This is expected because breweries have to make a profit. Beers like Green Bullet and Stone Enjoy By rely on these popular hops for the distinct flavors.
Second we are likely to see more breweries changing their recipes and experimenting with different varieties of hops. Though this will likely mean some of your favorite beers are going to taste a little different, it should also mean that new and exciting flavors will be explored by some of the smaller breweries. Don’t be too hard on a brewery when they tell you that they delayed your favorite beer or modified the recipe because they couldn’t get the right hops. They are likely telling the truth.
I am excited to see what new varieties of hops become popular in this new hop shortage because it could lead to some flavor combinations that are even better than the beers I already love. The next time you are enjoying a big hoppy beer remember that getting those specific hops you demand is not easy. It might make you appreciate that beer a little more.
In this post I am going to explain why fresh beer is important for those who have a refined palate and some ways breweries could sell more beer to those like myself seeking freshness.
I named this blog “San Diego Hop Addict” because I am addicted to hops when it comes to my beers. At first I thought it was a simple enough task to look on a menu at the restaurant for those three letters, IPA, and I would be satisfied. Then over time I started to drink certain varieties of beer I thought were great originally but for some reason didn’t taste like the same great beer I had before. What had once been a beer dominated by flavors of floral and citrus was now largely a syrupy drink with the sweetness of malts. But wasn’t this the same beer I had when I first opened the 24-pk? It took me swearing off some of the most popular IPAs before I realized it was not a lack of quality control but a lack of freshness.
Stone Brewing admittedly has had enjoy by dates on their cases of beer for some time but I ignored them at first thinking that beer is beer and there is no way it could go bad.
To many people this won’t even register as a problem. If you are already a fan of IPAs that tend towards the darker side, and thus focus on malt flavors, a Stone IPA that has lost its hop bite will still taste great to you. I take one taste of those malts and sigh. Though the beer is not horrible, I could be enjoying something closer to the style that got me excited about beer in the first place. If your ideal beer is Societe’s Apprentice or Ballast Point’s Sculpin, freshness is hugely important in shaping the flavor of each beer you pour at home.
There are a few reasons why it is in the interest of a brewery to make a big deal about freshness. Fresh IPA is much more likely to impress someone with some intense flavors that leave a lasting impression. When an IPA is not very fresh, consumers may write it off as a poor IPA rather than recognizing that it is not as fresh. In short, making a clear indicator of freshness helps ensure that consumers recognize all the quality control put into a product.
There are a few ways that brewers can ensure that consumers taste fresh beer more often than not. 1) Brewers can produce smaller batches of the big hoppy beers. This can be a way to make sure that a year-round product consistently tastes fresh. 2) If smaller batches are not used, bottled-on dates or clearly-explained enjoy-by dates should be used. 3) Seasonal releases can be used to give consumers a clear idea when the beer was released.
1) The strategic use of small batches
This is one way a smaller brewery has an advantage over a bigger brewery. They are not brewing a ton of beer to distribute nationwide so it is more likely that each batch will be fairly small. I know when Intergalactic Brewing puts out an IPA that it is going to be around for a few months tops before that batch is sold out. This means that the beer I drink at the brewery is more likely to be fresh. With breweries that don’t sell bottles, this helps to bring consumers back to the tasting room to either enjoy beer there or buy a growler to take home and share. I make a note to visit Intergalactic Brewing as soon as they put out a new batch of the Perseus IPA because it is amazing when it is fresh.
2) The need for clear enjoy-by dates
Enjoy-by dates are an interesting beast because there doesn’t seem to be a clear agreement as to how far out the date should be from the release of the beer. Thus, a bottle of Palate Wrecker from Green Flash that says “Enjoy By July 2014” doesn’t tell me if it was bottled just this past month or back in January. A simple explanation on the bottle indicating how this date is calculated would be able to tell me through inference when the beer was brewed. It could for example say “our enjoy-by dates are set 5 months out from bottling.” Though even better would be if beers had a clear bottled-on date printed on the bottle. Then when I am in the store looking at a 6-pk of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale I can tell how fresh it is much easier.
I suspect that breweries don’t use enjoy-by dates to avoid scaring off the general consumer who might avoid a beer that was bottled five months ago without that date. I would certainly always reach for the beer that was most recently bottled in a market where there are so many quality IPAs to choose from. I think if breweries included an explanation with the bottled-on date so that the consumer knows what to expect from reading it, this wouldn’t result in a significant drop in sales.
I also don’t expect the average consumer would notice the date or care without some explanation on the packaging of what a difference freshness makes. Thus, breweries could also educate consumers better by putting some explanation on the bottles or an infographic on their social media pages.
3) The importance of seasonal brews
Seasonal brews are useful in many of the same ways that small batches are useful. The benefit of a seasonal from the perspective of the consumer is there is typically a big announcement of the beer’s release on the breweries’ Facebook page, giving you a clear idea when it was released. Alesmith, for example, has two seasonal beers called Yulesmith. One is released in the summer and the other is released in the winter. Fans familiar with this release schedule will know that when a Summer Yulesmith shows up in the store it is going to be very fresh. This push to enjoy these beers fresh helps the brewery sell that small batch of beers quickly so that everyone who drinks it has the same experience of flavors.
Keep in mind that this whole discussion is largely limited to a small portion of the beer industry, beers with intense hop flavors up front. Different styles of beers age much nicer and still taste great six months after bottling, if not longer. I will even enjoy an older IPA if the malts are of a variety I enjoy. This is why in general moving towards an enjoy-by date system more similar to what Stone uses would be best. Stone started to put enjoy-by dates much closer to bottling so that the enjoy-by date of a Go To IPA is 2 months after bottling.
We all love to hate click-bait articles with inflammatory headlines. Even more so when there is no place to comment in reply. These are best responded to with longer blog posts to adequately address the issues. David Infante on Thrillist posted recently an article called “Why I Hate IPAs.” My first response to that is that he should learn to recognize that beers are created in many different styles precisely because people have different tastes. It is because of the recent craft beer explosion that people who don’t appreciate PBR and other similar beers David seems to love have other options.
Before I get deeper into this response, let’s look at a few of his major complaints. 1) IPAs are quite filling and lead to bloating, 2) IPAs are musky and grassy and taste like spoiled beer 3) IPAs are overpriced, 4) IPAs can’t be chugged.
1) IPAs are quite filling and lead to bloating
This point I can concede but I would add for most people IPAs are also problematic because they are high calories. The same is true for most beers with a high ABV so it could equally apply to imperial porters, imperial stouts, and all of the other stronger beers. My response to this is simple, fans of IPAs are more concerned with the taste of the beer. If a little bloating is problematic by all means drink something else. It is precisely because of this aspect of IPAs that they are not an everyday enjoyment for me.
2) IPAs are musky and grassy and taste like spoiled beer
I would say David needs to learn about the different types of hops before he starts to lump all IPAs together as having the same flavor. There are two main types of IPAs, darker malt-heavy brews and lighter PBR colored hop-forward brews. Within each of these two styles are a number of different flavors that you can find in mass-produced beers. The flavors change drastically depending on the types of malts used and the types of hops used. Some hops provide a grassy flavor. Others provide a floral flavor, others citrus, others grapefruit, others pine. The list goes on.
I personally don’t really like the darker malt-heavy IPAs but that just means I tend to find IPAs that present the flavor profiles I enjoy out of a good IPA. I tend to prefer the grapefruit, floral, and citrus flavors of hops and so I typically buy IPAs that lean in that direction. This brings me to something that led me to create this blog in the first place. I believe brewers have failed because they think it is enough to simply label their beer as IPA and hope it will sell. This leads consumers to assume that IPAs all taste the same when in fact there are multiple varieties.
I will rarely buy a six pack of an IPA I am unfamiliar with now because I know there is a 50% chance that it will feature flavors I don’t really care for. Breweries that take the time to list the hops and flavors present in the beer (like San Diego’s Modern Times) are going to end up ahead of the competition because they describe their beers in a way that someone who knows what flavors they like can understand. This means less dissatisfied customers.
3) IPAs are overpriced
This is a bit silly, especially with the example given that some six-packs are $22.50. Most fans of IPAs know what they like and can find a six-pack for around $10, maybe $13 or $14 with certain brews that cost more to make. Cost-conscious IPA fans learn quickly how to find what they want at a price that makes sense. Many breweries are starting to charge $9.99 for a six-pack or sometimes $9.99 for a four-pack of 16oz cans. I would never spend $22.50 for a six-pack because at that price I am better off spending $5 on a 22oz bomber or filling a growler at a local brewery.
Either way, craft beer is going to be slightly more expensive because it tends to have more quality ingredients. It costs more to brew a good IPA than it does to brew PBR, especially when you don’t have the capacity for brewing on such a large scale as the big beer companies.
4) IPAs can’t be chugged
I would hope that anyone serious about beer enough to complain about certain tastes would respect themselves and the beer enough to recognize that it is not worthwhile to chug any beers. Craft beer, whether it is a pale ale or an IPA, is meant to be enjoyed for all the flavors not downed quickly to get drunk faster.
Rather than complaining that IPAs can’t be chugged, if beer under 5% ABV is desired there are plenty of quality craft beer options out there to choose from. There are plenty of local breweries in most cities that sell six-packs of well-crafted pale ales, blondes, and ambers. The best way to find out what to buy is to visit those breweries and order a couple of tasters. Recently Craft Breweries have started brewing session IPAs as a way of providing the flavors one expects from an IPA in a lighter beer that can be enjoyed all day long and doesn’t have the bitterness of a 7% IPA. I doubt David would appreciate these beers though because he says clearly that flavors are not important to him.
If David wants craft beer fans to respect his opinion, he should start by learning to respect the beer he drinks. If flavor truly doesn’t matter to him then he is wasting his money even when he buys a six-pack for $9.99. The craft beer movement was led by people who demand more from their beers than simply watered down lagers. Lately I have been searching for the best local pale ales under 5% that are light in color and have the citrus and tropical fruit flavors I like in an IPA.
What are some local examples of lighter beers with good flavors?
One example of a San Diego brewery that does this really well is Modern Times, with their Fortunate Islands. This is a wheat beer that had hops added to it to give it the tropical fruit flavors I love in an IPA while being a low 4.8% so that it is great for those days when you want to down a six-pack (or in this case a four-pack).
Another beer, though sadly not available in six-packs yet is Rough Draft Weekday IPA, a session IPA. This is also a 4.8% beer that has a lot of the citrus flavors I’ve come to expect from IPA along with a light pine flavor. Still at $5 a 22oz bottle it is not too expensive. I hope one day the brewery will start to sell this delicious beer in six-packs.
Finally, Karl Strauss makes a delicious Pintail pale ale. At 5.3% this is a little bit above the threshold for some but it has a lot of the same citrus and tropical fruit flavors that I enjoy from a good IPA. This beer is typically available in reasonably priced six-packs at $8.99 each.