I happened to see Jay Brooks tweet about it. I initially thought he was looking for some type of guest post, but the concept looks really cool. I am a bit surprised that I just found The Session; the project has been ongoing since 2007.
For January Brooks threw out three questions:
Question 1: For our first question of the new year, what one word, or phrase, do you think should be used to describe beer that you’d like to drink. Craft beer seems to be the most agreed upon currently used term, but many people think it’s losing its usefulness or accuracy in describing it. What should we call it, do you think?
The Brewers Association is a trade organization and it is up to them to determine membership criteria. There has been a lot of hand-wringing about the Brewers Association's definitions of craft beer and independence. Honestly, I find it tedious.
One of the dictionary definitions of craft that I found is: "an activity involving skill in making things by hand."
I recently visited a large craft brewery that opened within the past year. There were no brewers on the brewstand. There were a half dozen in an adjacent control room full of computer screens. Everything in this state-of-the-art facility was hard piped and the brewers in the room were monitoring and moving liquid from one vessel to the next. The bottling line employed numerous robots that did everything from removing pallet slips, unloading bottles off their pallets, to repalletizing full cases of beer to be shipped out.
Equipment and resources like this would be the envy of 99% of craft brewers. Does any of this meet the above definition of craft? Nobody would say advanced systems designed to ensure consistency and efficiency is a bad thing.
To answer the question, beer is beer. I've always believed people should drink the beer that they like even if it is not craft beer or hand-crafted.
Question #2: What two breweries do you think are very underrated?
This question would have been much easier to answer five years ago. As the number of breweries in the US has grown, more shelf space and draft lines are going to local brands at the expense of larger craft brewers from out of state and imported beers. We could list small brewers all day that most people reading this will never visit or drink their beer.
- von Trapp Brewing in Vermont produces flawless, traditional German lagers. The Helles in particular is a love letter to pilsner malt. These aren't the type of beers that will garner lots of attention or light up the beer rating sites, but those of us who are beyond that will never be disappointed.
- There are some beers that when I have them are always better than I remember. Smuttynose Finestkind IPA is certainly one. Old Brown Dog is one of the few brown ales you see year round in the Boston area. Whenever I think of a Robust Porter, or American Porter in the 2015 BJCP guidelines, I think of Smutty's Robust Porter. I've only visited the brewery once, and when I did some of the rare and imperial stuff they had on tap blew me away.
Question 3: Name three kinds of beer you’d like to see more of.
- Non-imperial, adjunct free stouts. More Irish Stouts, Export Stouts, Tropical Stouts please. Not every stout needs lactose, vanilla, or artisanal coffee. If you are drinking one of these styles and think it is "light" because it is lighter than Old Rasputin, you are wrong.
- Bitters or English Pale Ale was one of the styles that launched the craft beer revolution. Like pilsner it is a style brewers love to make and drink. I spoke to one brewer who lamented how poorly an ESB sold in his taproom. I suggested calling it an English Pale Ale thinking that would work better with drinkers who didn't know what a bitter was. Unfortunately that was exactly what he did and it didn't help. Also, the way InBev has let the Bass brand die on the vine is an absolute shame.
- For the most part beer in America was initially inspired British, German, and Belgian brewing traditions. Surely there were people in other regions too cold to grow wine grapes, but where cereal grains thrived, that were making beer. I'd love to see more of these styles brewed in America.