What impresses me with a new brewer is if they can make a good solid stout or porter. Not barrel aged. Not with Mexican chocolate. Just a solid well-made beer.
I study writing. By that I mean I read books on writing, writing technique, biographies of writers. I do writing exercises. I write more words in a day than you could imagine to get better at it. I am still after years of writing, trying to master the fundamentals of the craft.
James Joyce wrote one of the most influential and experimental novels certainly of the 20th century, but probably ever with Ulysses. However, if you go back and read his early work, especially Dubliners, you see how Joyce mastered the craft of writing well before he jumped into the stream of conscious writing that made him so important. The same can be said of Faulkner. His early works show someone working out the fundamentals of the craft before he launched into the history and lives of Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi.
I wish some breweries would take the time to master their skills in the same way. Too often a new brewery will come online and instead of making sure they master their core beers first, they jump into sours or barrel-aged Mexican chocolate stouts. Now, I know many of these brewers have years of experience behind them, but many were good homebrewers who are now jumping to a professional system and have no true idea of that means.
However, I understand why brewers do this. This blog post by Bryan D. Roth is part of his year in review series where he looks at the top 100 beers on RateBeer in 2016 and analyzes it to find trends. It seems the geekiest of the beer geeks like anything that is new and/or “rare.” So, if you are a new brewer trying to make a splash, you make something maybe not new and rare to get people talking but certainly different than what everyone else is doing.
As I’ve gotten more into beer, I went through the phase of chasing new and rare. I was always looking for that hit of adrenaline I got from the first time I tasted a craft beer. We all are. However, recently, that has changed slightly. I still look for those special beers and enjoy them, but I also look for well-made stouts, porters, and pale ales.
When I a rep from a new brewery or a distributor with a new brewery tries to sell me their beer, if we can’t sit and do a tasting, I always request something from their core first: a stout, IPA, lager, pale ale, porter. Something basic and simple. I want to see if they have mastered brewing their recipes before I commit to buying their boysenberry grissett.
I’ve seen too many artists, musicians, writers, and now brewers try to be new and different before they got good first. That always leads to failure.