I must confess that I obsess to a weird extreme over craft beer’s place in the beverage universe, especially as it competes with wine and spirits. While I disdain the pretentious, snobby vibe I often see associated with the serving of wine in fine restaurants, I am jealous of the respect that wine is afforded in popular culture. In a nutshell, craft beer is as good or better than fine wine in every way, but only a tiny percentage of the population understands that.
A recent experience got me to thinking indepth about this topic again. I was enjoying a meal with some friends with the means to have a modest wine cellar. It’s not uncommon for them to have wine with dinner, and when the wife drinks beer, it’s almost always a light beer due to concern over calories. The husband has mostly moved beyond drinking the light stuff and has even dabbled in craft beer, but just barely. He drank Fat Tire while skiing in Colorado, and the context endeared that particular beer to him, but of course he can’t get it in Alabama yet. So he’s dabbled in other amber colored beers, such as Dos Equis and Yuengling. He’s even branched out as far as Sweetwater 420.
The restaurant where we were eating has an above average selection of draft beer, so this craft-dabbling man asked me to pick his next beer. My thought was that if he could handle pale ales like 420, maybe he could handle the next step up, an India pale ale. I ordered him one of my favorites, Avery IPA, then got up to use the restroom.
When I returned, I was informed that they were out of Avery IPA and had served him Avery Maharaja instead. Maharaja is a double IPA and one of the most intense beers you can find in Alabama. He had not yet taken a sip.
I informed him that I had planned to ease him up one step on the flavor spectrum, but he’d been served something much more bitter and intense than I’d requested. I told him if he didn’t like it, he shouldn’t hesitate to switch beers with me, since I had just received a Back Forty Truck Stop Honey I was sure he’d like.
He thoroughly enjoyed the double IPA.
There I’d been, like many beer geeks, worried about “crossover” beers and “gateway” beers and whatever else you want to call the sorts of beers that ease light lager and wine-drinking people into intensely flavored ales. But this man jumped right from one of the mildest pale ales in the market into one of the most intimidating double IPAs you’ll find anywhere.
So what’s the point of recounting this anecdote in a newspaper column? I think there are some interesting lessons to be learned from this.
One, the pool of people who could, would and should be enjoying craft beers of all types is gigantic. It’s just stunning that craft beer makes up barely more than 5 percent of the American beer market. More often than not, when someone tries a really flavorful beer, they like it. It’s hard for me not to think it’s possible for craft beer to someday account for over 50 percent of the American beer market, but this optimism leads me to a reality check in my second point below.
Two, cultural forces will continue to restrict the pace of people switching from wine to beer.
As easy as it is for some people to immediately appreciate the quality and complexity of a great craft beer, millions of people grew up thinking that beer is for football games and that wine should accompany a nice meal. That deeply ingrained mindset doesn’t turn off with the flip of a switch. I’m pretty sure my friend who recently enjoyed his first double IPA hasn’t turned into an instant hop head, and he still drinks wine more often than beer.
Three, while the concept of “gateway beers” has merit, sometimes it has to be tossed out the window, perhaps more often than I would have previously thought. Rather than trying to woo your buddy over to the good stuff with a wheat beer, maybe try a barrel aged imperial stout and see where the chips fall.
On a different note, mark your calendars: our state legislature reconvenes on Tuesday, May 24, to begin the last of seven remaining meeting days. I’m guessing those meeting days will be divided up over three weeks. So, pro-beer legislation needs to pass soon or there won’t be any more opportunities until next year.
As I mentioned last week, the home brew bill is dead for the year. Additionally, I’ve heard that the Gourmet Bottle Bill isn’t going to make it this year, so no 22-ounce or 750-milliliter bottles in Alabama until 2012 at the earliest. The Brewery Modernization Act is still alive and well, albeit in the form of a compromise bill that doesn’t accomplish 100 percent of what the original bill included. It will, however, allow breweries like Good People to open tap rooms and greatly diminish the restrictions on opening brewpubs. It’s already passed the Senate, so be sure to call your state Representative and encourage him or her to vote yes on SB192, the Brewery Modernization Act.
“Hopped Up” is a weekly brew review by Danner Kline, founder of Free the Hops and co-organizer of the annual Magic City Brewfest. Send your feedback to email@example.com