Since When Did Beer Become So Bitter?

Folks, where to start?! There is something sad that perfectly reasonable buzz around hazy beer is regularly bemoaned, decried, and incessantly picked at by industry experts from brewers to writers alike. I can’t help but wonder whether some people of influence in the beer industry are shaken that modern drinkers are more confident and capable than ever before of making their own minds up about which beer they favour, despite loud and consistent push back from those same experts, as they look down their noses at both successful brewers and happy customers – spoiler – that’s the real problem in the industry right now.

Let’s start with a few assumptions. Hazy beer is all over social media, so it looks like the drink of choice right now, and has done for the past couple of years, with a seemingly ever increasing presence. West Coast hoppy beer, along with many previously innovative and once upon a time new sub styles of hoppy beer, surely makes up over 90% of all the hoppy beer brewed and consumed today. Add annual production numbers from almost always hazy (DDH, IPA, and DIPA) breweries like Other Half, Treehouse, Bissell Brothers, Monkish, The Veil, Trillium, Hill Farmstead, our humble selves, etc, to all of the breweries out there that occasionally turn out hazy beers like Magic Rock, Modern Times, Green Cheek, Cellarmaker, Northern Monk, etc, and you have at best 450,000hL of hazy beer annually (based on 5x the annual output of the almost always hazy breweries et al above – a high estimate of worldwide annual haze generation). How does that number stack up to West Coast hoppy beers (pales, and IPAs)? Take Lagunitas, Firestone Walker, New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, Stone, and BrewDog for starters, and assume only 65% of their annual output is hoppy beer (low estimate – numbers I’m privvy to suggest it’s more likely 90%), and you get somewhere in the region of 2,300,000hL of West Coast/bright hoppy beer per annum. Sorry that this is all back of a beer mat stuff, but even without taking into account PDX, and San Diego itself (Stone is based a little north in Escondido), both stalwart champions and originators of West Coast hoppy beer, let alone West Coast oriented breweries from coat to coast in the US, UK, Europe, and Asia, it’s clear that hazy beer is but a drop in the ocean.

Why all the fuss then? I dunno. I think there’s a mix of jealousy (damn you for doing or appearing to do well with your hazy brewery, and having the lowly standards of making what people want), selfishness (why can’t everyone make stuff I like the most), and condescension (those hazy beer fans obviously don’t know how good saison/West Coast IPA/cask ale is or they’d be all over that superior style and not obsessing over faddy hazy beer like the noobs they obviously are – I’m paraphrasing just about every disparaging remark I’ve heard over the past couple of years).

The article that sparked a diversion for me this evening from finishing (erm, starting) my Brewer’s Congress presentation, or the blog post in progress on our 2017 festive line up was painful to read. Drinkers have never been presented with a larger variety of beer, across many more styles than were anywhere near as accessible a decade ago. This current, wonderfully rich, varied, divergent time we’re in right now is no sign of a death of creativity man, but it sure could mark the death of influential writers that think they can talk down to a small group of beer lovers for enjoying delicious fresh beer.

Craft breweries that have tried to succeed through niche pursuits, some by eschewing all hoppy beer production in a market utterly obsessed with hops (a flavour set exclusively available to beer drinkers), deserve every ounce of support we can all reasonably levy. But I’m not sure any brewery has a reasonable case to make through bemoaning their lack of success when it was their choice alone to ignore what lots of people want to drink. Folk are literally lining up for hours to buy 12 cans of hoppy beer – the market is there for the sharing!

As tempted as I am to pick away at further slurs against successful or on the road to success businesses (jobs, and money filtering all the way back to field workers tending grain crops and harvesting hops, to metal workers and engineers building breweries, and beyond), and happy customers (I really hope I don’t have to make the case for hard working people spending their money on things they like that bring them moments of happiness), I’ll just leave it at this – if people making things that other people want, or if people enjoying things you don’t personally enjoy yourself gets you down, there's a bigger problem in your life than whether hoppy beer glows with a hazy hue, or shines with a golden light.

Of the many views that seek to build a vision of what beer could be, between the one that always looks back to better days in the past, and one wrapped up in the hazy here and now, there surely lies a happy place where the future is one of people, with things they like, having a jolly nice time together...

Paul Jones