It’s not uncommon to see a group of seasoned craft brewers shop around over pints and wish more drinkers would take an interest in their favorite brewing styles.
In many cases, these brewers date back to a time when Americans were just discovering classic beer styles—mostly of European origin—that had been lost over a century of homogenization by American breweries.
In recent years, many of these classics, from the once-ubiquitous pale ale to the rich, velvety porter, have occupied a space between the still-strong market for mass-produced domestic light ales and the specialty beers that compete as smoothies for adults or something like that. similar to a liquid pastry.
However, a new trend seems to be emerging from both ends of the spectrum as light beer drinkers discover tastier pilsners made in their own town and dessert beer drinkers find delight in a well-made Irish-style dry stout where the grain does most of the work instead of ingredients from the candy aisle.
Everything old is new again for these consumers, and more Alamo City brewers and breweries welcome them with full hearts and fermenters.
“I guess I gained a reputation as a classic brewer, but I never thought of myself as that,” said Jim Hansen, founder of Second Pitch Beer Co. “I like to brew beers that have a history and a story behind them. I don’t want to throw Oreos or donuts or anything else in the mash.”
Hansen brewed professionally in California for a decade before moving to San Antonio and planning Second Pitch, which has a lineup that includes the common California-style Hometown Lager, a West Coast IPA and a true-to-style Bavarian hefeweizen.
A fan-favorite of the brewery, especially in the warmer months, is the Czech-style Duke of Bohemia pilsner, made as a passion project of Paige Martin, who runs Second Pitch’s quality control and sales.
“People are looking for quirkier beers,” Hansen said of some drinkers looking for beers that taste like cake, pie or pickles. The fact that he doesn’t make these kinds of beers “is not at all out of snobbery. People drink for fun”.
In Hansen’s mind, these alcoholic, flavored stouts and other attention-grabbing beers can serve as gateways to the classics.
“Consumer curiosity helps not only curiosity beer, but also classic styles,” he said. “They might ask, ‘What’s that pilsner I heard about? “”
The opposite has been true for most of the past three decades. The lighter-style classics were the gateway to full-bodied beers and sometimes avant-garde interpretations of Old World beers.
Blue Star Brewing Co., the Southtown brewery that is the second oldest craft brewery in Texas, has kept the same basic recipes for pilsner, pale ale, dry stout, amber ale and American wheat beer ever since. 26 years. For many in San Antonio, Blue Star offered their first taste of American craft beer and took them out of the comfort zone of mass-produced light lagers.
In the late 1990s, this curiosity drove consumers to places like the original 54-Tap Hills and Valleys and the Flying Saucer Draft Emporium to try imported ales and German lagers alongside US-brewed performances. United of proven styles from a handful of breweries, mostly outside of Texas.
“It’s always been like this. It’s been cyclical since the craft beer movement started,” said Jason Davis, director of brewing operations at Freetail Brewing Co in San Antonio.
Davis, a professional brewer in Austin and the city of Alamo for more than two decades, noticed a progression in the tastes of beer makers as they learned their craft in the early days of the movement: lagers to lager to IPA, then back to lagers.
Mastering these classics and their variations, as well as porters and stouts, has provided brewers with a base from which to experiment with different malts, hop varieties and yeast strains, Davis said. This experimentation gave us the West Coast IPA early on and now even more interpretations of American IPAs such as Dry Raw IPAs and Hazy IPAs.
Starting with those classics was key to doing everything else well, Davis added. These proven beers offered a model to follow and clear targets for clarity, color range, malt character, flavors and specific gravity, a measure used to achieve a desired alcohol content.
This early mastery led to what might seem like big swings in craft beer trends, but they were all built on a combination of historical data, experience, and experimentation.
For example, La Muerta, Gold Medal winner of the Great American Beer Festival Freetail, a Russian imperial stout, could draw on a few examples of the rare classic British style exported to Russia and a handful of American interpretations still more alcoholic.
Today, many variations of La Muerta are unveiled each fall, often with fruit additions – this year’s special variety includes cherry and cocoa nibs – or aging in different casks.
The classic styles, though they never died out, seem to be finding new fans in San Antonio, though the sweet ales and hazy, tropical-flavored IPAs continue to grow in popularity.
“I wish I had a lot of foresight to know that the classic styles would come back,” said Randy Ward, brewer of the High Wheel line of beers and co-owner of Dorćol Distilling + Brewing Co. Instead, Ward went to brew what he loved and wanted to share with others.
Imports of English ales such as creamy Boddingtons and Newcastle Brown Ale, as well as German lagers including Paulaner’s hefeweizens, Oktoberfest Märzens and crispy helles, introduced Ward to the world of beer. at first. They also informed about his possible foray into home brewing and professional beer making.
High Wheel’s biggest seller, which is on tap and in cans and retailers such as HEB, is a classic Kolsch beer nicknamed Betty, and it accounts for half of the brewery’s sales. An Irish red ale, roast porter, West Coast-style IPA and a saison inspired by Belgian farmhouse ale round out the regular offerings.
“Ironically, when we started doing Kolsch, I felt like we were an outlier,” Ward said.
In 2017, there were fewer than 200 Kolsch-style beers entered into this category to be judged at the Great American Beer Festival. The style is now second in appetizers only to IPAs, with over 400.
Ward says he’s now venturing into the fuzzy trend of New England-style IPAs, but only after spending time at the Vermont brewery where the style was created and learning the do’s and don’ts. do to do things well.
“It makes the industry so much better that there are people doing creative things,” Ward said. “But sometimes someone dives in there and starts throwing things together. … You have to walk before you can run.”
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