CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The craft-beer craze is alive and well even during these trying economic times. Every time I am out and about I wind up meeting at least one hyperenthusiastic person who seemingly woke up one day and realized that there was great beer out there.
Many of these newly self-actualized beer geeks are younger folks (at least compared to me) who have gotten a taste of something that set them off; maybe it was Stone's Ruination or Dog Fish Head's 120 Minute IPA. It doesn't matter exactly which one, but it was most likely a beer that would fall into the extreme category; they'll do it to you every time!
If you are the beer-curious type with a wandering palate, big, flavor-packed beers will hunt you down and pull you in -- so, be warned.
Please don't waste your pity on these poor souls; they are quite happy living in über-hopped bliss, though it's easy to become a bit envious living vicariously through their journeys from new-release party to keg tapping to extreme beer fest, and then reading their gushing online reviews at BeerAdvocate.com or RateBeer.com. You get the idea.
Here is where I risk either sounding old or professorial or both, but here goes:
When, if ever, was the last time one of these beer geeks sat down to a nice drinkable glass of Czech pilsner or maybe a classic German Doppelbock?
Most likely the answer is not recently -- and definitely not on purpose. Many newcomers to the great craft-beer awakening choose to step over the classic styles while reaching for extreme and, very often, one-hit wonders -- tasty beers nonetheless.
Today I am putting forward the thesis that to better appreciate the depth and breadth of extreme craft beer, an understanding and appreciation of classic beer styles is a prerequisite. Sure, some of you just slapped me with the "beer snob" label. Go right ahead. I am just trying to increase the depth of pleasure that one should experience when tasting all world-class beers. Über-hopped, barrel-aged or not.
I call to all of you with hop-burned palates -- those of you who think the bitterness scale starts at 70 IBU and goes up from there or the ones who think all beer should taste like a whiskey barrel -- please take a few days off and then restart your journey at the beginning.
Go to your favorite beer bar and sit down with a Sam Adams Noble Pils, for example, or maybe stop by Lola's and ask for a Celebrator Doppelbock. Let it warm up a bit and try to find all of the flavors that are right in front of you.
These are beers that layer in flavor in such a way that allows our palates and minds to be able to peel back and to appreciate each layer. Think of it as extreme beer unplugged. You know how you can often better appreciate an overproduced song when you hear it played acoustically? Let that happen with your beer.
For more on the craft of beer, see Rich Ireland's "Beers to You" blog at thegazz.com.