Okay, "Screwed" Was Hyperbole

About the time I noticed that my post about the GABF had attracted as many comments as my average daily traffic, I knew I'd hit a nerve. An anonymous commenter leveled a common charge at Oregon--"Oregon brewers brew what the masses want to drink" (ie, out of balance hoppy beers)--and I responded and ... we were off to the races.

To clarify: the Northwest (but principally Oregon) has developed a regional character. Beers here highlight hops. Not just bitterness, but a layered hopping that enhances the aroma and imparts delightful hoppy flavor throughout each sip. We tend to like styles slightly stronger than usual--an Oregon "mild" is 5%, but not excessively so, as best sellers Black Butte Porter, BridgePort IPA, Full Sail Session, and Widmer Hefeweizen demonstrate. Like Nortwest coffee, we just like flavor--strong, stiff, robust flavor. A recent trend has featured use of more exotic yeasts and styles as Oregonians continue to grow mor sophisticated.

Oregonians, being the most beer-friendly drinkers in the country, don't balk at a style they haven't tried--put a dubbel, Baltic porter, or old ale on the menu, and people will give it a shot. At Pix Patisserie in Portland, you can order a beer float (hat tip to Fred Eckhardt). I once sat in the Lucky Lab when a batch of of 8-year-olds invaded for a birthday party. Give those kids a decade and a half, and they'll be booking the Edgefield for August weddings. Having traveled around the country and sat in bars and brewpubs, I've seen from the overwhelming pale straw beers others drink that the penetration of beer into the culture just isn't there.

When I howled about the GABF's bias, I should have mentioned that that bias is, as I see it, toward lighter, less agressive beers. A friend of mine, who just returned to Oregon from a 6-year stint in Denver, guessed that this resulted from Coloradans' outdoor ethos: they're on the move and don't want to get weighed down like cloud-bound, pub-dwelling Stumptowners. (I saw this verified by a recent report that identified Colorado as the leanest state.) Colorado, because it is home to Charlie Papazian, the national Brewers Guild, the GABF, and assorted beer-related institutions, has reified the Colorado palate as the American standard.

Beer styles always allow for a range, but it is my opinion--based on the results I've seen in watching the GABF for years--that judges favor lighter beers and punish more robust beers even within accepted standards. And because Oregon brewers tend toward virtuosity, deviations from this narrow definition are also punished. It doesn't have to be this way. Lew Bryson recently addressed it on his site (hat tip Suds Sister):
"Any style of beer can be made stronger than the classic style guidelines. The goal should be to reach a balance between the style’s character and the additional alcohol. The brewer must provide the base style that is being created stronger and/or appropriately identify the style created (for example: double alt, triple fest, imperial porter or quadruple Pilsener)."

That’s what Garrett Oliver read to our judging panel at the Great American Beer Festival just two days ago....

I’m not against up-throttling beers. Doublebock came along over a century ago, and has proven itself in the marketplace and on my own happy tongue. More recently, double IPAs and double red ales have proved popular enough to have been granted their own categories. This category is kind of the proving ground for super-sizing beers.
He goes on to explain how just super-sizing a beer doesn't make it great, and we agree there. But I don't think Oregon breweries bloat their beers inexpertly--far from it. But their beers have historically not been recognized in Colorado (throw Washington beer into everything I've said here), and as a shameless partisan, I chafe at that.

How's that for being clearer?
Jeff Alworth3 Comments