The Realm Where IPA is Not the Only Coin


There is an event at Homebrew Con, the American Homebrewers Association's national conference, called Club Night. It seems to be the most-anticipated event on the schedule, and I landed in Minneapolis in perfect time to join Stan Hieronymus as it started. At Club Night, homebrew clubs set up in kiosks like you find at GABF and serve member beers, often decked out in costume. I'm not sure if the design of the event is to showcase regional clubs, or whether that in function it's just a lot easier for people within driving distance to provide kegs. Whatever the reason, most of the beer at this iteration of Homebrew Con came from Midwester clubs--though I did see one Sacramento/Seattle Club flying the Cascadia Flag (nice rauchbier).

As we moved through the sprawling hall, I found my eye attracted to uncommon but classic beer styles, as is my habit. Rodney Kibzey, a local homebrewer, got things started by pouring us his excellent grodziskie. I moved to a pre-prohibition lager, had a dalliance with cider makers, located some great farmhouse ales, moved on to the meads and then ... wait a second, is something missing? In this crappy picture below (I was really off my photo game), you can see a typical line-up of beers.

There's nary an IPA in the bunch. This was entirely typical. I encountered perhaps twice as many wild and sour ales as IPAs. Hell, I may have seen as many schwarzbiers as IPAs. Homebrewers have always been more experimental than commercial brewers--a honey peanut butter amber ale needs satisfy a customer base of only one. And I also know homebrewers make a ton of IPAs; in the competition portion of Homebrew Con, IPAs had 436 entries, dark lager just 170. Nevertheless, it was a striking discovery.

One of the chief complaints I hear about beer is the diminishing variety. Tap handles continue to proliferate, but even as they multiply, diversity declines. The popularity of IPAs has had the unfortunate effect of marginalizing other styles. It's a wholly natural and inevitable process, which is why you don't find many bocks in Brussels or bitters in Berlin. But for many, it's a substantial downside to craft brewing.

Well, you have an option. There's a parallel universe, right here in the US, where diversity abounds and oddball beers are celebrated and pursued. It's not as easy as heading down to your local pub, but if you're willing to work for it, taplists like this await: