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  Oakes Weekly - June 19, 2009
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  Oakes Weekly June 11, 2009
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  Oakes Weekly - May 14, 2009
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Oakes Weekly - January 23


One can never have too many Imperial IPAs
Oakes Weekly January 23, 2003      
Written by Oakes


Vancouver, CANADA -



<P>There are a lot of things on my mind this week. First, one of my favourite
brewpubs, and certainly one of the most underrated ones, closed this past
week. Denison’s Brewing Company had been in business for over a decade, but
had become embroiled in a rent dispute with their landlord. The landlord
seized control of the property last Friday, and changed the locks. There
are 10,000 litres of beer, including 3000 litres of the world’s best
German-style wheat (as voted by Ratebeerians, the most worldly and
knowledgeable of the world’s beer geek communities) still inside the
brewery. It would be criminal if this were to end up down the drain, but
that’s usually how these things work.

<P>I feel confident that a brewmaster of Michael Hancock’s considerable skills
will be in demand, and I hope the rest of the staff land somewhere quickly,
too. They and the drinking public really got caught in the middle of a bad
situation here.

<P>Thinking of a few other things, too. First is this discussion/argument I
had on another site a week or two back. I’d like to lay blame for web
arguments getting out of hand on the other parties, but as usual I was
baited and bit like a starving trout. So I’m just as bad, if not worse,
than the next guy when it comes to stuff like this. But the unfortunate
part about web discussions that turn into arguments is that the original
topic gets lost in the shuffle. When tempers flare, the odds are good that
the topic was a good one that incites passion in people. So, at the risk of
more senseless arguing, I would like to revive my original point from that
particular discussion.

<P>The point was that beer geeks in the US, and in California in particular,
have a warped perception of beer, and that this is detrimental to the
overall beer scene in that country and state. Thankfully, both are large
enough to count many exceptions to this statement, but there are always
exceptions to any broad statement and they do not negate a rule simply by their minority presence.

<P>Now, some may take the word ’warped’ the wrong way. Americans are no more warped than
the other major beer powers. Most English beer enthusiasts will turn their
nose up at any lager, regardless of quality. Many Belgians still have
anti-hop sentiments, although recent arrivals like XX Bitter are starting to
win the odd convert. All but the most worldly Germans will stick to their
local brews, blissfully ignorant of the wide world of beer around them. The
difference is that in those three old countries, the beer scenes are rooted
in tradition. Even in Belgium, where that tradition includes esoterica, it
is still tradition that binds the beer-loving communities together.

<P>In the US, traditions are being formed now that are gradually making the
beer scene there more rigid, even as the bold and brave are praised for
their creativity. For every Dogfish Head that brews wildly inventive and
highly popular brews, there are half a dozen other brewers who
overcompensate for lack of talent by relying on the hop to cover up their
flaws. In California, trendism is running wild, and the local beer-lovers
are so drowned in hoppy delerium that they cannot even see it. The evidence
is all around. Toronado Barley Wine Festival. Hoptown Imperial IPA
Festival. San Diego Strong Ale Festival. It’s all about the big and bold
these days over there. Stone brews a "session" ale, Levitation, and it is (relatively)
reamed by Ratebeerians. Every brewer is scrambling to make the next
Imperial IPA, the next Imperial Stout, the next Arrogant Bastard knockoff.

<P>If you compare Canada to California, you’ll see why this is so distressing
to me. The best beers in Canada before the closure of Denison’s included
that brewery’s Weizen and Dunkel, the ESB from Spinnakers, the Wit from
Sailor Hägar’s, St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, and a couple of Unibroues (take
your pick, mine would be Quelque Chose and Trois Pistoles, although I like
what I’ve seen of 11 as well). For the most part, these are session
styles - balanced between forthright flavours and sublime subtlety.

<P>California has a couple million more people, a few dozen more brewers (at
least) and less variety amongst its top beers. On Ratebeer, the top 20
from California as at writing time consisted of 5 IPAs, 2 Imperial IPAs, 4
Imperial Stouts, 2 Barley Wines, 6 other strong ales over 7.5%, and 1
American Pale (which was #20). There are more users and more ratings from
California than any place else on this site. To me, there is too much
brewing talent in California that is going to waste knocking off each other’s strong ales, engaging in this informal competition to see who can cram the
most stuff into a mash tun or kettle. The world of beer is a big one, and I
for one would like to see some of these strong ale lovers take a closer look
at the rest of the beer world. To each his own, of course, but I think
some people need to be challenged to find the beauty in smaller beer.

<P>There was a post in the forum a couple days ago from a user who was
concerned about raters who slather seemingly inordinate amounts of praise on
the products of certain brewers. What I see are brewers who attempt to stand out based on high hop rates rather than innovation. This was a great idea back in the mid-90’s when Rogue was considered abrasive, but now it just bores me. Intense is not the same thing as interesting, nor is it the same thing as quality. I love brewers like AleSmith and Bear Republic for their creativity and style, but I wish they would apply their talents to the greater pantheon of beers. I’ve had astonishing examples of workaday styles like dortmunder (Great Lakes), altbier (Long Trail Double Bag), weissbier (both Tabernash and Two Brothers), and brown ale (Rogue), so you can’t tell me that it cannot be done over here. These subtler styles require a deft touch in the brewhouse. The ability to master one or more of these (as Michael Hancock did at Denison’s) is the true test of a brewer’s talent.

<P>Somewhere in all the posturing and stupidity of my argument last week, this original point was lost. Californians took offense to my comments, but the truth is that like all top brewing regions, the inhabitants of that region are a lot less open-minded about the totality of the beer style universe than they should be. California makes great beers (the average rating for beers from that state is highest amongst all states with a comparitive sample size in my database of beer notes), but they are starting to taste all the same. It’s time to break the mold. The beer drinkers and beer makers need to step up and really apply themselves to displaying their chops in a wider variety of beers. The odd rarity like Cuvee de Tomme or AleSmith Weizenbock is not enough. The beer world needs to a see a bit more leadership and creativity, I think, and a little less of the myopic me-too-ism that is starting to earn yawns from beer lovers elsewhere.

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