July 2, 2010

The Session #41: Craft beers inspired by homebrewing

This month, the Wallace bros. from Lug Wrench Brewing Co. ask Sessioners to blogtificate about "how has homebrewing had an affect on the commercial beer we have all come to love?" Talk about open-ended.

It's no stretch at all to say that every single craft beer out there is an extension of a homebrew. Unlike the days of yore in the countries of olde, where brewing fathers begat brewing sons and the trade passed down generationally, 99% or more of today's master brewers began making their own beer in their kitchens or garages and are largely self-taught. Sure many talented ones went to brewing academies like Siebold's or UC Davis, but those are really like finishing schools after they were home schooled by the likes of Papazian, Eckhardt, and more recently, Mosher, Daniels, Palmer, and the gang.

Some would claim that homebrew-inspired breweries out there only constitute the new kids on the block, the ones making newfangled beers like Short's Key Lime Pie, Cigar City's Mochaccino Bolita, or the Bruery's Autumn Maple featuring yams. One trend among these particular beers is that, well, they're all pretty desserty. And if your mama taught you anything, you can't eat dessert till you've had your dinner. "Growing food" as my sister beseeches my nieces to eat. Somehow, in these people's eyes, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale,
Widmer Hefeweizen*, and New Belgium Fat Tire are so far removed from small batch craft beers that they border on behemoth corporate concoctions. It's called "fundamentals," son. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, these beers were first brewed on systems smaller than most mid-sized craft breweries' pilot systems. (*Granted, the young Widmer bros. intended for their Alt to be their flagship, not their wheat beer, but the market demanded it.)

By contrast, even the Big Two, a.k.a. BMC, are proffering not "craft beers" but "beers that are crafted" and include everything from the hotcake-selling Blue Moon witbier to misguided attempts such as Michelob Hop Hound Amber Wheat. The point being, virtually every American-made beer not being advertised at a major sporting event is, in some way, inspired by homebrewers be they Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada), Jeff Lebesch (formerly of New Belgium), Mark Carpenter (Fritz's right hand man at Anchor whose future there is now
TBD), or mid-revolutionaries such as Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head), Dan Carey (New Glarus), and Alan Sprints (Hair of the Dog) to the new bumper crop mindblowing talents including Patrick Rue (The Bruery along with head brewer Tyler King), Scott Vaccaro (Captain Lawrence), and possibly anyone reading this who has high hopes of opening his or her own brewery.

And with few exceptions (sorry, I've never met an Amber or a Helles I liked), as a beer lover, I love 'em all and am indebted to all brewers: both home and pro alike.

Photos by me: (top) Ken Grossman with two of his kids--Brian and Sierra--at Sierra Nevada. (bottom) Homebrewer Ben Miller who won the Sam Adams Longshot competition AND Great American Beer Fest's Pro-Am competition on the same day.

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