July 12, 2011

IPA Day and everyday

I have a hard time keeping my Twitter tweets to 140 characters. And an even harder time keeping my posts for All About Beer's Beer Soup blog to 250 words (hence, they're often 350.) Here's what I cut it down from:

Whether it’s a litigious feud between those in the brewing industry concerning tap handles or an online flame war between those in the brewing community regarding label art, the collective beer world sure does seem to get up in arms a lot. That’s a shame.

The latest needling involves IPAs. Not who brews the best one or which part of the country makes them better. It’s about whether we should celebrate IPAs specifically or, in turn, craft beer in general. Or something like that. I’m not exactly sure. Somehow I fear these skiffs are less about I.P.A. and more about E.G.O.

Ashley Routson a.k.a. The Beer Wench is a co-creator of #IPADay, the twit-hop-love-fest scheduled for August 4. She says the virtual event “is about creating global awareness about craft beer through the celebration of one of our most beloved styles…There are more non-IPA drinkers in this world than IPA-drinkers… Maybe they don’t even know what an IPA is.”

And with that, beer-swilling tweeters were typing hashtags in front of the letters IPA instantaneously. Which is how soon Ezra Johnson-Greenough who goes by the nom de blog Samurai Artist, announced his boycott of social media on August 4 by snarking, “I was just starting to wonder how come there are not more IPAs, since I can never find them on tap.”

The kicker is that both beer personalities maintain Top 10 beer blogs, both are friends of mine, and both have made the issue about themselves (even when attempting to say it’s not), which is something only other diehard beer geeks would care about. Luckily, to put IPA Day into perspective, there’s a regular Joe.

Joe Tucker runs RateBeer.com and in his good-natured and unimposing way commented that, “beer is much bigger than us beer geeks.”

Nearly every one of us wears socks, but are we sock geeks? I’d wager that there are a few discriminating, passionate sock-wearers out there who scoff at those of us who buy pairs of socks by the dozen at big box stores. You may not even know what brand of sock adorns your feet. So Joe continued, “What we've found was that IPA is a sort of brandless brand to many beer fans across the United States. As a customer decides and drifts into brand confusion, the three letters IPA serve to inform his or her choice.”

Among beer drinkers who are not beer connoisseurs, such brand confusion does exist. How many times have you asked a waiter what’s on tap and heard, “Bud, Coors Light, Heineken, and Hefeweizen”? (Of course, it’s often pronounced Hefen-wye-zen or Hefer-we-sen.) Alas, these wait staff, and frequently the customer, don’t know that Hefeweizen is a style, not a brand, or that the majority of times it’s a Widmer Hefe. I suspect that most bars or restaurants that have an IPA on draft know—and clarify—which brewery made it.

In contrast to wheat beers, India Pale Ales are not gateway beers. The bold hops need to be acclimated to. My path certainly eased in with ESBs, then pale ales and so on until I now salivate at the mere sight of a Pliny the Elder or Sculpin. By contrast, Russian River Brewing doesn’t even bottle an entry-level beer and Ballast Point Brewing sells tons more Calico Amber than Sculpin IPA.

So if newbies to craft beer aren’t so much lured by the producer but by the product, it can be argued that IPA is the quintessential craft beer style. American IPA is the single largest category in competition at the Great American Beer Fest. I predict there will never be a Coors IPA or Bud Select 55 IPA or Miller Chill IPA. So by virtue of inspiring an uninitiated beer drinker and not a confirmed connoisseur to hoisting an IPA, truly the only thing to be gained on IPA Day would be to welcome new friends to the craft beer table. While you’re at it, let’s show them how nicely we play together.