A comment on Ronnie Crocker’s ‘Beer TX’ blog got me riled up. I originally was posting a comment to his blog and realized I was getting into the hundreds of words. Ronnie had posted an update on the new Moveable Yeast release from Saint Arnold, the Brown Ale fermented with a saison yeast. You can read the post yourself for the deets, but the first comment got my hackles up:
“It’s been interesting and educational to see just how dramatically yeast — beer’s unheralded ingredient — can affect the way a beer tastes.”
Not interesting in the least. Homebrew 101. It’s a gimmick, and it’s not clever–except from a marketing standpoint. I wish St. Arnold’s well but I keep my expectations low.
Everything’s a gimmick. Here’s a few to choose from:
- The impossible to obtain, once a year release of a huge ‘Imperial Stout’ or ‘American Strong’ that only a small percentage of beer consumers will actually drink and enjoy. I happen to enjoy this gimmick myself.
- The ‘collaboration brew’ between two (or more) big famous creative breweries, and the resulting scramble all over the country to get each breweries ‘version’ of the beer. I like this gimmick too.
- The ‘commemoration brew’, either of the anniversary of the brewery’s start in business or some other beer-worthy event in history.
- The periodic release of a beer that needs to immediately be stored in a cellar-type environment for at least 6 months, maybe a year. This one I’m not so fond of, but I participate in it because I have the space to store the beer and often can get some really tasty results with some waiting.
I’ve left some out, but in my opinion those are the ‘big’ gimmicks that have bec0me relatively common in American craft brewing, and to a certain extent have been exported to Europe. On top of this, most breweries seem to follow a maxim of ‘bigger, stronger, rarer’ when brewing these beers, which in my opinion is a response to the craft beer community. In fact, it seems that most beer geeks (the kind that trade beer in the mail, travel around the country to buy beer and read obscure beer forums) seem to be valuing ‘rare’ more highly than flavor. That’s an entirely different blog post, but while I don’t think beer geeks have ruined themselves with this obsession with all things high alcohol, huge and rare, the trend does worry me.
Saint Arnold gets its fair share of criticism. Some of it’s deserved, but there’s a strong undercurrent that convicts them of not being ‘creative’ enough because they haven’t fallen lock-step in line with the ‘big, strong, rare’ approach of releasing special beers. That’s wrongheaded, and the above comment got me thinking about this
What I like about the Moveable Yeast series is that it breaks loose of these other more common gimmicks. Saint Arnold is one of just a few breweries that have done experiments with their ‘standard’ beer recipes and released the results commercially. They are the only ones I know of manipulating yeast and leaving the other elements the same. I count that as creative
That said, I haven’t been a huge fan of the results so far. I didn’t like Weedwacker, and I thought Altared Amber was OK. I prefer each of the original versions to the ‘changed’ ones. I am really looking forward to this Brown ale shift, and to the Elissa BPA. Both sound really tasty and have been talked up for their flavor by the folks at the brewery – something that hadn’t really happened with the previous ones (most of the talk was about how ‘different’ they were)
I also think the ‘educational’ side of it has been overblown, because most accounts that I frequent are simply replacing a single St. A tap with the altered version – missing out on the chance to try it side-by-side with the base recipe. Given that there are barely any draft Brown Ale accounts as it is, and because I don’t think Silver Eagle is even halfway capable of managing that simple level of coordination I expect no different with this batch. That’s a missed opportunity – but the beer should be tasty, and ultimately that’s what matters.
So I’ll issue a call to the Houston beer community – it’s OK not to like the Moveable Yeast series, but stop hating on it because it doesn’t meet your expectation of what a beer marketing gimmick should be, and for goodness sakes – back off of Saint Arnold over their ‘lack of creativity’. That’s just nonsense. Let’s try the beer and THEN talk about it.