Blog of an aspiring foodie

Some thoughts on Moveable Yeast series

Posted by beer_chris on 20-February-2011

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.

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2 Responses to “Some thoughts on Moveable Yeast series”

  1. SirRon said

    First of all, great post. If there are food lovers, beer lovers, or just Houstonians who don’t at least have an RSS subscription here, then they aren’t using the Internet right.

    I know exactly where your words above are coming from. However, reading both pieces, I can’t help but think you and Joe Commenter (er, known Houston blog pessimist Bruce R) don’t agree on way more than you disagree. I’m a self-proclaimed expert in wording blog comments in order to invoke a response. I’m pretty sure his comment had more to do with the fact the city, even it’s beer “experts,” are having multiples over every freaking Saint Arnold release. In order not to go to long(er) here, we can have the discussion whether these releases are worthy of the praise in a separate forum.

    Bruce R used the words “gimmick” and “not clever” and maybe shouldn’t have without explanation, but I believe those may really be his opinions. Personally, when I read Ronnie’s stuff, I’m infuriated by his approach to all things Saint Arnold like he can’t figure out how they could come up with such a thing. The fact is that using different yeasts in a batch isn’t a clever idea at all. That’s fact. I’ve been doing it for many years on about every other batch of beer that I brew.

    But St. Arnold is a commercial brewery. In that realm, changing the yeast in their familiar recipes is practically “marketing genius.” I use both of those words intentionally. They are in the business of selling beer, so the marketing aspect is of the highest importance. You went on to mention the extreme beers that most beer nerds love in your post. I agree that the most important thing in business is to sell your product. You can’t argue with Saint Arnold’s success in that respect. With regards to this series, I don’t know any professional brewery that has taken part in this type of experiment on this scale. I addition, it’s a new way for them to reward their premium accounts. If that isn’t genius, then it must be another synonym.

    Can Saint Arnold do more? The brewery will tell us that it is absurd to expect them to make one-off batches or special releases that are a little more edgy. With the choices I have at Specs, I’m OK with whatever decision that they make for their business. However, I have a hard time believing that the idea is absurd. What I have a problem with is immediately being lumped into every beer lover that has every broached the topic with them. If you want to see someone go from cool to furious, mention to an employee or faithful army member Saint Arnold’s lack of creativity. Extra sensitivity is sometimes a cover-up for insecurity.

    For each of the Moveable Yeast series beers, I’ve been at a bar to taste them after work on their release date. I’ve tried each as a side-by-side with their base recipe. I also didn’t care for either of the previous Moveable Yeast versions. But for Farmer’s Brown and all of the forthcoming releases (DR’s, etc), I’ll be somewhere on the release date to try them… because I like beer… and for the most part Saint Arnold… even if they don’t care for my dissenting opinions.

  2. ytee said

    I think that’s fair criticism of this post. I realized I was going off on another tangent not really related directly to the contrarion’s comment, but the sense of his words got me thinking about this norm I hear tossed around that Saint Arnold ‘isn’t creative’, which I find to be code for ‘Saint Arnold doesn’t make a Russian Imperial Stout so I don’t like their beer’. That’s really why I posted the thoughts here and not on Ronnie’s blog. I also try (I failed this time) to not respond to trolls or their related breed, contrarions, in forums. Not worth it.

    However, I think you got my overall point – let’s stop worrying so much about the definition of words and their context and get on with drinking good beer.

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