Craft beer has been a thing in Alberta for about a quarter century. That said, it has really taken off in the last couple years. There are new breweries opening up almost every week these days. There is no shortage of interesting beer for thirsty Alberta beer drinkers to try. It is all very exciting.
But it is also creating a tendency among many—not all by any stretch—to combine their embrace of the new up-and-comers with a casual disparaging of the craft breweries that have been around for awhile.
The argument goes something like this: new brewery X has all of these interesting beers, they try new things and create flavours people aren’t used to. By comparison, older brewery Y’s beer is boring, unimaginative and conservative. Thus brewery X must be better and more worthy of our attention and dollars.
It is a natural tendency. We get excited by the new arrival and by comparison the beer we have been drinking for more than a decade seems kind of, well, stale. But I am here to argue that is a false dichotomy. Both can be appreciated for what they are.
We in the beer world are often pre-disposed to be drawn to a beer we haven’t tried before. It fits that we will be quick to try the brewery that just opened up. And that is completely fair. However, the hidden aspect of that tendency is to subconsciously downgrade that which we have had many times over. It simply isn’t as exciting. But we forget that beer hasn’t changed, it might be our expectations that have shifted.
We also tend to reserve our biggest excitement for the new breweries’ more adventurous beer. Their aromatic IPA, sour beer or imperial stout. It can be easy to forget that the same brewery also has a blonde ale, pale lager, or session ale as part of their line-up—and often that is their best-selling beer.
That matters because there is a tendency to compare the creative beer from the new brewery with the workhorse of the old brewery—invariably a fruit beer, blonde ale or pale lager. It is an unfair comparison. Every brewery, at least those bigger than a nano brewery, have to find a beer that attracts a sizeable following. Since Alberta is still a developing beer market, that usually means something lighter bodied and approachable. Both new and old breweries face this reality. They are not so different from each other after all.
Finally we have to guard against snobbery. I will fully admit fruit beers are not my go-to style by any stretch. But, as a beer judge and experienced beer drinker I am well aware my preferences are not the point. The only issue at hand is how well the beer is made. You might like IPAs—and that is fine—but don’t criticize a brewery for making a decently made blonde ale. V
Jason Foster is the creator of onbeer.org, a website devoted to news and views on beer from the prairies and beyond.