As a part of my job, I get to taste a lot of beverage products, and one of the things that's always been a constant is that, when there is a strong selling brand or style created, there will inevitably be a million others who'll do the same. For many years, there's been a glut of Chardonnay and even Cabernet Sauvignon produced by just about every winery on the planet. The idea here is that, as the number one selling varietals in their respected white and red wine arenas, then there would always be room for one more - as well as room for expansion. There's a joke in the industry called "ABC", or Anything But Chardonnay/Cabernet. We see so much crap that we want producers to show us anything else - ABC!
I actually love Chardonnay and Cabernet, and I love when I'm surprised and find a good one, but this doesn't happen very often. The problem is that there are so many poor quality wines that it becomes a challenge to find great examples - especially at the more modest price points. I taste so many lousy Chardonnay and Cabernet wines every week that I almost laugh when a new one is pulled out of the bag. It's become a bit of a joke at this point, as "ABC" is the first thing that runs through my mind, and I often know, just by the poor label, that what I'm about to taste isn't going to make me happy.
Unfortunately, the same thing has been happening in the Beer World. It seems as though every producer is making - or even feels that, in order to be taken seriously, they MUST make - at least one IPA, and often several. (I think Sam Adams, a brewer that built its business on lager, now has 5 or 6 IPA's.) Just as with Chardonnay, I like IPA when created in a balanced, traditional style.
Often, though, the IPA's that I'm seeing from modern craft brewers are over the top styles with double the hops and double the malt and double this or double that. The idea is to make brews with such intensity and bold flavors that they are "better" than the competition, will probably win some awards for said bold flavors, and even shock the consumers who are looking for extreme tastes. To me, though, these beers are almost undrinkable. The flavors, the hops, the bitterness is quite often out of balance and really just too much for anything other than a taste. These brews don't go with food, since the spice and bitter components are overwhelming. They aren't great for drinking as a cocktail, as your taste buds are ripped off with the first sip. And the alcohol percentage is often quite high, limiting the duration of your drinking session.
Sound familiar? Anyone remember high alcohol, buttery, oaky, full ML chardonnay?? It took a while, but eventually producers and consumers alike realized that these wines simply were not the way to go in the long run. Today, there are many styles of Chardonnay available, with a wide range of levels of intensity from the oak and butter and alcohol levels. Consumers have great choices, if you just take the time to look.
I'm hoping that beer producers will do the same thing, and we'll see focus on balance, drinkability and food pairing become the norm. Just as the wine world realized that better balance (something traditional producers have always done) is much more beneficial in the long-run, I would like to see beer return to the balanced and oh-so-drinkable styles I knew years ago when I first started drinking beer. Everyone will benefit, and more people will fall in love with great beers for a lifetime - not just for one glass. A.B.I.P.A., please.