In Defense of All Craft Beer

Several nights ago, I heard a well-respected brewer say something that stuck with me long after the evening ended – that if he put “Imperial” or “Barrel-aged” in front of anything he made, it would get higher ratings than the lighter brews in his portfolio. The statement surprised me at first, but upon consideration of his line-up, I realized that what he said was true – my favorites were the dark, heavy, or spiced ales that the brewery was crafting. It made me wonder – do I truly find those beers more interesting/flavorful/enjoyable, or am I simply hyping up the products that the market deems to be more worthy of high praise?

It’s easy to see why he’d make that claim – any glance at a top 10/50/100 beer list usually includes many of the biggest and rarest brews hitting the market. How many times have you looked at “best of” beer lists and seen big beers with high ABVs dominating? Just because it’s “big” and “really boozy,” does that always make it better?

As an avid beer drinker, I definitely don’t like to think of myself as a beer snob or narrow-minded when it comes to craft beer appreciation. Even so, I know that when I pick up a beer menu at a bar, my eyes naturally head first to the end of a beer list, looking for the rare finds or big brews of the bunch before I even consider ordering something lighter or more sessionable. I know better than that – good craft beer comes in all colors – but still, I can’t deny the fact that I’m drawn to Imperial Stouts, Porters, and Scotch Ales and, nine times out of ten, would order them over an IPA, Kölsch, or Hefeweizen of equal quality.

Not everyone is drinking the Kool-Aid, however, and during this year’s Craft Brewers Conference in Washington, DC, three breweries are taking a stand against “imperialism.” Brewer Jason Oliver of Devils Backbone Brewing in Roseland, Va, Steve Frazier of the Brewers Art in Baltimore, and Jeff Hancock of DC Brau were tasked by the Brewers Association to create a special symposium beer, which they decided would be a rye Pilsner “session” beer. The rule of thumb they’re following, according to a recent article by editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News Greg Kitsock, is that “you should be able to split a pitcher of session beer with a friend and walk away unimpaired by alcohol.” The article goes on to say that a brewer’s skill is really tested in making a lower-alcohol beer because “any defect will stand forth all the more clearly without a rich malt body or extravagant hopping to mask it.”

So why aren’t we all drinking these uncomplicated and flavorful works of brewing art? It’s difficult to step back and analyze the factors that go into choosing the beer in our glass. Although we all like to think of ourselves as individuals, we are influenced by our environment – our friends, neighbors, and most aggressively, by media and advertisements – to look for hot new releases, to one-up your friends with a rare find, to place a higher premium on barrel-aged versions. Have we become so turned off by the barrage of ads by the big brewers that we implicitly judge and bypass beers that resemble their yellow fizzy dishwater? Is “extremism” in brewing as rampant as it is because craft brewers have worked too hard to separate themselves from these mass-produced brews to declare it quits now?

The entire craft beer spectrum should be appreciated and respected, and the last thing we want brewers to do is to get discouraged and limit their range of brewing capabilities – in either direction. For everyone like me, there’s more than likely another consumer out there that only prefers the light-end of the spectrum or is still looking for a gateway craft beer. To truly appreciate what craft beer is, however, we all need to experiment and branch out from our comfort zones. If craft beer homogenized, it would be no better than the Big Beer that it’s up against today.

So, if you realize you’re falling into a rut in your beer-drinking tendencies, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t be a color/ABV snob – try something new. Lighter craft brews often have just as much flavor as their dark counterparts; likewise, you may find a heavy brew that speaks to you if you give them a chance.
  2. Make it a rule to order a lighter, lower ABV, lower IBU brew BEFORE you hit up the boozier items on a beer list. You’ll lose your palette if you start with the big boys first.
  3. Make an effort to learn more about the different categories of beer – just because it may not be your favorite, that doesn’t mean the brewer didn’t make an excellent version of that style – and try to develop an appreciation for the product above your own preferences. You might just surprise yourself.

About is the nations' leading source for the Best Craft Beer News, Reviews, Events and Media.
Scroll To Top