My beer journey was on a very steady path. I was a fan of good quality cask. There were, at that time, a growth of new ‘microbreweries’ as we called them back then. I opted to join CAMRA as I was a fan of real ale. By that I mean I wasn’t a fan of lager, I wanted something with more flavour and if I’m honest I found the texture of cask beer far more to my liking.
Then the world turned. There was a point where beer growth gathered real momentum and in particular quality keg beer became more and more prominent. It soon became apparent that people would tend towards one type of dispense over the other. If I’m honest at this point the lure of hops grabbed me and challenged me and pushed me out of my comfort zone, and you know what, I loved it. I soon became obsessed by hops. The more vociferous the bitterness the better.
This rise in keg beer represented a problem for those loyal to a CAMRA past. Many of the members had spent so long fighting the cause of real ale, being a cask offering, that they weren’t able to give credit to the great many quality keg beers that were now on the scene. Add to that the fact that many of these drinkers weren’t drawn to that extreme bitter assault. So rightly they stood loyal by the cask offerings.
From my perspective, it felt like the new age modern take on beer, ie hop forward keg beers, we’re stepping away from the old fashioned image of the cask beer on offer. Style wise many of the branding at that time reflected that. Cask badges would have a heritage feel, trading off built up reputation and proud history. Keg fonts were far more an expression of modern art, bright colours and fashionable image references.
Objections were raised by those who were stereotyped as CAMRA members. New age drinkers didn’t really understand what their problem was with keg beer and conversely those people didn’t understand why anyone would consider non-cask beer to be better than cask.
In the last 12 months, I’ve become increasingly aware that the beery tectonic plates have shifted again. The style which has driven that is the New England IPA. All of a sudden west coast IPAs have been pushed out of the limelight. Breweries are overlooking them when choosing their line ups for significant beer festivals. Instead they have two or three (or more) of New England style IPAs or derivatives of.
And you know what? I’m left longing for the experience of that bitterness again. I fully appreciate that your palate develops and your tolerance to hop bitterness increases making that experience more and more difficult to achieve, but that doesn’t stop me seeking it.
And that’s another thing, my understanding of New England IPAs is not great. I’ve had many versions but a lot of those are UK breweries having a first stab at a New England style IPA, without sticking rigidly to the core parameters of what the original IPAs from New England were brewed to. So my opinion of the style is clouded by poor representations. But I’m not really in a position to be able to call out poor representations, as I’ve never actually tasted an original NE style IPA hailing from New England. The US breweries who have driven this style are small in size and their beer is highly desired. So they don’t reach these shores in great numbers. I imagine that the examples Cloudwater produce are true to the original style, but that’s as close to a reference point as I have.
And you know what’s worse, I almost feel like the beer scene has moved on from my tastes. I’ve become old fashioned, talking of the good old days when beer was bitter! I’ve become the equivalent of what I saw as blinkered opinions to keg beer way back when.
So what have I learned from that? I open my mind. I explore and embrace the new styles. That doesn’t mean that I’ll love anything which sticks NE style on the label. But I want to truly appreciate what the style is and experience the good examples. Only then will I truly be able to give an opinion as to whether the style suits me or not.
For what it’s worth I can see the NE IPA saturation point approaching. Good examples will last beyond the era of fashionable, and some other style will steal the limelight for a few years.