Great American Craft Beer: What’s Included, What’s Not…

After a lot of pitching, discussing, researching, writing, editing, and planning, my book Great American Craft Beer, is now available for purchase. Available at on-line bookstores (clicking the link above will help direct some more of the money back to its author), the book will be making its way to bookstores around the country over the next few weeks. I actually just received my author’s copies yesterday but reviewers have had theirs for a day or two earlier and we’re already starting to see some reviews. I’ll set up another page to collect those reviews as they come in but for now, I just wanted to address one issue that has come up so far: the selections in the book.

There are around 1600 breweries operating in the United States today, a number that continues to slowly grow every year. Many of these breweries, especially the brewpubs, produce 10, 20, 30, or even more individual beers during the course of a year. No one has an exact estimate as to how many individual beers all American brewers produce but the neighborhood could be somewhere from 5,000-15,000. But considering that more than 2,200 beers from only 462 breweries will be served in the festival hall at this year’s Great American Beer Festival (more than 3,500 will be judged), I’d venture to say the total number of beers produced is probably north of 10,000.

With those numbers in mind, let’s talk about what is in the book. The heart of Great American Craft Beer includes profiles and tasting reviews of nearly 350 beers drawn from several hundred American craft brewers in dozens upon dozens of styles. I also profile 25 great American beer bars. These reviews are detailed and attempt to capture the essence of the beers and establishments, all while attempting to create a grander narrative about the importance of taste and flavor. So even if we take a conservative estimate of the total number of beers produced in America today, the entries into a book such as mine is always going to be to exceedingly small, probably less than five-percent of all beers produced.

So it is along these lines that I note early in the book that the process of selecting beers for inclusion was anything but easy. I addressed the issue because I was concerned that readers and reviewers might understandably take umbrage if their favorite beer was not selected. Beyond mere flavor, I also wanted to create some balance between the beers I profiled. Often was the case where I was faced with choosing from a dozen or more excellent style examples, knowing I had to whittle the number down to only six selections. In making my selections, I had to take care in assuring some geographic diversity (of course San Diego, Portland, or Seattle could have whole chapters dedicated to their famed IPAs), some balance between production breweries and brewpubs, and some consideration of how easy it would be to find a particular beer. Accordingly, I wrote the following in the section preceding the reviews:

Creating a list of the best beers from the litany of great American craft brewers turns out to be a pretty daunting and restless task. While the tasting part certainly has its moments, the winnowing process leaves a substantial number of excellent brewers out in the cold. In this guide, I’ve endeavored to present you with the very best beers from the top breweries in the selected styles. While not always resolute in my devotion to the doctrine of style guidelines, I have attempted to shadow their widely-accepted framework. You’ll find several levels of balance, ranging from geographic diversity to a representative equilibrium between beers produced by small and local brewpubs and regional and national craft brewers, whose beers are generally much more widely available. Along these lines, you may find that a beer from your favorite brewery has been left out. In reviewing more than a thousand beers from several hundred breweries, be sure to understand that this is not necessarily a reflection on the quality of breweries that don’t find their way into these pages. The reviews remain a snapshot of several excellent beers in a style, not the final word on the only acceptable options.

As it can be frustrating to read about an unattainable beer, I’ve tried to restrict the numbers of beers that you’d have a better chance at seeing Sasquatch than trying. I’ve also tried to create a balance between the beers produced by production breweries, whose products are primarily purchased and enjoyed off-premise, and brewpubs, whose beers are generally enjoyed in-house. As brewpub beers rarely get distributed too far from their central base of operations, beers from production breweries tend to outnumber those from brewpubs in the following pages. While a great deal of work went into crafting a balanced list of beers—with some consideration given to geographic diversity and product availability—it’s important to keep in mind that breweries frequently change their lineups and some beers may occasionally get dropped from portfolios, while others may transition from seasonal to year-round release. If your heart is set on trying a particular beer that you can’t quite seem to find, feel free to give the brewery a call for some assistance.

I hope that readers will keep these points in mind when considering my selections. Many hundreds of other beers certainly could have found a home in the book and I would have loved to include all of your favorites, but the realities of publishing don’t allow for that. Maybe we can work on a second volume next time. Cheers

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Back From Denver, No Idea Where To Start…

Just recently back from Denver and things remain a touch too chaotic. At some point I’ll post some thoughts about the festival and the attendant happenings, but mainly the trip served as a much welcomed respite that was surprisingly not beer-related. My calendar tells me that the Belgian Beer Festival kicks off in a few short weeks so things will quickly get beer-related again.

Congrats again to the few New England brewers who decided to send their beers to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival and to those who won their fair share. And for the rest of you, you were robbed…

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The End is Nigh or Time to Enjoy a Bells Batch 6000…

As I type the final words in the draft that will hopefully become my second book, tentatively titled Great American Craft Beer, I’ve decided to quietly celebrate with some sharp Vermont cheddar and a Bells Batch 6000 from the cellar. In doing a quick Google search to determine when the beer was released, one of the early entrants was, to my surprise, my own words from some time in 2003.

After brewing its 5000th batch, Bells decided to celebrate by producing a special smoked beer. With its 6000th batch, the brewery decided to celebrate again by producing an utterly sublime and wonderful beer. Put plainly, Batch 6000 is the best beer I sampled during 2003. It is a phenomenal barleywine-style ale, with deep, rich malt notes and an incredible balance of hops and alcohol. The flavor continues strong throughout the brew, finishing with some sizable malt notes and some tinges of hoppiness. After sampling the first bottle of this expensive six-pack, I had grand plans to cellar the rest of these brews to enjoy their developing complexity with age. Unfortunately, Batch 6000s smooth flavor and wonderful blend of alcohol and hops proved too great an enticement and sadly I’ll never know what the future holds for an aged version of this product.

I have no idea what happened after I typed those words but I came across four bottles of this delicious nectar while perusing my cellar for a celebratory beer this evening. And I have to say, reading some early reviews on the ratings websites, everyone talked about just how potent and strongly flavored the beer was and how it would mellow over time, including this particularly colorful reference:

If this beer had balls, you’d need a fucking wheel barrel to haul them around.

Well, six years later, I can report that things haven’t mellowed very much and this beer is still a bruiser. It has something to do with the proportion of dark malt, which imparts such a marked bitterness. The aroma is slightly oxidized, a bit sherry, but it generally tastes and smells just as I remember it, only darker and more roasted.

And as much as I love the beer, it pains me to see people selling bottles of it on eBay, with a reserve starting at $20/bottle…That is about twice as much as I paid for the six-pack but really, what kind of an a-hole do you have to be to sell such a great beer on-line?

Anyways, raising a glass to Bells and to the achievement of personal goals.

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A 2009 Great American Beer Festival Preview…

The 28th annual Great American Beer Festival is right around the corner and it has sold out earlier than ever, quite an achievement for the Brewers Association and the craft brewers whose unpaid participation is so crucial to the event’s success. I look forward to experiencing the 30-percent increase in floor space that the BA is heavily promoting and hope that the additional 3,000 tickets sold (out of 49,000 attendees) will not result in some geometric anomaly where we’re all still crowded together at the tables. By the numbers, 3,362 beers will be entered in the GABF Competition, 2,100 beers from 495 breweries will be served in the hall, with 51 new breweries attending the fest for the first time. Looking at the handy map of the festival layout, I am a little disturbed to see that New England’s dwindling presence appears to have hit a new low, sending not even half the number of brewers as the Southeast will represent.

As I did last year, and the year before, I want to provide attendees and other interested parties with a preview of things to come at this year’s event. Instead of misty remembrances, I’ll just quote from last year’s offering.

As I’ve written elsewhere, my first visit to the GABF had a great influence on my development and interest in craft beer. And it all happened by dumb luck. I was in Denver to visit a friend and on a lark the friend decided to surprise me with tickets to the fest. At the time, I was just beginning to acknowledge and appreciate the difference between certain American beers. Entering the beautiful environs of Currigan Hall (long since replaced with the mildly soulless Colorado Convention Center), I had a transformative experience, the effects of which have lasted to the present day. As much as I enjoy the festival and Denver, I’m having a hard time believing that this will be my [fourteenth] visit.

205×115.gifThe Brewers Association’s cornerstone event well-serves the general public and generates a huge amount of revenue for the association itself, all while small craft brewers don’t get paid for their time or beer (still an issue for another article entirely). And while I am not sad to see the fatally flawed Beer Journalism Awards go away, I would like to have some discussions about how we can promote beer writing in the future. I look forward to attending the festival’s successful and increasingly popular cooking demonstrations and panel discussions. After finishing a draft of my book, I’m also looking forward to trying some new beers from breweries that crossed my path during the writing process. I’m also looking to get to know some folks whose paths I have also crossed on-line in the last year and to seeing many old friends. Let me know which beers you have marked on your lists as must try offerings and have a great fest.

Here’s a look back at my coverage of the last half-decade or more of Great American Beer Festivals.

The 2008 Great American Beer Festival
The 2007 Great American Beer Festival”
GABF At 25 – The 2006 GABF
A look at the 2005 GABF
Revisit the 2004 GABF
The 2003 GABF
The GABF Turns 21 – The 2002 GABF

And will this finally be the year that craft brewers decide to dump their big brewery corporate sponsors they privately complain about? I guess we’ll see but I know what I’ll be happily drinking when I watch the Rockies kick the Cardinals’ butts on Friday evening…

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Man, Nothing Going On Over Here…

Things have been very quiet over here in recent weeks and it’s likely to stay that way for at least another month. I’ve spent most of my time writing the book, a few articles, and taking some ill-timed vacations (including Las Vegas, Maine, and Germany). I still have a long road ahead with the book, which is due frighteningly soon. I’m going to try and post my annual primer on the Great American Beer Festival at some point in the coming weeks before the fest. But until then, enjoy the Matt Steinberg Interview…

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