We’ve all seen it – those limited edition beers that some people have to get. We’re guilty of it ourselves from time-to-time – especially when it comes to imperial stouts or double IPAs, but at least we’re creatures of habit. There’s beers that we look forward to that we know are going to come out – Baird Dark Sky Imperial Stout, Minoh Imperial Stout, Shiga Kogen Far East Barrel Aged Imperial IPA, Locobeer Pink Boots, just to name a few. However, some people have to keep chasing that next beer – that next one that if it isn’t on their Untappd list, then their beer game is incomplete and they might as well give up on drinking, or even life it seems.
While we’ve never been ones to stand in line to queue up for a release, which seems to be a common occurrence in the States with breweries stating times and maximum amount of beers that someone can buy, we’ve certainly had our fingers hovering over the refresh key for the Locobeer Fukubukuro, “lucky bags” that contain an amount of beer that is more valuable than the actual selling price, or perhaps the Shiga Kogen Far East whenever it comes on sale. But it’s important to note that these are actual seasonal beers that we will repeatedly order year upon year.
However, after writing about the growing craft beer scene for almost six years now, there’s one thing that I won’t do is chase after the latest fad – be it NE-IPA, Pastry Stouts, or whatever someone is going to make to get some free PR from craft beer hunters. It’s not that we’ve fallen out of love with craft beer in Japan, in spite of some of the truly abominations that have adorned the site. The taste of craft beer and all of its varieties still excites me but I’ve given up chasing the latest “limited edition one-off never to be made again, despite it probably going on to sell out in the space of 10 minutes” beer. There are a few reasons that I’ve grown to feel this way.
1) The Hype Train
Perhaps having been guilty of this ourselves over the last few years, but the hype train created by craft beer drinkers has gone somewhere into dulling the enjoyment of the beer. For me, it’s the taste of a beer that should be the exciting part, not standing in line or waiting by a computer to click on refresh. Some breweries are guilty of this by creating some artificial hype, not brewing enough beer, or simply just pushing a beer based on their name brand. If the right brewery has enough money to create an event, and the right media posts about it, and the community rages on about something, then it must be a beer worthy of spending who-knows-how-many-hours over trying to source out? I should be confident in the taste of a beer and not just be buying the beer because I want to follow the sheep.
2) It’s The Industry Not Me
For a long time in Japan, the German styles of beers were kings – the altbiers, the pilsners, and the hefeweizens. For a long time, those were pretty much all you could find, until someone brought IPAs into Japan, and that’s what set the train in motion. Breweries jumping onto the IPA train were then pretty much set as people tried to hunt as many IPAs down to try and compare. However, once the IPAs were done, it was then the latest hops in the IPAs that were driving people to find the latest beer. Breweries got new hops in and then had to put them into the beer. Whirlpool, dry hopping, post dry-hopping, double dry-hopping.
If the industry has taught me anything it’s that styles and preferences are constantly changing, so why should I be chasing something that isn’t going to be around again. The industry has taught me not to care as things come and go and if I don’t get it, then it wasn’t meant to be.
3) Declining Number of Styles
While not wanting to put the blame on breweries or drinkers for this one, it does seem to be that making an IPA variant is the norm now – think of how NE-IPA, Brut IPA, Milkshake IPA have been boosted recently. Breweries make them because somehow that’s what craft beer drinkers want to have, when in fact it’s a small minority of the craft beer crowd chasing the latest fad to tick off their list.
What this means is that breweries have to keep up with the trends in the hope that they are noticed; however, this is causing a decline in the number of actual styles out there. When was the last time you saw some PR blurb about an amber beer, a pale ale, or even a german altbier? Those styles of beer are falling out of fashion as drinkers chase other styles, which then means brewers may forget how to make these styles of beers. While it may seem drastic to say that beer styles may die out, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen a new steam beer, a new grisette, or even a biere de garde style being touted.
I’m happy with a good solid pale ale, hefeweizen, or even a West Coast IPA, but I am not going to be chasing the latest, and supposedly greatest, beer that is on sale for less than half a day. If other people wish to do so, and risk carpal tunnel syndrome as they hammer away on the keyboard trying to refresh, then let them do it. I want to see more and more breweries creating flagship beers that can be bought all-year round with the seasonal beers being celebrated with regularity, and an occasional limited edition beer that can be bought readily.