This opinion piece is going to ruffle the feathers of the hop heads out there but I have to stand by what I believe. This is inspired by going out to the beer fest this past weekend at Bull Run. It was lot’s of fun and it was exciting to see so many customers out there. It’s always nice to see a familiar face no matter where you are!
What I noticed when I was at the beer fest was that every tent had an IPA. If it wasn’t all tents, it had to be close to all them, with the exception of the cider tents and the single wine tent that I saw. Now I’ve noticed this trend in the past few years over at total wine as well. What I see happening is the implosion of the style of IPA’s in the near future and this is why.
Why I Think There Are So Many IPA’s
Right now IPA’s are the, “cool thing”, a few years ago it was wheats, and before that I’m not really sure. But pretty much every brewery has an IPA. There is this expectation now, if you are a brewery you need to make an IPA. You can thank dogfish for that. My personal experience though when I was trying IPA’s at the beer fest was a lot of them sucked. I would drink them and think, “What were you trying to do?!”.
Part of the reason why I think that there are so many is just because breweries think that it will be their ticket to fame. “Maybe we’ll be the next Stone Brewery, who knows?”, wait I know, you’re not, there is already these big breweries that have hashed out there market share and no matter what you do you can’t be Stone. It’s like the ma and pop store trying to be Walmart, you need to take another approach or guess what, you’ll go under. Could it happen? Sure. But will it happen, chances are not so much.
You Can See It Already Happening
Go down to total wine and tell me what beer shelf looks the most packed, IPA’s every single time. It’s a complete over saturation of IPA’s. While there may be a new brewery that does something different in this venue and that’s why you are going to try them out, most likely you start to just make your choices off of label, “Oh that looks cool, I’ll give it a try” or, “That name sounds cool, lets give this one a try”. Much to your surprise, the beer called, “Dogs Ass IPA” really does suck and you can only figure the brewer took a literal interpretation of what he thought it should taste like.
The style of the IPA has been almost completely destroyed in my mind. A little more hops, a little more ABV then it’s brother the Pale Ale. This was done, originally because hops are a natural preservative, and the beer had to make its way to India from England (long trip). If you made a regular Pale Ale, it wouldn’t last the trip. Also on that note, most IPA’s were oak aged because that’s how they were sent. The oak would also mellow out the hops a bit giving a bit more complexity as well to the higher ABV so it didn’t taste as, “HOT”. Will you find that today in most IPA’s, hell no. Even Pale Ale’s of today are what people would call IPA’s from just 5 years ago. The style is getting jacked up.
Time To Beat A Dead Horse
Quick, gun to your head name 5 IPA’s… you could probably do that in your sleep. Now let’s try that with, Vienna lagers, or Brown ales, or Irish reds, or English bitters. Not so easy right? That is what I would call over saturation.
If you are thinking, “Well it’s because those other styles suck and that’s why we don’t know about them.”, I would have to say no, it’s that every one is concerned about making IPA’s and no one cares to really make any other style. Also I can understand that’s where the market is, but that’s the same argument of commercial breweries, “Light lagers are what sell”. Craft beer is supposed to be about the craft, not about appeasing the masses. And further more on that, you are supposed to be a master at the craft. If you suck at making IPA’s why are you making them, you have this micro-commercial mentality but really can’t do either one. At the end its a corny marketing scheme that will fall short every time someone has a sip.
Real Question Is, “So What?”
If you are thinking, “So What?”, I feel you on that. Naturally there is going to be a correction of the IPA market and unfortunately for lots of micros a correction of the ones that just go into it because they had clever names or a good graphic artist. At least that’s what I hope is going to happen. If it doesn’t then there will just be a lot of bad beer on the market and craft beer will be known for using lot’s of different, “Hard to get” hops.
Where I Personally See The Beer Market Going…
First off, I think that it’s not a fad, the, “craft beer revolution” as people call it is here to stay for quite some time. Especially for people who homebrew, you know what good beer taste like. Unfortunately, for many of us (homebrewers) our favorite beers you can’t even buy in the store. One of the best IPA’s I’ve had is from a customer (Dave) that makes an amazing IPA. It isn’t the style that I make all the time but, I do enjoy a good IPA when I taste one. And another beer is a German Honey lager made by another customer (Kevin) which is amazing. To bad I can’t go to the store and get either one, because I would buy them.
I see craft beer hanging around for some time, but the breweries that are going to ride out the storm are ones that have a niche or bring something new, or a different style. If you can describe them as, “They’re kinda like _______, but a bit different”, they won’t last or they will always be second best, at best. The ones that come in with a new direction or bring something interesting to the table are going to be able to keep up.
I see people starting to buy beer from local breweries. Here in VA there was a law that was just passed back in July that make it easier for breweries to open up since they aren’t going to need a distributor to sell on premise.
Since there will be more competition you will see smaller breweries start pushing the limits of what they can do to make themselves, “different”. Most of these places are getting started by homebrewers so, I think you find the love of the craft back in the Nano’s. I haven’t ever lived in area where there were a lot of nano’s though so I’m not really sure how they do. But I would hope that can drive the market even while picking up the crumbs from the bigger players.
I think that smaller breweries will be forced to make some different styles just to stand out, and to give people a reason to come back for more. Hopefully, they inspire the love of the craft more and don’t fall into copying everyone and there brother.
What To Get Out Of All This
In my opinion, I think its hard to deny that there’s an over saturation of IPA’s on the market, and that eventually the IPA field will either fall part, be redefined or it will just get weeded (but a significant weeding). Different styles that are less common are going to start making there come back soon enough just so people can stand out. Even though I feel as if a lot of breweries are getting into the business just to try nifty marketing themes, I believe that they will be weeded out because if it doesn’t taste good, it doesn’t taste good. The ones that brew with passion and pride in their product will be masters at their domain, even if it’s a small market share they are going to continue to drive people continuing to love craft beer and trying new as well as different styles.
Let me know what you think!