My beer geek-dom is not what it once was. I used to brew cases of my own beer in a variety of styles, laid in barley wines to age in my closets, and sampled brews from across the spectrum. But my advancing age and a lack of usable space at home have tempered all of that, so I don’t have the mad beer geek skills I once had.
Meanwhile, the craft brew movement has grown across the country, to the point where there are dozens of bars in the DC area that have enormous selections of beers on tap. I had a gig at one earlier this week, and I was browsing through the beer list (they probably had 25 or so beers on tap), when I noticed something I’d seen elsewhere: Big, even exaggerated beer styles dominated the menu.
There were IPAs upon IPAs, some with ABVs above 7 percent and more than a few that went into the double digits. There were Russian imperial stouts and giant barleywines and just-for-the-hell-of-it big brews, many of which were served in small brandy snifters (which is a good thing because a pint of these would require you to lay down after consumption).
I had a gig to do. I wasn’t interested in a hammer-over-the-head beverage, but I also wanted something other than budmillercoors. I settled on Left Hand Milk Stout, a delicious sweet stout with an ABV of about 6 percent — a bit higher than most stouts but still mellow on the alcohol among this group.
And I thought to myself: Why aren’t there more craft beers like this? I already know the answer: It’s because American craft brewing right now is all about extremes, not subtleties. You’ll know that craft beer has grown up when it stops being a competition over bitterness, heavy body and alcohol content, and starts being a contest about freshness and flavor. The British, Belgians and Germans all get it right on this front: They have their big beers, but they have a wide variety of flavors as well. I’d like American craft brews to have a little more subtlety and a little less slap-upside-the-head-ness.