14 Sep 2009 @ 11:24 AM 

Variety is the spice of life, or: Why I buy imports.


Shocking, I know, but here’s the confession: Sometimes, when I’m at the beer store, I actively seek out imported beer.

I’m a little embarrassed about this to be quite honest. I really want to support the American craft beer industry, and especially my local breweries, but I often feel like my hand is being forced.

Okay. I can’t really make any apologies about my Belgians. I’m a lambic junkie. When I see lambic for sale, I have a hard time staying my hand, especially for an aged bottle of Cantillon, Oud Beersel, or, really, anything that Frank Boon produces.. There’s just not a good selection of American-made lambics (yet), and actually zero American-made lambic available on the shelves in North Carolina.

But I consistently find myself surreptitiously bringing home Scottish ales, English ales, milds, bitters, porters and even the occasional imported IPA. Twisted Thistle? Yes, please. Fuller’s London Porter? Any day of the week. Adnams Bitter? Load me up. Black Douglas? Every time I see it on the shelf.

But why? Why do I do it?

Because I can’t find a comparable American beer.

(insert stunned silence here)

I don’t know what your bottle shop looks like, but mine looks largely like a showcase sponsored by the hop grower’s association. For whatever reason that I’m not sure I understand, every damn thing in the store – seasonals aside – is loaded with hops.

I like hops. I do! IPA has a constant presence in my house. But sometimes, I want something different. Sometimes, I want a porter, or a stout, or a bitter, or a mild, or anything that isn’t sticky with hops. But wait! You notice I listed an IPA up there? Yeah! A British IPA, which gives me what I love most in an IPA: balance!

Hey, look. I get it. We’re Americans. Not only do we think we have to do everything bigger and better, but as craft brewers we’re trying to forge our own path away from the macrobrews and, really, every established style in the world pretty much ever. And that’s great! There’s a time and a place for a Double IPA. They are tasty beers. But that time and a place for a Double IPA is not every single time I pick up a beer. Sometimes, I want something else – some variety to take me away from the hops, and I have a hard time finding that on the shelves of my bottle shop in the form of an American Craft Beer.

To be fair – maybe all of this is a local distributor issue. Maybe the local craft beer reps are hopheads. That’s fair. I respect that. If that’s the case, I appreciate that they’re putting what they like on the shelves. Now if they could put more than that on the shelves, it’d be awesome.

But maybe, just maybe, when a lot of people think outside the box in the same way, the box just changes.

I’m not saying stop. By all means, forging our own way forward into new style territory is awesome (and, I might argue, constantly necessary – when we stop creating we die), and I want to continue to see it happen. But remember! Variety is the spice of life. If everybody is pushing the envelope by dumping in as many hops as possible, then.. well.. it’s all pretty similar, isn’t it? For variety, we have to move… what.. inside the box and not push the envelope? It seems counter-intuitive somehow.

A few months back, my Zymurgy had a listing of “The Best Beers in the Country” as voted by the readers or.. something. I don’t remember the methods, I remember the lists. The best beers were all IPAs and Double IPAs, etc. Pliny the Elder, Arrogant Bastard, 90-Minute IPA, and on and on. All awesome beers. The only non-IPA at the top was Old Rasputin, I think. The top 10 import list? (Not all of them, not in order, from memory): Guinness, Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, Unibroue La Fin Du Monde, Chimay Grande Reserve; not a beer with hop character among them. It tells me that I’m not alone.

So, when you get a bunch of beer sales statistics together, it’s invariably noted that imports, while losing ground lately (probably due to cost), are still a large portion of U.S. beer sales. And I know why. Bud Light Lime counts as an import. Because sometimes, that’s the only way you can get what seems like a basic beer style. It makes me sad, but until I can find something comparable on the shelves (or have my own brewery where I can think inside the box like a REBEL) I will continue to support the breweries that give me the variety that I’m looking for, even if they happen to be overseas.

Tags Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Categories: appreciation, distribution, industry, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 14 Sep 2009 @ 12 19 PM


Responses to this post » (3 Total)

  1. zy1125 says:

    For me, this has been the best part personally of getting to regularly travel to London on business. The availability of cask ales, and the diversity therein, has been great in and of itself, and also a nice respite from the onslaught of hops.

    That being said, I love hoppy beers. But I don’t love *just* hoppy beers, and that is the distinction.

    Thanks once again for speaking both to me and for me in a post.

    • Tri says:

      That post was linked to from Metafilter.com today…that’s how I found out about you and aplerantpy this guy (girl?) did too and decided to have a little fun with you. I, for one, am glad someone did post the link on that site as I know I’ll become a regular reader (plus I added a link on my blog to yours as well). Cheers! p.s. OE is crap. I only drank it when I was young, stupid and poor, and even then it was a last resort.

  2. I agree that there simply aren’t comparable American beers to match some of the ones you mentioned. I’m a sucker for traditional british renderings of styles, which you rarely see from micros. Sometimes a world classic is just in order.

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