I’m here to tell you that that’s okay. It is all part of a growing recognition and celebration of quality, craft and taste that’s going on across all food and beverage categories, not just beer. I see it in cheese, chocolate, meats, coffees, etc. Let us embrace creative destruction, and not cling to the past, simply because we once lived in it. When something has a demonstrably higher level of attention paid to its creation (think Vinnie Cilurzo and the amazing sour beers he tinkers with over at RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING), I think we can call a duck a duck, and flat-out admit that it’s better beer. Same goes for the limited-run imperial porters and stouts that people are trading and celebrating on online forums; just because some people tend to take the fetishization of these things into ridiculousness in no way diminishes how good the grand majority of them are. Complaining about this market-driven consumer trend is like having filet mignon available to you, but still clinging to your rump roast and trying to pawn it off as “just as good”.
Look, I get it – there are really satisfying lagers out there, and the <4% session ale has its time and place. I, for one, continue to love red ales, even the wimpy ones. But let’s recognize that high alcohol content delivers a certain taste that’s incredibly appealing in beer, when it is harnessed correctly. It’s not simply about getting drunk more quickly – it may be for some, but I doubt it is for the majority of us recreational drinkers; buzz comes a lot easier when it’s not coming at $13.99 a bottle. Higher alcohol, combined with barrel-aging techniques (which often brings out that alcohol), combined with creative ingredients, combined with the touch of a master brewer, has resulted in some of the most amazing concoctions called “beer” in the history of the beverage – many of them just in the past couple of years.
I just can’t accept that there’s any reason to whinge about this and bemoan the fate of the lager (for instance). Let it coexist and find its place in the new marketplace where we’re learning - in America, anyway - just what it is that makes a great beer truly great. Often alcohol's a big part of that, and I think that’s just fine.