One of the most perplexing questions in the craft beer world today has to do with where flavors are headed. This is an ongoing discussion that is to some extent driven by the nearly complete breakdown of style guidelines. There are no more rules. The floodgates have opened.
To me, an extreme beer is one that leans heavily on one or more dramatic flavor profiles. Super hoppy, wildly sour, aggressively fruity, overly boozy or combinations of these fall into what I consider to be extreme beers. They are very far removed from the style guidelines of yesteryear.
Part of what drives the demand for extreme beers is boredom with traditional styles, particularly among younger drinkers. It's instructive to note that we've been drinking traditional craft styles for well over a generation now. Many folks are ready to move on to something a little more stimulating. They actively seek alternative flavors and makeshift styles that zing their taste buds. Tradition means next to nothing.
By the way, beer isn't the only thing wrapped up in this movement. We're seeing it with food, coffee and drinks of all kinds. Many established standards are passe. Across the board, we're seeing a cross-section of folks who are bored with the status quo and actively chasing new flavors.
Plenty of brewers are perfectly happy to serve these evolving tastes. Just as fans have become bored with traditional styles, so have many brewers. They love the chance to experiment with provocative ingredients and techniques. Innovation is fun. Creating unique brews has become a sort of competition to see who can create the wackiest beers.
There's another important factor at work here. Very few brewers are opting out of the extreme craze. Full Sail, as noted in Monday's post, officially refuses to chase trendy brews. They aren't alone, but they are in the minority. I honestly suspect fear of not joining the movement drives many. Brewers simply do not want to appear to be out of touch with current trends.
The question remains: Where is this headed? Many assume the trend toward wackier and more extreme flavors and combinations of styles and flavors is an endless continuum. I think that's a sketchy argument, but I realize everyone needs and is entitled to an opinion.
Historical perspective may provide the most instructive context in which to view current trends. In particular, everyone needs to understand the craft beer movement evolved out of a paradigm shift in tastes embraced initially by the baby boom generation, which sought higher quality foods and drinks with richer flavors.
It's important to note that shift was largely a rejection of the tastes of the prior generation. Baby boomers grew up on a diet dominated by light, flavorless, prepackaged foods and drinks. That was the preference of their parents, itself a rejection of the tastes of a prior generation. Baby boomers came to want something different, something better. Craft beer became part of that.
Generational shifts in taste are not new. Just as baby boomers rejected earlier tastes, younger Americans today are rejecting the tastes and preferences of their forebears in a number of ways, one of which is beer. So we see the abandonment of traditional styles in favor of beers that are effectively experimental and very often extreme. It makes some sense.
At some point, there will be another paradigm shift in tastes, a rejection of the existing norm. When it will happen and what the shift will look like we do not know. But it will happen, sure as the sun will rise and set tomorrow. Because history, almost everyone knows, is not bunk.