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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Novelty and (Brief) Ecstasy

When Art Larrance opened the Raccoon Lodge in 1998, his top priority was finding what he now refers to as a "magic elixir." In short, he and his minions, principally Ron Gansberg and Preston Weesner, wanted to invent a unique beer that would define them.

You know the story. After messing with barrels as part of an IPA aging experiment, they more or less stumbled on sour beer. The concept didn't catch on right away, but they had their "magic elixir." Cascade Brewing, Larrance's corporate name since day one, has ridden sour beer to great fame and fortune.

Keep in mind that Larrance was one of Portland's founding brewers at Portland Brewing. He was quick to understand that standard, everyday beers weren't going be enough to keep a brewery viable. He figured he had to have something special to rise and stay above the crowd.

That philosophy was not generally embraced by craft brewers prior to the spike in brewery count that started to happen about 10 years ago. Breweries went about their business with standard lineups and the occasional seasonal, in draft and occasionally packaged form.

As Jeff Alworth pointed out in a recent post, the accelerating brewery count has altered strategies dramatically. Since 2007, the number of breweries in this country has quadrupled. We now have more than 6,000 operating breweries. You need to do something to attract attention in that environment.

The consequence of this reality is that virtually all craft breweries are rapidly pushing out experimental beers hoping to land on something that will attract the momentary interest of consumers who have very short attention spans. Even the beers tend to come and go quickly.

I don't use Untappd or any other app that might help me track my beer consumption. But I'm guessing I drank or sampled nearly 1,000 beers last year. Most of those beers I drank once. Many of them I saw once, as they vanished from sight after a brief period. But never mind.

Let's face it. The push for novelty has resulted in a lot of sketchy beer. We're currently stuck in a hazy rut. Breweries are nervously throwing everything but the kitchen sink at hazy beers, hoping to create something that produces ecstasy in the minds and mouths of consumers, if only briefly.

You must have a hazy, preferably several, to be relevant in today's marketplace. Within the last 24 hours, I've received several press releases and seen numerous social media posts announcing the release of hazy beers in cans and on draft. It makes my head spin.

Frankly speaking, it is no longer possible to keep track of all the new and soon-to-be expired brands. The notion that a beer isn't relevant unless it's new and trendy is creating a high level of insanity and insecurity in craft beer. The mass urge to discover new and unique beers got us here.

I have no idea how we get out.

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