Don't get boxed into a corner

December 2000

By Gary Monterosso

Reading an article on the music scene recently, I was bewildered by the number of categories into which certain songs or recording artists seem to be placed. There are Top 40, Pop, Hip-Hop, Heavy Metal, Light Jazz, Oldies, Disco, New Wave, Classics and more than I'd care to recall.

In my beer world, sometimes I fear we tend to become too categorical about our styles, as well. There are American Wheat beers, traditionally a summer drink because of their light, citrusy flavors, are eschewed by many once the frost hits the pumpkin. Yes, I know this type of beer works quite well in warm weather, but I happen to love it year round and I want to purchase it even in December. At many a beer show or tasting, it's virtually impossible to find a wheat being served after summer's end.

Likewise, darker and heavier beers such as Stout or Porter (darker in color, possibly thicker in consistency, but not higher in alcohol content than many other beers) find their best life during the coldest time of year. Well, guess what? I might like a Stout while eating oysters in the middle of July. Yet some breweries or pubs don't offer these "winter" drinks year round.

An Oktoberfest lager is an example of a seasonal. Normally smooth in texture and mouthfeel, these beers tend to be a bit maltier (sweeter) than Pale Ales, for example. Unfortunately, come November 1, there are people who feel it is time to put this beer away and move on to something else. I have a feeling the brewer who has half a fermenter of the stuff waiting for shipment would not agree, though.

Breweries and bar owners know their clientele much better than I do. Obviously, if there was a perceived market for these beers on a permanent basis, they'd make them available (most locations that stock Guinness Stout do so continuously, however).

All I am trying to guard against is for those of us who love the variety of specialty beers to keep from becoming categorized, and in doing so, being too predictable.

One of the beautiful aspects in following the growth of microbreweries and good beers in general has been the spontaneity of this small but flourishing industry. Yes, I've seen some businesses falter, but I've followed others develop and prosper. Common threads among those which seem to be successful are variety and the devotion to turning out the best product in their power. In some cases, the modest size of startup breweries allows them to be more creative than some of the "larger" micros and most definitely more than the major beer producers (by the way, a microbrewery produces 15,000 barrels of beer or less annually). This allows for diversity and, if it works according to plan, a niche in the marketplace and in the hearts of those who drink craft beer. I offer this wish to you, the consumer: experiment with differing beers and flavors. If you see something you've never tried before, pick up a carrier. Many packaged goods stores now sell certain beers as singles; an ideal way to try something new and unusual.

If you are dining out, ask for a beer list and don't be shy about quizzing your server about the characteristics of a particular brew.

And forget the time of year, when you find beers you really enjoy, look for them and drink them year round.

®Gary Monterosso. All Rights Reserved

Gary Monterosso