Every year, as American brewers get more creative with ingredients and methods of brewing, the brain trust in Denver tries to keep up with new style categories. As Stan points out, this year there are 11 more. The metastasizing of beer categories bears some resemblance to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which began with 106 disorders and now contains 297. The unique variances among individuals dictate an infinite range of possibilities, and at a certain point, the DSM will create more confusion than clarity (many people feel we've passed that point). And so it is with beer styles.
The function of categories and styles is to bring some coherence to comparison. There's just too much difference between a doppelbock and an IPA to meaningfully compare them side by side. But what happens when a brewery uses an alt yeast for its doppel and tosses in a few extra new world hops. Is it still meaningful to make a new category, or just compare it with other doppels?
Reasonable people can disagree, but I want to lodge my own personal, perhaps futile, protest right now. Looking through the current list (.pdf), I can see absolutely no justification for these kinds of distinctions:
Light American Wheat Ale or Lager with YeastOr the inclusion of these unnecessary categories:versusLight American Wheat Ale or Lager without Yeast
Fresh Hop Ale (new)Here's the thing, a fresh hop ale, to take one example, is brewed in a recognizeable style--usually pale ale. It doesn't need its own category. American styles are distinguished from their British counterparts by their hop character solely. Every time we get a new hop, we have to come up with a new style? Absurd. And imperializing something (there are now 47 categories for "imperial" styles) means you've just made a strong ale, not an Imperial or Double India Pale Ale. For the love of Pete, just collapse these damn things. Gluten-free beer? Really?
Ales which are hopped exclusively with fresh and un-dried (”wet”) hops.
American-Belgo Styles Ales (new)
These beers portray the unique characters imparted by yeasts typically used in fruity and big Belgian-style ales.
Garden Beer (Garden beer? Because you have to distinguish between "pumpkin" and "garden"--someone might use zucchini!)
American Style- (pick one, they're all unnecessary: strong pale, IPA, imperial IPA, red/amber, etc.)
I know that this creates a way for more breweries to win more medals, but that's actually a problem. I need six beers to win in the Light American Wheat Ale or Lager with (or Without) Yeast categories? No! It adds nothing to clarity and creates a huge headache for everyone involved as people try to figure out in which precise category a beer should be placed.
If I ruled the world, there'd be a lot more good beer available, but you'd know it by a lot fewer names.
[Note: post cleaned up for clarity of prose and bitterness of spleen.]
Originally posted March 6, 2008