Is hype helpful in craft beer?
11 April 2016, By Jonny Garret
There is something about niche interests like beer, particularly on the internet, that turns people almost primal. The only thing we love to do more than build something up is tear it back down again.
From a brewer’s perspective, this makes hype a fickle friend. The famous “lupulin threshold shift” – which renders once very hoppy, much-loved beers comparatively bland – can ruin the reputation of any IPA. A similar theory could be applied to any style of beer, from bitters to imperial stouts.
You don’t have to go far back in your mind to remember when Punk IPA was the best West Coast-style beer in the country. But now its mention is banned from some online beer forums for (apparently) not being craft enough But I doubt Brewdog lose any sleep over that. Perhaps they might about the recipe becoming outdated, but it still sells better than any other true craft beer on the market and will continue to do so without any hype whatsoever.
In fact hype can have a dark side. It can make beers exceptionally hard to get hold of, encourage upping of prices or resales in the grey market. It can frustrate fans of breweries and bars when they can't get a drink at the bar or find a particular beer they love. For want of a better phrase, these are very much "craft problems", and ones that can't really be stopped once the hype machine starts rolling.
But then you look at what it can do for a brewery. Cloudwater had a lot of noise when it first opened, and received some modest critical acclaim last year. But they really arrived when their first double IPA was released, and everyone fell in love with it. I saw several respected beer writers lose their proverbial shit about it. When I finally tried it, despite it being 4 months old, I did the same. That incredible tropical fruit aroma, the bittersweet full-bodied taste and surprisingly clean, smooth finish are still easy to recall today.
And why? Because that hype made me take my time and make the most of that first impression. How many times have you said “If I only I could do/see/taste that for the first time again”, to feel that rush of revelation.
Hype concentrates us, but also creates a buzz around beer itself. Usually we use the term “a rising tide floats all boats” to justify the sale of breweries, but it’s better applied to how hype gets people even outside of beer to talk about what’s going on and what’s being made. When Cloudwater DIPA v3 came out, I got a deluge of messages from well meaning but not particularly clued-up friends asking “Have you tried this?”. While explaining repeatedly that I had tried it (and already made a film about it) was rather tiring, it was fantastic to see that the excitement had spilled out of the tight, rather guarded craft beer circle.
Of course, it’s much easier to justify hype if the beer itself can. So here are five beers that are super hyped but lived up to it all. Bless them, for all they have done for our palates and beers in general.
After Siren head brewer Ryan departed for the world-famous Hill Farmstead Brewery, hopes faded for another release of the incredible Limoncello IPA. The sour, hugely lemony IPA was an absolute delight (and even better after resting in a bourbon barrel for a few months). Thankfully Siren came back with a slight variation, and this grapefruit IPA is off the charts good – tart, bitter, pithy, juicy, slightly sweet but completely clean. A stunner.
High Wire has been one of the UK’s best American pale ales for a long time and everyone had high hopes for the cans. After years of being unable to drink Magic Rock beers anywhere except in a pub, this was a revelation. Every citrus hop note, every subtly sweet bit of malt and every bubble was perfectly preserved and leaping from the can. One of the world’s great session beers.
In the 12 months between each annual release you forget just how good this beer is. Then you crack that bottle, the apricot aroma hits your nose, and it all comes flooding back. Simply one of the greatest aromas in beer history, Fo’ Foune is one of the few beers that outdoes the hype and then some. Watch out for the next release in November time.
Each time the pressure builds on these Mancunian beery wizards, and every time they come up with magic. Version three of their sensational double IPA takes all the tropical juice of the first one and amplifies it with Vermont yeast, which adds apricots and orange pith to the heady, chaotic aroma and flavour. A pure juice bomb that won’t be beaten for a long time.
It’s actually the little brother of this beer that gets all the hype. De Struise Black Albert is a decadent, dark, coffee and chocolate fuelled stout with hints of candy and dark berries. Cuvee Delphine is the barrel aged version that has spent a few months in Four Roses Bourbon barrels, soaking up vanilla, oak and sherry-like flavours that make this one of the most complex and exciting beers in the world.