Bradford on Beer

Peeling Back the Layers

Posted February 23, 2012 by Daniel Bradford Comments Off | Post a Comment

As with virtually every consumable good, the monolithic world of beer has exploded into a culture focused on variety, diversity, ingenuity, creativity and unbridled excitement. The range and scale has become a stampede towards both the future and the past. The brewhouse has been turned upside down in a fruitful quest for new beer paradigms, beer lovers have created an infinite number of ways to engage with breweries and beers and the historical landscape has been reframed by beer zealots.

No better place to see this than the legendary breweries of yesteryear. Amidst the fevered pitch of the bursting craft beer community lays the many anchors provided by the  “still standing” heritage brewers. With roots back into the pre-prohibition halcyon beer culture, these survivors are living testaments to the durability of beer, the flexibility of brewery owners, and the loyalty of their fans. However, just behind their vitality of their core brands, we now find a rollicking range of beers designed to appeal to the change-hungry consumers.

Further visions of this explosion are found in the legions of new breweries opening each and every day. As I tour the country, I find myself being presented with eye-popping market segmentation proposed by these newbies. Not too long ago, the craft beer world rested on the backs of pale ale, porter and stout, with Cascade hops the mainstay. This new wave is expanding the definitions of beer, the niches that need filling and the ingredients suitable for brewing. No better example of this lies in the mystery ingredient yeast, which used to be relegated to one strain per brewery. Brewers today juggle as many yeast strains as needed for the amazing range of beers coming out of most craft breweries.

I’ve been following the tempest around the publication of The Oxford Companion to Beer. A monumental undertaking, edited by one of the finest beer writers today and backed by an amazing collection of beer writing talent, this opus on all things beer is as engaging as it is sweeping. A decade ago it might have dropped with hardly a sound.  However, today’s insatiable beer culture has spawned a plethora of intrepid researchers prowling brewing archives like nineteenth century adventurers. They are tossing over hoary beer history and serving up a tempest of new theories, new material and new points of view.

Nowhere is this array of diversity and excitement as evident as the breadth of gatherings now open for beer lovers. Once it was just the occasional festival, brewery tour or pint night. Now there are meet-ups, special interest groups, women beer societies, city beer tours, country beer tours, beer/bike tours, beer/barge tours and beyond.

Decades ago the founders of this magazine recognized this urge by beer lovers to embrace their passion with all its complexity and heritage and created this publication.  We’ve continued to support our readers’ engagement in the world of beer going “long and deep” on the subjects they love.

It wasn’t that long ago I faced the perennial question about how could we fill up a whole magazine with stuff about beer. Glad that’s past.