The Reinheitsgebot, or German Beer Purity Law, was adopted in Bavaria in 1516. It ruled that brewers could only create beer using three ingredients: barley, hops, and water (yeast was added later as it’s existence was unknown at this time). The main reasons for this law had to do with local economy and religious beliefs of the time but the law has remained relatively unchanged in Germany.
Many traditional beers follow this law, both lagers (such as kolchs and bocks) as well as ales (including IPAs and stouts). It’s really amazing how many different styles of beers can be created using only four ingredients!
Fast forward a few hundred years to the American craft brewery explosion! At first local breweries concentrated on their flagships, generally an amber ale or lager and then would add something special to their offerings such as a porter or even a *gasp* IPA (yes there was a time when IPAs were a relatively novel beer style)!
Of course many American beers do not follow the Reinheitsgebot at all which opens the doors for fantastic innovations and new beer styles, pushing the market even farther. Without these adventurous brewing experiments we wouldn’t have our chocolate stouts, our multifaceted sours, or even *another gasp* pumpkin beers!
However recently in the beer industry we’ve seen pretty hefty downshift in the big craft boom of the end of the 2000s into the 2010s. Don’t get me wrong, everyone is still going to be drinking beer but the fad seems to be reaching a plateau.
With this shift in focus, breweries seem to be focusing on creating the “next new thing” or most outlandish beers possible in hopes to gain the attentions of the trend sending demographics with the median white males ages 21-39.
You’ve seen this. The silly “pastry beers” with sickly sweet dessert inspired recipes (if you want me to buy your beer, don’t make it taste like a funnel cake), the also sweet lactose sugar fermented “milkshake IPAs” (really?) or the absolutely ridiculous “glitter beers” which actually contain edible glitter in a fruity hazy mess (some people grow out of My Little Pony while others create a beer.)
We’ve seen some innovation in styles such as the Brut IPAs although the enzyme amyloglucosidase has been used in brewing for quite some time (I personally feel this style will only keep a small cult following like Black IPAs). However I find most trendy styles of IPAs are just variations of the traditional West and East coast styles. If you tell a hipster beer snob that a Hazy IPA and New England IPA are the same thing, their moustache will twist very tightly on its own. Try it, it’s pretty amazing.
Where am I going with all this? Well maybe breweries should focus on the basics and instead of having the new crazy dry hopped sour stout that you light on fire, instead focus on have really solid flagships. I want to hang out at a brewery where I know all the beer will be solid rather than just try your one trick pony and then head off to the next brewery (sometimes literally a block away).
Maybe those German brewers over five hundred years ago were on to something…