A Mid-Year Beer & Whiskey Report Card
Our columnist takes a look at the highs and lows of 2018 now that we’re six months into the year.
Last winter, I wrote a piece about what I hoped to see in the world of alcohol in in the coming year. While some of my dreams actually came true, in other cases my hopes were dashed. You win some, you lose some…Onward.
Now that we’re halfway through 2018, I thought it would be good to see what brewers and distillers are doing right and wrong this year.
PLEASE MORE OF:
Age Statement Whiskey. Why do so few whiskies—bourbon and Scotch—have actual ages on them anymore? Over the last decade, as whiskey demand spiked in the United States, older stocks sold even as their prices soared, which almost universally depleted distillery reserves. To keep whiskey on shelves, we lost the age statement on many labels and some products disappeared completely. There have always been some pretty darned good whiskies without a stated age, like Booker’s or Aberlour A’bunadh, but with an age statement, you have an actual benchmark. And I have some good news: Supply has stabilized and some brands are adding age statements, including single malt Scotches Mortlach, Old Pulteney and Fettercairn.
Regional Beer Character. You all probably know about New England IPA. Love it or hate it, this hazy, hoppy, “juicy” beer came out of New England first. The Florida Weisse is another, where brewers in the Sunshine State took the tart, light Berliner Weisse wheat beer and added tropical fruit, spices, and other stuff to make a fun, light quencher. I love it when brewers in an area develop a beer that’s unique, which catches on with local drinkers. I don’t love it so much when every damned brewer across the country feels they have to make that style, too. These knockoffs also often miss the balance that makes the original so great. Start thinking about what you have that’s different—fruit, hops, a locally-sourced grain—and get it in a beer. Stop grabbing what everyone else does: lead, don’t follow!
Festbiers. It’s not too late. It’s still August. If you’ve got a brewpub or tasting room, you could get an Oktoberfest beer in the tank in a week, and have it lagered by Columbus Day. Then you could serve it with a pork, chicken and noodle-heavy menu. And don’t forget to throw some kraut and knockwurst on there, too! Don’t worry about “traditional” or “authentic” so much; just get the beer somewhere between a big amber and a helles, and you’ll be good. You’ll be selling beer in October, and your taproom won’t smell like a Starbucks. Let someone else brew the pumpkin beer this time.
More Bonded Whiskey. A few years ago, I wrote about how bottled-in-bond whiskies were undervalued and underappreciated. I like them because they have to be 100-proof, at least 4 years old and all made at one distillery in a six-month “season” under the same master distiller. While it was once the gold standard, it fell out of favor, and only a few brands—like Old Grand-Dad, Heaven Hill, Mellow Corn—continued to offer bottled-in-bond whiskies. But now there are new bonded bottlings of Old Overholt, Evan Williams, Jim Beam and Jack Daniel’s as well as ones from craft distillers. I’m looking for even more of these special spirits coming out the next few years.
PLEASE A LOT LESS OF:
Mimic Beers. I’m going to get some “get off my lawn” blowback on this one, but it’s got to be said: if I want to drink a Moscow Mule, a Gin & Tonic or a highball, I’ll make one. Why would I want to pop open a beer that tastes...kinda like a cocktail? Or for that matter an iced tea beer, a chocolate donut beer, a pizza beer, a strawberry-rhubarb beer? Who’s making this stuff, Willy Wonka? Even a fruit beer should still taste like there’s beer in there.
Flavored Whiskey. The people who are going to drink Fireball are already drinking it, and that’s great. (Fireball sales are funding the construction of 50 new warehouses for parent company Sazerac to make Buffalo Trace Bourbon.) But we don’t have to mix liquor with every single thing at the flavor house. I’m not really looking forward to drinking tomato-flavored whiskey.
Whiskey That Isn’t Whiskey. The Standards of Identity—the federal regulations that define what spirits are (and are not)—are a bit convoluted, and at times ambiguous. But they’re pretty clear that whiskey is made from fermented grain. Not honey, not potatoes, and not buckwheat which, it turns out, is a pseudo-cereal, closer to being a fruit. Who knew? Unfortunately, the government agency that approves spirits labels is really overworked and underfunded right now, and some bad ideas are slipping through. Stop it. If you want to make something with buckwheat, or honey and grain, or kale, that’s fine...but don’t call it whiskey.
Shelf Bombs. You know all those loosely filtered hazy beers that everyone’s drinking? You’re not drinking them fast enough. Seriously, some of them, if they sit on the shelves for three or four weeks, become little pressure bombs and the cans pop! (I’m just glad that bottles are not as popular for these brews!) The brewers making these beers need to take a refresher course on processing and sanitation. You can, of course, avoid this mess by filling your fridge with cans from brewers who’ve been around the block a few times.