Author Topic: When "hot" breweries get stale  (Read 3605 times)

Offline skyler

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When "hot" breweries get stale
« on: March 15, 2016, 05:35:19 PM »
At 32, I am lucky to be young enough to have grown up with craft beer, but old enough to have seen how that industry has developed and shifted over the past 10-15 years. I remember when witbier seemed like a new and cutting edge beer style. I remember when the word "imperial" was on every label. And I remember when a bunch of breweries that are still around were "hot" and worth a trip out to wherever to visit. Some of these breweries sold out, then got ruined by their corporate overlords (Mendocino Brewing), and some went under, but some are still around, still making the same beers that made them famous, but I don't see them on tap in great beer bars anymore and I don't hear anyone talking them up anymore. Of course, plenty of the "hot" breweries of 2005 are even hotter now (Russian River comes to mind), but I wonder about these beers that I used to get excited to drink - that were a regular purchase for me ten years ago, but now seem so old fashioned.

Here's an incomplete list: North Coast Brewing, Lost Coast Brewing, Mad River, Rogue, BridgePort, AleSmith, Anderson Valley, and even Bear Republic (okay, Racer 5 is more common than ever in the bay area, but this brewery hasn't had a "hot" beer release in a decade, AFAIK).

Does anyone have any idea why these breweries seem to have lost their mojo? Is it us (the consumers) who have changed? Are they resting on their laurels? Have they just found a sustainable formula and stuck with it?
« Last Edit: March 15, 2016, 05:39:00 PM by skyler »

Offline Phil_M

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Re: When "hot" breweries get stale
« Reply #1 on: March 15, 2016, 05:57:20 PM »
"Great" local beer is better than the "greatest" beer served past its prime?

Or, perhaps breweries that specialize in the latest craze get swept aside by the next big thing? I think this is more likely. I do think that a certain segment of the craft beer market follows the trend, whatever that may be at the time. Thankfully, that trend often coincides with good beer, but it's still a troubling idea to me.
Corn is a fine adjunct in beer.

And don't buy stale beer.

Offline yso191

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Re: When "hot" breweries get stale
« Reply #2 on: March 15, 2016, 06:12:57 PM »
I'm old enough to remember when the only option to macro lagers was Anchor Steam beer.

As to your main point, I think 'new' has been largely tapped out, and I am happy with having a great selection of styles. It is a wonderful thing that most communities of any size have access to the entire BJCP category list!

So yes I am somewhat tired of breweries anxiously trying to invent.  Especially the new 'unusual ingredient' beers are tiresome to me (I'm looking at you Dogfish Head).  Maybe the new 'new' will be yeast driven beers like the Bret strains that are being identified or wild strains.  I'd love to see regional yeast strains like what developed in Belgium.  I wish I could channel my inner Mark (S. Cerevisiae) and isolate a native wild Yakima yeast that contributed something great!
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Offline kramerog

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Re: When "hot" breweries get stale
« Reply #3 on: March 15, 2016, 06:19:29 PM »
I can't comment speak knowledgeably about the listed breweries. 

My history goes back further.  I remember when Sierra Nevada was a big deal.  For a long time, perhaps more than a decade, they seemed to tread water and then suddenly they started bringing out new beers.  Turns out they was an ownership dispute and then one owner bought out the other leading to the new beers.

Distributorship could be an issue.  Bell's and New Glarus pulled out of the Chicago market and only Bell's returned.

Offline Stevie

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Re: When "hot" breweries get stale
« Reply #4 on: March 15, 2016, 06:23:54 PM »
I think many good beer bars try to keep the selection new to keep people returning. I'm finding that I prefer a bar with 8 good and fresh kegs over a bar with dozens of the same offerings over and over again.

I've heard from multiple sources in distribution and food service that the trend is hedging towards pilsners now. I'm happy with that.

Offline HoosierBrew

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Re: When "hot" breweries get stale
« Reply #5 on: March 15, 2016, 06:38:24 PM »
I remember Anchor and Sierra being a really big deal, too. In a similar vein to other posts, the sheer number of breweries out there now as compared to the days when there was an easily identifiable handful of really good beers has put the focus on freshness for me. As mentioned, a good local brewery/brewpub or really good taproom with a dozen or so taps that turn over quickly is more preferable than rolling the dice on liquor stores or 100 tap pubs where turnover is not good. I do salute Sierra and the others with the foresight to grow and change with the times, in a good way, which many of the past 'hot' breweries just didn't do.
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Offline fmader

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Re: When "hot" breweries get stale
« Reply #6 on: March 15, 2016, 06:55:54 PM »
Like others have touched on, I believe that it has to do with the vast number of breweries out there now. I don't consider it a bad thing. Once upon a time, there was a relatively finite number of brewery options out there to choose from. These breweries became the staple. They become the "hot" name. They are still considered the "greats." BUT with the movement of the craft beer world becoming more mainstreamed, we are being surrounded by option. By many, many options. I can get a west coast IPA that is brewed in northeast Ohio that is as good as any west coast IPA that is brewed on the west coast. I love most of the west coast breweries that distribute in these parts, but if I have a choice at my local pub to drink a Fat Head's Head Hunter IPA or a Racer 5 or Sculpin or the list goes on, I'm more than likely to choose the Fat Head's, because chances are, it is fresher. Not only is freshness key here, I believe that the competition has caught up with the old staple breweries... and it has caught up quickly! So, now we're seeing a lot of non-traditional experimental jive going on in order to differentiate the beer world. We're seeing this a lot with Ballast Point right now. Sculpin was rated one of the best IPA's in the world. Why add habanero, grapefruit, or pineapple to something that is already great? Well, because the competition has caught up and they need to do something different in order to try to stay ahead of the game.
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Offline skyler

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Re: When "hot" breweries get stale
« Reply #7 on: March 15, 2016, 07:27:05 PM »
Why add habanero, grapefruit, or pineapple to something that is already great?

Sculpin was a great beer before they changed the recipe. Now it's still good, but not nearly as good as it was back in 2010. I think the Sculpin+ trend started out as a way to sell the batches that didn't meet specifications or to tap kegs that had aged out (at the brewpub) and that it has become a way of selling the same beer without spending money on dry hops - say this not from insider knoweldge, but from having tasted the beers several times and feeling like they aren't very hoppy.

Offline dilluh98

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Re: When "hot" breweries get stale
« Reply #8 on: March 15, 2016, 07:30:07 PM »
Like others have touched on, I believe that it has to do with the vast number of breweries out there now. I don't consider it a bad thing. Once upon a time, there was a relatively finite number of brewery options out there to choose from. These breweries became the staple. They become the "hot" name. They are still considered the "greats." BUT with the movement of the craft beer world becoming more mainstreamed, we are being surrounded by option. By many, many options. I can get a west coast IPA that is brewed in northeast Ohio that is as good as any west coast IPA that is brewed on the west coast. I love most of the west coast breweries that distribute in these parts, but if I have a choice at my local pub to drink a Fat Head's Head Hunter IPA or a Racer 5 or Sculpin or the list goes on, I'm more than likely to choose the Fat Head's, because chances are, it is fresher. Not only is freshness key here, I believe that the competition has caught up with the old staple breweries... and it has caught up quickly! So, now we're seeing a lot of non-traditional experimental jive going on in order to differentiate the beer world. We're seeing this a lot with Ballast Point right now. Sculpin was rated one of the best IPA's in the world. Why add habanero, grapefruit, or pineapple to something that is already great? Well, because the competition has caught up and they need to do something different in order to try to stay ahead of the game.

100% agree. The best IPA in town is typically going to be the freshest IPA in town. I'll almost always take my local offering for most styles over something from CA or the east coast. Here in Austin, I've noticed that a lot of breweries aren't trying to differentiate themselves with adjuncts or gimmicky beers - just clean execution of styles of beer people like to drink in huge quantities. For us, it's damn hot almost year-round so we get a ton of great German pilsners. There's even been an insurgence of some killer local lagers lately which I am thrilled about. The newer breweries coming online, I have not been impressed with because they ARE going toward the more gimmicky styles. One recent opening had this as their starting lineup: Grapefruit IPA, weird spice-laden wit and a coffee/chocolate/etc stout. These are your standard offerings? No thanks! Another brewery is making money hand-over-fist by doing only kettle-soured beers. People will go because it's a sour beer and that's the thing right now but if they'd just make the trip south to Jester King, they'd know that this new brewery is a bit of a joke in terms of quality. The market here still isn't close to saturated so I expect more mediocre breweries to continue to open but the ones that started 3-5 years ago are doing well (and will continue to do well) by sticking to a solid core of classic styles. Jester King is obviously in its own category.  ;D

Offline hopfenundmalz

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Re: When "hot" breweries get stale
« Reply #9 on: March 15, 2016, 07:30:45 PM »
I can't comment speak knowledgeably about the listed breweries. 

My history goes back further.  I remember when Sierra Nevada was a big deal.  For a long time, perhaps more than a decade, they seemed to tread water and then suddenly they started bringing out new beers.  Turns out they was an ownership dispute and then one owner bought out the other leading to the new beers.

Distributorship could be an issue.  Bell's and New Glarus pulled out of the Chicago market and only Bell's returned.
They were also focused on the brewery expansion and green initiatives for a period of time.
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Offline Joe Sr.

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Re: When "hot" breweries get stale
« Reply #10 on: March 15, 2016, 08:23:46 PM »
As far as I'm concerned, North Coast has a pretty rock solid line-up.  I'm not sure why you think they should change something or keep coming out with new beers.

Rogue was hot some 20 years ago, but I haven't had much of their offerings recently.  The last time was few years ago and it was Shakespeare Stout on a firkin.  It was damn delicious.

Breweries don't need to be innovative to be good.  Brewing good beer consistently is something to be commended.
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Offline skyler

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Re: When "hot" breweries get stale
« Reply #11 on: March 15, 2016, 08:30:21 PM »
The best IPA in town is typically going to be the freshest IPA in town... Here in Austin

Man, things must have changed since I last visited (June 2013). I visited Stevie (who lived near Dallas at the time), and we went to several breweries and beer bars. I had a great time, but I didn't drink a good hoppy beer that whole week, just a bunch of 6.5% malt bombs called "IPA" and a handful of decent red ales (and a hell of a lot of cheap canned lager because it was 100+ degrees even at night).

Wait, I lied. One brewery had kickass hoppy beer - Real Ale's Four Squared was really really good and inspired the addition of a "summer IPA" as part of my brewing rotation.

Offline skyler

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Re: When "hot" breweries get stale
« Reply #12 on: March 15, 2016, 08:39:58 PM »
As far as I'm concerned, North Coast has a pretty rock solid line-up.  I'm not sure why you think they should change something or keep coming out with new beers.

I don't think they should change, I just wonder why I don't see their beers in bars anymore. I do feel like they could figure out a better way to use the iconic "Acme" brand, as I haven't seen it in years.

Rogue was hot some 20 years ago, but I haven't had much of their offerings recently.  The last time was few years ago and it was Shakespeare Stout on a firkin.  It was damn delicious.

As a Portlander, I have a little more insight here. Their new beers aren't as good as the old ones, and they are very gimmicky (Maple Bacon Donut Beer, PDX Carpet Ale, Sriracha Beer). I'm more interested in how/why they went from being a major beer destination as recently as 2008 to being "that place you go to in the pearl district when everything else is full."

Breweries don't need to be innovative to be good.  Brewing good beer consistently is something to be commended.

Agreed. I'm not really here to hate on breweries for making good beer that isn't trendy (and I drink Black Butte porter ALL THE TIME, FWIW). I am mostly just curious how a brewery goes from "hot" to "not" without going under or selling out.

Offline Stevie

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Re: When "hot" breweries get stale
« Reply #13 on: March 15, 2016, 08:42:18 PM »
Too bad Jester King was in Maine for some festival. Damn Mainers.

It was mid 80s at night, not 100° and the humidity was relatively low for the area. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't want to help somebody move in that weather, but it was fine for walking around.

Offline Joe Sr.

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Re: When "hot" breweries get stale
« Reply #14 on: March 15, 2016, 09:40:12 PM »
As far as I'm concerned, North Coast has a pretty rock solid line-up.  I'm not sure why you think they should change something or keep coming out with new beers.

I don't think they should change, I just wonder why I don't see their beers in bars anymore. I do feel like they could figure out a better way to use the iconic "Acme" brand, as I haven't seen it in years.


I see them on tap somewhat regularly around here (I don't actually go out all that much).  However, I think that the landscape has become so crowded that you're not usually going to see two or more beers from any single brewery on tap unless there's a special event of some sort.   And as far as it goes, I don't think I've ever seen ACME IPA in these parts.  Pranqster, Bro Thelonius, Old Rasputin.  Those are the ones I'll see.  Red Seal, too.
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