I think we can all agree: 2017 was a hell of a year. Each new day and the raucous events that unfolded seemed to indicate we are spiraling into a much darker, bleaker version of the set of Idiocracy.
In a way, the world of indie beer followed suit. Two new types of craft drinkers emerged from the fold in hot pursuit of the most hyped brewing trends of the year: Pastry Stout Zombies and Hazeheads. The over-saturation of abrasively sweet dessert Stouts and Orange Julius-esque IPAs are, in this writer’s opinion, prime examples of the bandwagon effect killing innovation in the craft scene.
To be fair, sweet Stouts with a plethora of adjuncts aren’t a new concept -- a wide variety of notable Stouts loaded up with cocoa nibs, cinnamon, vanilla beans, and coconut have been making the rounds for years (High Water’s Campfire Stout, Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Vanilla Shake, etc.). But 2017 was when brewers embraced their collective sweet tooth full boar, and the Dark Beer community symbolically double-fisted a glass of Imperial Stout in one hand and a bottle of chocolate syrup in the other. The Pastry Stout has risen.
A November article in the Chicago Tribune even went so far as to suggest this trend can be reduced to the simple act of “throwing a bunch of stuff in beer.” The author describes his experience at this year’s Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer (FOBAB), one of Chicago’s most vital beer festivals, and the sheer amount of Pastry Stouts dominating the event. “After six hours wandering the aisles of [FOBAB] last weekend, I have concluded that craft beer is betraying itself. It is forgetting what beer should taste like.”
A strong opinion, for sure. But he does have a point: when you brew with dessert-centric ingredients and intentionality, the resulting beer is meant to taste like the sweet treat it’s emulating more than the beer style itself. Take Omnipollo’s Noa Pecan Mud Cake Stout. The brewer himself says it’s a creative outlet for his childhood dream of becoming a pastry chef, and one Untappd user proclaims, “This isn’t beer. It’s the best milkshake I’ve ever had.”
Like many other hazemakers, it seems that Omnipollo has milkshakes on the mind. They teamed up with Ardmore, PA’s Tired Hands to create a whole “Milkshake IPA” series brewed with oats, lactose sugar, wheat flour, and apple puree, then fermented on different fruits and vanilla beans.
This shows the NE-style IPA craze has clearly reached new heights, with brewers vying to see who can make the creamiest, fruit-smoothiest hazebombs imaginable. And while some can fall flat, lacking nuance and variation, the trend is a sure departure from the old school caramel-malty-bitter-pine-needle IPAs of yesteryear. It’s actively encouraging new dry-hopping techniques and even cryogenically separated hops to produce exciting, high ABV brews that taste more like fruit juice than alpha oils. But when one of the oldest West Coast hop wielders starts making a Hazy IPA, is the style still as scintillating?
In my wildest beer dreams, 2018 would bring the advent of widely available Saisons and Farmhouse Ales, a revival of classic German styles, and a boom of experimental, challenging blended brews that hearken back to the times of unpredictable fermentation, yet also point toward the future of brewing. However, by the looks of it, the Pastry Stout regime will stand strong and the Haze Craze is here to stay.
Maybe it’s not all bad -- beers that remind you of Grandma’s German chocolate cake and your childhood favorite passionfruit-orange-guava juice could convert even the most staunch non-beer folk to the wonders of the craft scene. These “Gateway beers” could have the impact of introducing new drinkers to everything that beer can be. And that’s something we can all toast to.
What’s your take? Are Pastry Stouts and Hazy IPAs stifling creativity in brewing or invigorating it? Sound off in the comments!
Written by Sigmund Steiger
Featured image from Omnipollo Facebook Page