India Pale Ale, or variations of pale ales have the fastest turnover for craft brewers and home brewers. Between 2-5 weeks and BAM a new batch of beer is made. Brewers can experiment. Failures aren’t as big a deal with a fast turnover. I feel like there is a chicken and egg thing here. Making IPA is cheaper and quicker so people who want to be part of the craft beer scene drink a lot of IPA because it is faster and easier to make. Do they develop a taste for it because it is what is available in the scene or are they experimenting with it because they like it? Chicken and egg.
For smaller operations that only have they ability to have 1 or 2 brews fermenting at a time it is hard to devote expensive machinery to longer fermenting beers. Lagers generally take 2 weeks longer than IPAs. Stouts and Porters… well, generally the darker the beer the longer it is going to take to brew up it’s dark malty goodness.
Ok ok so some people like it. Some people I know like it. I’m really not sure why? But then I love pretty much anything pickled. Put it in vinegar and I’m like Boy howdy. My husband looks at me like I’m a crazy woman. When a brewery does have like 1 dark beer option 9 times out of 10 it is… *drum roll please* a coffee stout. I I think it is because they think they are being trendy. (They aren’t) It isn’t trendy because everyone else is doing it. It is trendy because everyone wants them to be doing it. I talk to a lot of friends about beer. Most of them do not want coffee in their stout, but I guess there is no accounting for taste. Is it that when a brewery ONLY has cans of Coffee Stout and IPA it is because everyone wants it, or there is so much of it because everyone doesn’t want it? I think breweries are doing it for the same reasons. It is easier… It is hard work to make a good stout. Guiness perfected it. Yeah a nice beautiful glass of guiness with just about an inch of lovely foam is a thing of beauty. It is smooth and creamy and has a velvety mouthfeel. It is glorious… They have been making Guiness since 1759. That is literally over 250 years to perfect the glory that is the dry Irish stout we all know and love. I don’t expect a newbie brewery to crank out the perfect irish dry stout, but… stout is hard. It takes longer to make. It is harder to develop good flavors. It is less forgiving. So instead of working hard to develop complex flavors, let’s throw some coffee beans in there and WHAM BAM Thank you ma’am… We have a dark beer to offer the public. There is only 1 coffee beer that I actually like. It is from Evil Twins Brewery and is called Biscotti break. It isn’t a straight coffee beer. It has nuanced and complex flavors of which a subtle coffee flavor is one. I find when microbrewers make coffee beer the front load coffee flavor is like all the bitterness of coffee grounds. It’s like they say “there are not hops in this beer to make it bitter, let’s make it like they are drinking coffee grounds.” No thank you. Anytime a brewery has an offering of a dark beer that isn’t coffee stout/porter I want to try it. Even if I don’t like it I want to try it. I appreciate the effort it takes to craft a good dark beer! They are making a statement that they are trying to develop a beer that isn’t using coffee as a crutch. I respect that. It takes more skill and artistry. When I see a coffee stout my first gut reaction is… oh… I see they feel they need a crutch to make a stout. It makes me sad…
What often rubs me the wrong way is when breweries advertize flavors that don’t come through. If you tell me hazelnut. I want to have hints of hazelnut. If you tell me peanut butter. I want peanut butter. If you tell me chocolate. I want chocolate. If you tell me S’mores I WANT some grainy graham, some chocolate, and some creamy toasted marshmallow hints. When a brewery says Stout… I’m happy. But if it says coconut stout and there is no coconut… I’m annoyed. I probably would have liked it fine if they had just said stout, but when I’m looking for toasted coconut and don’t get it… I feel let down. Why don’t I taste it? BECAUSE IT IS HARD! Hats off to brewers who are willing to experiment with dark beers. Remember folks it is a lot more time and effort and skill to experiment with dark beers. You have to have a big pair of coconuts to make that coconut stout that may not, in fact, have hints of toasted coconut. It is easy to experiment with Apple Crisp. It is harder to experiment with Pound Cake. Baking is a science and cooking is an art. When you do something so complex as experiment with dark beers you are doing the double of baking and cooking… science AND art! Sometimes your experiments fail, but please brewers keep experimenting. Please skip the easy path of throwing coffee beans in. Didn’t they read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? Don’t mix uppers and downers! Experiment with other things.
Things I would like to see in dark beers: Toasted nuts (almonds, pecans, peanuts, hazelnuts, etc) warm spices (cinnamon, cardamon, ginger, nutmeg not cloves… I hate cloves) hardy flavors (coconut, sage, carrot, oats, sweet potato, dates, Chili, rosemary, juniper) Sweet flavors (caramel, maple, vanilla, cherry, chocolate, fruits)
Things I do NOT want in my dark beer. Aged in bourbon barrels, coffee, cloves, hops. Please for the love of all that is dark and foamy in my glass don’t add hops to my dark beer!
Some might notice that the term “Imperial” gets bandied about a bit, especially with stouts, but now more often as not with IPAs. Imperial used to mean one thing, then slid into a second meaning and now kinda just means a 3rd thing. It’s original meaning was for a beer brewed in Europe, then shipped to the Russian Imperial Court. So Imperial Stout meant stout that was made outside of Russia, then shipped to the Russian Imperial Court. Then brewers began selling this same beer to the people around where they were brewing. The idea then morphed into “top shelf” style beer. This is what the royals drink and you can drink it too! Now, it kinda just means that the brewers add double or triple the hops or malts to the beer. It usually makes the beer much more alcoholic. It supposedly ups the AMPS on the flavor. Imperial IPAS are going to be more hoppy. Imperial Stouts more malty. Frankly I feel that this is just another lazy way of pretending to be different. A way to “experiment” without really taking risks. Show me your coconuts. Throw some honey in my beer.
That’s my two cents. Not that it amounts to much. Brewers are going to continue to make academic dark beer with “safe” little differences like coffee and more malt. I will continue to raise one eyebrow and be mildly annoyed and every now and again I will find a brewery that does something fantastic and I will be overjoyed and sing Hallelujah and then be disappointed to find out… they only offer growlers to take home…