Saturday, September 6, 2014

To Style or Not to Style

Opening day at taproom
Bent Brewstillery
When I took the beer judge certification classes with the Minnesota Home Brewers, studying the BJCP style guidelines made it apparent that winning medals in home brew competitions is about hitting the bullseye. The style guidelines are the mark and winners hit the mark.

For example, one of my favorite beers anywhere is Masala Mama IPA at Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery. And, that's the straight pushed beer and doesn't consider Mango Mama or the cask version.  It's an amazing beer in any form and yet none of Town Hall's 14 medals at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is from Masala Mama. My interpretation (shared by a others) is that Masala Mama is a fine IPA that falls in between styles. As a result, this amazing beer won't get a medal even though it would be a top national IPA if it was ever allowed to be released outside of the state.

All of which is back drop for my same night visit of Bent Brewstillery and Sisyphus Brewing. As the beer boom grows, every brewery is fighting harder than ever to carve out a niche in the heart of MN beer drinkers. Both breweries are attempting to do that but in very different ways.

I miss so many openings that I couldn't resist the Facebook post by Bent Brewstillery to celebrate their reopening as the merged company (Joining forces with Pour Decisions). I opened big with a draft of Dark Fatha, listed as an American Emperial Stout (and yes my spelling is correct). The menu description calls this a hybrid beer style that combines the feel of a light ale and the robust dark flavors of a stout. I think that descriptions at Bent Brewstillery will likely be important. Reading the tap handle in line, I read Imperial Stout and ordered. Tasting at the table, it seemed like a thin for the style and that's how it registered for me. However, reading the intention of the brewer, it really is light and refreshing while still being a full flavored ale that's cleanly brewed and excellent. However, checking out the reviews on BA, there seems to be some similar confusion and low ratings as a result.

On the Bentbrewstillery webpage for the opening today, it states specifically that one of their goals is to rebel against styles. In theory, many of us applaud this approach (unless you truly love the BJCP guidelines, which some do). Anyone familiar with Minnesota homebrewing or reads the AHA results will know of head brewer Kris England. No one has the success Kris has in homebrew competitions with knowing how to hit the style mark. So, I'm extremely confidant that I am drinking exactly what Kris intended. While style guidelines can be seen as restricting creativity, they are also map to what you want to drink, especially for those that are new to craft beer. For an all dog like me, a little reading solves the problem to enjoying an opening of some pretty cool beers that hit a mark all their own.
Sisyphus Brewing

Next stop was Sisyphus Brewing, which is taking a different approach.  With only four taps, the names are simple and straight forward.  My Brett IPA and Double IPA were excellent, and very much what I expected from the names. Sipping on a pint while listening to the comedy show that's laying the groundwork for a future theater, I ponder my evening and wonder which approach to a brewery is best. Or, if comparing even makes sense. As a veteran geek, my beery knowledge is a comfort in new situations, something I worked hard to achieve from the early days when tap lists were bewildering.  Drinking a variation of a clear target is something I enjoy.

Yet, tonight, I'm drinking from a growler of Town Hall's Sunshower, a honey lager interpretation of the awesome Thunderstorm with lemongrass and a serious hop bite that I can't seem to get enough. Velvety smooth lager with a lemony nose that draws me in and a lingering acidic bite of lemon and hops.  Love it and totally not a style.

When this began this post, I thought I had an opinion. Turns out, I'm conflicted. I find styles reassuring and helpful, yet want to be challenged by master brewers to break the very rules I learned to embrace.

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