Don’t Fence Me In
The first thing people ask when you tell them you are opening a brewery is, “What kind of beer are you going to brew?” I guess that is a reasonable question, although at first I thought it was kind of a weird question. “I’m going to brew great, tasty beer!” I thought to myself. What else would one brew? However, people insisted on knowing what “style” of beer Heretic would produce. “Oh, what style?” I would respond. Heck, I didn’t have any style in mind, but they wanted an answer, so I would proceed to mumble something about flavors and character until we both became confused.
When I first announced Heretic Brewing Company, I read an online discussion of what beers Heretic would produce. High quality they kindly proclaimed, but very style specific. The general consensus seemed to be that since I write the Style Profile column for Brew Your Own, and I did a whole series of shows on the Brewing Network about brewing the BJCP styles, and I co-authored a book called Brewing Classic Styles, then I must want to brew beers that were strictly to BJCP style. Some internet pundits doubted that I could think outside the style box.
The funny thing is, it never occurred to me that Heretic would brew anything “to style.” Our first discussions about beer involved creating something new, something we couldn’t find for sale already. We, of course, want to brew beers that we feel are exceptional. Beers that are always interesting and sometimes challenging for the craft beer lover. It isn’t that we’re anti-style, but there are so many great beers out there already, we don’t want to start off by brewing another great version of the same beers that are already popular. It seems to us that there are plenty of gaps in beer space, so we are trying to find some of those new or underserved niches to fill with our first beers. We’re not trying to reinvent craft beer, but maybe we can try to be creative with our first beers.
I’m know someday we’ll give in to those folks that keep saying we should brew a great IPA, but I don’t want that to be our first beer. If we can’t start out with something different that utilizes our creativity and passion, then I think much of the fun of brewing would be lost.
Many people might ask, “So why have you advocated for so long that people brew beers to style?” Well, brewing beer to style does have its value. It teaches you a great deal about ingredients, process, and beer. It is like training to be a world class chef. In culinary school they teach you to prepare many classic dishes first, so you can learn about ingredients and process. Without solid understanding of the fundamentals, your chances of creating something new and wonderful is very low. The same is true for brewing, but learning about brewing classic beer styles should never limit your creativity. Instead it should give you the tools and inspire ideas that allow you to experiment. Beer space is wider and richer than the BJCP style guidelines and it is fun to explore those new lands. Once you have honed your skills, don’t stay within the boundaries, feel free to color outside the lines. And if someone tries to corral you into a style box, be like the cowboy in the Cole Porter song and tell them “don’t fence me in.”