The other night on Facebook, I posted a statement that went like this :
If you set down a Lagunitas Daytime, a Stone Go To IPA and a Firestone Easy Jack, you are guaranteed three freaking delicious beers, but if I had to choose just one, Easy Jack would be the winner.
It’s easily my new desert island beer.
It garnered quite a bit of discussion, starting off with the reminders of other similar beers that I had missed, Karl Strauss Mosaic Session, Founders All Day IPA, Pizza Port SIPA, etc.. All of which are AMAZING beers.
What struck me as odd is that no one expressed any concern with the idea that these beers are NOT IPAs, but are style bent Pale Ales that are over hopped. I know some of you are rolling your eyes and I totally get that .. but bear with me.
For the purpose of this article, I am going to pick on Stone’s Go To IPA.
According the BJCP, the style guides are as follows:
10a “American Pale Ale” :
OG: 1.045 – 1.060 IBUs: 30 – 45 FG: 1.010 – 1.015 SRM: 5 – 14 ABV: 4.5 – 6.2%
14a “American IPA” :
OG: 1.056 – 1.075 IBUs: 40 – 70 FG: 1.010 – 1.018 SRM: 6 – 15 ABV: 5.5 – 7.5%
Stone’s Go To IPA is at the bottom of this scale at 4.5% ABV … the SRM is in the lighter range of a Pale Ale but there is also a lot of overlap in SRM so we are also in the lighter range of the IPA, but the IBUs… oh my, the IBUs roll in at a whopping 65 … more then 20 points higher than the Pale Ale range and nearly at the top of the IPA range, so which is it?
If you all remember your 2012 & 2013 craft beer controversy list ( is that a thing? ) you’ll remember that back then it was all the rage to be disgusted by anyone who called a dark hoppy beer a “Black IPA” … There was the crowd that insisted that they were to be called “Cascadian Dark Ales” — obviously that was the Pacific Northwest crowd. The argument centered around the fact that IPA stands for India PALE Ale, which clearly isn’t ever going to be a dark beer.
During those dark days of civil war in the craft beer world, I was a proponent of the idea that IPA was no longer an acronym, but had taken on its own meaning and designation, among the overall community, and I think a lot of people agreed with that, and in the end, people call dark hoppy beers Black IPAs or Cascadian Dark Ales depending on where they live, and there is no “real” style for it.
The take away from that particular argument was that brewers showed that ultimately they are unconcerned with the BJCP style guides when it comes to brewing, something we all kind of knew already, and that they are content with brewing beers that they can drop into the specialty category #23 and not worry too much about the possibility of winning awards.
Which brings up my next point. The death of the BJCP as an organization that establishes styles. Can this organization maintain any sort of relevancy when their standards and guidelines are completely ignored by the industry which it is geared at? The BJCP as an organization is just as much at fault for this as the brewers that ignore them. If you visit the BJCP website : http://www.bjcp.org and click on the style guide links .. you will see something that should offend you far more than a dark ale being referred to as a pale ale .. the style guides have not been updated since 2008. Are you kidding me?! We’re in an industry that has new beers released pretty much every day .. new boundaries are being tested, and broken just as often, and let’s face it .. is this industry, or the product it creates even remotely recognizable from where it was in 2008?
The purpose of the BJCP as stated in their website is :
The purpose of the Beer Judge Certification Program is to:
- Encourage knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of the world’s diverse beer, mead, and cider styles;
- Promote, recognize, and advance beer, mead, and cider tasting, evaluation, and communication skills; and
- Develop standardized tools, methods, and processes for the structured evaluation, ranking and feedback of beer, mead, and cider.
Can they really fulfill this purpose if they are not keeping with the creators & innovators of the product they are trying to promote and standardize? And is standardization of craft beer even a possible goal?
Part of what makes craft beer so spectacular is that it’s punk, it’s hard core, and frankly it don’t give a fuck about standards! The standards have become a way for us to get a starting point of what we should imagine we will be trying and then we go from there. So in our discussion above about a “Session IPA” .. where do you start. If you said a low ABV beer that has been hopped nearly to death .. you deserve a cookie.
So where do we go from here? Do we as a community of consumers really care if breweries are releasing beers that don’t fit within a style? I mean really, what is a White IPA? It’s FUCKING delicious, that’s what it is.. beyond that, does it matter?
Also, do breweries RELY on awards as much anymore? I capitalized “rely” because awards still matter .. they matter a lot, but are they the end-all, be-all that we judge a brewery by now? I don’t think so. Social media, and especially Untappd, have created a network of beer judging that is far more telling then who won gold in the cream ale category of last years GABF.
So does this mean the death of the BJCP? Is that a death that we as consumers would mourn, or even notice?
Personally, I hope not. I think the BJCP is a necessary organization, especially with the influx of new brewers and breweries. In my opinion, style bending is an art form, and one that should only be attempted by brewers who have proven themselves. Whenever I try a new brewery, with a fresh new brewer, and they hand me a barrel-aged 18% stout, I think .. that’s great, but can you brew a pale ale .. to style? It’s far too easy to brew huge ABV or massively hoppy beers that you can bury a plethora of brewing errors behind. So, in my opinion, it’s important for new brewers ( especially home brewers ) to learn and respect the style guidelines that are in place, and when you are able to brew good quality, stylistically correct beers, then you can go out and start pushing the boundaries and bending the styles to your whims.
In the meantime, I am going to enjoy this new era of sessionable IPAs. I am going to revel in the low ABV hoppy delights that are being created and hope that we can all realize that no matter what a beer is styled after, or whether the beer is in the proper style, that when it’s tasty and delicious, that’s all that really matters.