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The Allure of New and Why We Shouldn’t Diss Mainstays

A couple weeks back I wrote a post reflecting on my visits to Calgary’s newest and second oldest breweries (which you can read here). The visits got me pondering the similarities and differences between older and newer breweries. Since that post I have been pondering the issue further. More specifically I contemplated the tendency in today’s fast moving beer culture to seek out the new and interesting and, by extension, dismiss the older and more familiar.

Those musings grew up into a Beer 101 column, which was published last week. You can read the article here.

The origins of my musings have been commentary recently about how great the “new” breweries are in western Canada combined with a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) disparaging of the more established craft breweries in the area. Not all ascribe to this line of thinking, but I have heard it enough times in recent months to believe it to have some traction among a portion of the craft beer consumer.

My piece attempts to break down the logic in that argument – more specifically the errors in that logic. I argue it actually starts from a reasonable and natural tendency; we all are attracted to the new and unusual and can get bored with the things with which we are most familiar.  It is totally fair to be excited to get your first pint of that new brewery’s first release or the latest beer you have never tried before.

The problem comes when we try to contrast the more familiar beer with the excitement of that new-ness. The latter naturally pales in comparison. I dub that tendency Shiny New Thing Syndrome (SNTS). It is something we can all be afflicted with but must work to avoid.

The second logical flaw is the presence of selective vision. We tend to compare that fancy new Double IPA or Kettle Sour from the new brewery (because that is what catches our attention) to the most accessible of the older brewery’s beer. It is an unfair comparison.

Related to that is the third logical issue: ignoring sales. Sure, beer aficionados get excited about that new Imperial Stout or SMASH (Single-Malt-Single-Hop) beer – and we should. Be we shouldn’t ignore that the brewery that just put out that amazing East Coast IPA also likely has a session ale, blonde ale or some similarly accessible style in their line-up. And in most cases (admittedly not all) that accessible beer is their best-selling beer.

How is that so different than the 20-year-old brewery whose bills are paid by a fruit beer or a blonde lager? It is the reality of selling beer in Western Canada, what is undoubtedly still an emerging craft beer market. Breweries, at the end of the day, need to be financially sustainable and producing a beer people like is not a bad thing.

Besides, what is inherently wrong with a fruit wheat beer or blonde ale? Sure, fruit beer are not really my cup of tea (ale?), but if it is well made and honestly marketed, who am I to say it isn’t a worthwhile beer? We have to be careful not to let our more experienced palates lead to snobbery. Beer is supposed to be a social drink after all.

It is a false dichotomy, this new vs. old. Drink the beer you like. Respect all craft breweries who make well-executed beer, no matter how long it has been on offer.

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