Editorial | Don’t Get Stuck in a Craft Beer Brand Name Rut
Does size matter? Do name brands imply value? Last year, I dared to suggest that the best barrel-aged beer I tasted came from Crystal Lake Brewing — the 2015 Heaven Hill Rye Barrel-Aged Stout (aged for three years). That assessment afforded me an opportunity to receive several nasty, troll-like emails, messages and online commentary.
For some reason, boldly claiming that a brewery outside the realm of the “big boys” somehow banished me to the craft beer timeout corner. But why?
Before trolls swarm me like the Wicked Witch of the West’s monkey air force, let me be clear in that it would also be misguided to dislike a beer because of its popularity or persistent recognition within the writing, blogging and social media world. It was the years of quality brewing that made well-known breweries popular in the first place. Simply, I suggest that one should not deny oneself an opportunity to enjoy some of the best beer in the city because they don’t know much about a brewery. Instead, GET to know the brewery by drinking its beer.
From Smylie Brothers to Two Brothers, and Maplewood to Imperial Oak, spectacular beer abounds in the Chicago area, regardless of the brewery’s size or popularity. Yet social media posts, bloggers and even professional writers have habitually fixated on the few rather than the many—there are nearly 200 breweries in greater Chicago, after all. For instance, a brewery such as Werk Force Brewing in the ‘burbs has won multiple FoBAB, The World Cup and GABF medals yet it rarely receives much press or social media love. And that’s a shame because if one ignores a brewery’s “cool kid” status and tries its beer (notably, award-winning beer), it’s quite likely one’s taste buds will be thankful.
By all means, one should be free to enjoy creative brews from endless well-known breweries. I do — you’ll regularly find Half Acre in this writer’s fridge. Of course, no matter the size, not every brewery or beer in the metro region deserves an A+ grade. But, no beer deserves a better grade merely because the name on the label enjoys media love and social media muscle. As a craft community, we should refrain from assuming that a brewery with greater cachet deserves superiority over other breweries.
The whole point of the craft movement was to remove the shackles created by the beer industry in the mid-20th century and brew something different, something better. Craft beer didn’t gain notoriety due to its deep pockets, mainstream attention or cool factor; craft existed as the alternative. So, in a world where craft beer continues to expand, both in brewery numbers and beer diversity, why would anyone limit their beer choices to a few craft brand-name breweries?
We at PorchDrinking.com strive to bring you the stories of Chicago breweries as LaGrow, Oswego, Kinslahger, Scorched Earth, Old Irving, Around the Bend and Only Child alongside lauded, accomplished breweries such as Revolution, Half Acre, Off Color, Metropolitan and other breweries of that ilk. Join us in our quest to find the best beer in the city, be it from the brewery you know or the brewery you should discover.
The Craft Beer renaissance is upon us — don’t rob yourself of an opportunity to enjoy it fully. You’ll be surprised what wonders emerge from the shiny vats and wooden barrels of breweries found amidst the sea of 200 breweries throughout the Chicago metro area and beyond.