A year ago, I mused about the proliferation of specialty beers (i.e. beers made with unusual fermentables or techniques) diluting the very concept of what it means to be a specialty beer. Based on the wide range of “extreme,” fruit flavored, smoked, herbed, spiced and “alternately grained” beers we reviewed from around the world in this year’s specialty session, the transformation of specialty to normalcy is far from over. In fact, it’s accelerating.
Let’s face it, this is a fun time to be a beer tasting daredevil. Dovetailing two currently vogue culinary movements, localism and exoticism, brewers are incorporating more locally sourced and regionally unique elements into their production, as well as newly available exotic culinary ingredients. Almost every brewery and brewpub is doing this, for better or worse, but I think generally trending better at the moment, especially on the localism front.
Of course, the same rules that govern great beers of “old” still apply to this new crop of foamy odd fellows, namely balance, quality of flavor and, dare I say, purpose. It’s fine to be experimental, even somewhat crazed, when dreaming up a new beer or even beer style, but at the end of the day one would hope someone would be able be able to enjoy (endure?) more than a sip or, heaven forbid, a pint of a clever new creation. The dreaded word “drinkability” (maybe I should switch the term to “desirability;” remind me to trademark that…) should still have some value, even a base, philistine one like sales, in the specialty equation.
So, with an eye and, more importantly, tongue finely focused on those elusive paradigms of balance and desirability, we perceived a plethora of positively peculiar beers ranging from the precious—2009 Sam Adams Utopias (93 points); to the precocious—Bastone Brewery Raisin Hell Ale (92 points); to prim and proper—Samuel Smith Raspberry Ale (90 points) and Upland Brewery Raspberry Lambic (91 points).
Also noteworthy were the delicious Burleigh Brewing Co. Black Giraffe Coffee Lager (94 points) and the delightful Williams Bros. Brewing Alba Scots Pine Ale (93 points), all clearly demonstrating that unorthodoxy can be a wonderful everyday indulgence. Now I think that’s pretty special.