I guess it pays to procrastinate when writing about beer in the New Year. Over the last couple weeks, I've read several articles predicting trends for craft beer in Charlotte and beyond for 2014, and while many of them offer quality insight and reasonable analysis, I'm going to try to avoid the redundancy of feeding you another round of predictions. Instead, I'd like to talk about some improvements that I think would greatly benefit our scene here, both in terms of the ways we make beer as well as how we consume it. My hope is that we continue to see our scene grow, mature and thrive in 2014.
1. Stop using ingredients as weapons and start using them to create complex, quality flavor.
With the massive increase in U.S. craft breweries over the last few years, a raging battle ensued to create the next crazy, extreme, over-the-top beer with which to assault the public palate. Whether it be ABV numbers bordering on liquor status, extreme bitterness created by mountains of hops, or ridiculous ingredients ranging from baked goods to ghost peppers, a constant one-upmanship flourishes in the beer community that is more concerned with brand recognition than actually making a quality product.
Now, don't get me wrong: I'm all for experimentation and creativity in brewing, as long as it yields a product that actually tastes good. And while tastes may vary, not every experiment yields positive results. I think it is insulting (in my Ron Burgundy voice) to assume that your average person needs a 15 percent ABV, 120 IBU peach cobbler IPA to appreciate the flavor of beer. Complexity and true depth of flavor can be found in the simplest classic styles, if they are well made. Let's start making beer for the sake of flavor, not the name or ingredient list.
2. IPAs are great, but they are not the only style of craft beer worthy of exploration.
Now, before anybody accuses me of being a hop-hating homer because I work for a brewery that does not make an IPA, let me be very clear: I actually really enjoy IPAs, and I think that several local breweries make great versions. NoDa Brewing Company's dank, earthy Hop Drop N' Roll is rightfully ranked in the Top 50 IPAs in the world on BeerAdvocate.com, and I quite like Birdsong's more citrus-forward Higher Ground as well. But in 2014, I would love to see some other styles get some fan-love in the beer world. My favorite beer from last year was Westbrook's (Mount Pleasant, S.C.) Gose (pronounced "goes-uh"), a tart, slightly salty wheat beer packaged in 12-ounce six-packs. This beer is full of amazingly complex flavor, yet it clocks in right around 4 percent ABV. It is the ultimate pool beer, and yet most people probably have no idea what a Gose is. Find a style that you aren't familiar with and give it a shot; you may find your new go-to in the process.
3. It's time to kill the White Whale.
This one is for you, beer geeks. Every year, there are certain releases that people absolutely go berserk over because they are "rare" and "exclusive." People follow delivery trucks, call their local bottle shops, and buy their limited allocations at every store possible, accumulating a personal stash to consume, trade and brag about for the foreseeable future. I'll admit that I have been that guy. I chased Bell's HopSlam like a junkie for a couple years. But then I realized something: HopSlam is not the only great IPA distributed in Charlotte. I also realized that hunting that beer had become more about the chase than the experience of drinking it.
This obsession with a product is unhealthy for beer geeks, who need to get over the one-upmanship mentality of having the "rarest" bottle in their collection or at their bottle shares, and also deprives many new beer drinkers of the opportunity to try a unique, high-quality product. So, if and when you do capture that whale, Ahab, trust me when I say you'll get a whole lot more out of sharing it than locking it away for self-gratification.
Cam Heiliger is a freelance writer, homebrewer, educator and overall craft beer geek. He works in marketing and distribution at Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, where he runs social media, gives tours of the brewery and ensures that Charlotte has the cleanest OMB beer lines around.