Classy Nuance – A Sign of the Times

The beer scene in London has arguably never been as healthy as in 2014. Pubs previously catering to drinkers from the least-common-denominator supplier lists now have surprising amounts of locally-brewed bottles if not more unusual draft choices available too. Traditional bottle shops have expanded their selections to include breweries from the Bermondsey Beer Mile, and new specialist beer shops have opened around the city in the past 12 months.*

There are clear trends that breweries follow. While you can’t exactly pin these to calendar years, variations on saisons have certainly been a feature of 2014. Beavertown Brewery bust out canned versions of their hoppy Quelle Saison, The Kernel released various versions of their Bière de Saison (including a Burgundy-barrel aged, sour-blended one that hits like all the hipster credentials), Brew By Numbers really made a splash with their spiced saisons, and just to prove a point about the versatility of the style, Anspach and Hobday released a pfeffernusse-spiced saison as their Christmas beer.

Over the several years I’ve been involved in serious-level appreciation of beer, on various sides of the bar and brewery, a constant feature has been an American customer asking “Do you have anything hoppy?” meaning strongly-punchy C-hop-flavored IPA. Subtler, lower ABV English counterparts have rarely cut the mustard for them. Of course, there are breweries catering for that hop craving lovers of American craft beer may want to satisfy: Magic Rock’s Cannonball and Buxton’s lovely Axe Edge are just two examples. But while a new, small brewery might be expected to produce an IPA (because let’s face it, it is the style that defines “craft” beer more than any other, given the whole movement is aping recent American history) UK breweries can and thankfully do play with subtlety.

It’s that subtlety that I’d like to toast, and it’s saison I’ll choose to highlight, given it seems to bend every which way in its loose style categorization. We are lucky as drinkers in London to be able to not just have to endure hop bomb after hop bomb, but to have breweries making more measured, nuanced and balanced drinks which nonetheless lack nothing in flavor. If anything, by not shoving a drinker’s mouth full of hops they can be enjoyed for longer. It may even be a sign of a maturing of this newest wave of beer brewers, not to mention consumers, that they can take a style which relies on nuance for its character and create successful products.

So, in 2015, please do keep brewing crazy new beers. Please do keep brewing those C-hop IPAs so that our homesick (or stuck in their ways?) American friends can get their haaawp fix. Please keep consistency in mind, but brew one-off beers because why not. But please also showcase those more nuanced beers, beers of quaffable strength, beers with enough character to savour if wanted, but not required. Because in order to truly win over the market and their drinking habits, we can’t blow through our palates constantly.

*Full disclosure: I’m involved with one of these bottle shops.