Yesterday, the Brewers Association, the Craft Beer Movement's™ leading definer of words and bestower of medals, published their list of the "Top 50 Breweries of 2014," by which they mean "50 Biggest Breweries That Happen to Meet Today's Definition of 'Craft,' Which We Change More Frequently Than Our Underwear, Not Because We're Unclean, Per Se, But Just Because Influential Brewers Are Less Interested in Our Drawers Than They Are in Our Stupid Word Games."
This is a very useful list for the consumer who makes her purchasing decisions based on brewery size; she will be delighted to know that Yuengling is now our great nation's largest craft brewery. She probably already knew that Anheuser-Busch is the biggest American brewery overall. Let us take this opportunity to remind her that McDonald's is still our foremost beef-pusher by volume, and that any given third-grader has produced more portraits than Rembrandt. So congrats, Yuengling.
Last week the Associated Press released updated style preferences that call for finally replacing "microbrewery" with "craft brewery." This is several years too late, as "microbrewery" has been misleading (and largely dormant) since we all realized that Boston Beer Company billionaire-in-chief Jim Koch isn't running a micro-anything, but it is a useful reminder that we should just abandon the "craft" tag while we're at it, too. It's all just beer. Some of it is much rarer, better, and more expensive than the rest. We all know it when we drink it. So let's not fuss about what percentage of a brewery needs to be domestically owned in order for it to be Officially More Righteous Than Miller. I'm getting tired of fighting about beer words.
For the most part, anyway. Remember when SweetWater sent me that sexist, tacky package containing a bottle of Happy Endings beer along with a li'l tube of jerk-off lube? They were back in the news last week when a Binny's outlet in Chicago refused to carry Happy Endings due to the offensive name and label design. Good. I don't think breweries that use stupid names should be drawn and quartered, but I'm all for them being shamed and/or boycotted into smartening up.
That's one of the two beer-language battles I'm still willing to fight. I'm done caring how anyone defines "craft," and I never did care if "Black IPA" is a real category or just a marketing phrase used to goose sales of hoppy, roasted ales. But I'm still on call as a social-justice beer warrior when it comes to the sexist bullshit, and I still get pissed when brewers abuse the term "session beer."
Many session-beer advocates consider 4.5-percent alcohol-by-volume to be the category's ceiling, booze-wise. I'm a lenient grader (and also a drunk), though, so I'm OK with beers that sneak it up to 5 percent. The Brewers Association, which runs the Great American Beer Festival, agrees with me on the 5 percent, except when they don't. Their stated guidelines are very clear that 5-percent ABV is the upper level, but that didn't stop them from awarding the 2014 bronze medal in the Session Beer category to Karl Strauss Mosaic Session Ale, which is 5.5 percent. Brewers Association definitions are bullshit.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is emphatically not bullshit. Bt they're smart enough to play whatever word games it takes to move up the sales charts, and as such they took a page out of Karl Strauss's dictionary by trying to brand their excellent new Nooner Pilsner as a session beer despite its 5.2-percent ABV.
Now, they're not outright scoundrels, which is why they're careful not to put "session" in the name, but the marketing materials refer to this as Sierra Nevada's "take on the original session beer"—pilsner—and the Nooner name makes it clear that they're positioning it as a gentle day-drinker. (Also kinda as fuck-stuff, but let us here point out to SweetWater and their trashy ilk that there's nothing inherently offensive about referring to an adult product in a sexual manner; all sorts of men and women like to have sex in all sorts of combinations at all times of the day. Hooray! See how easy it is to talk about sex without being degrading to women?)
But alright, word-fighting aside, I really like this beer. Sierra Nevada Nooner pours a deep golden straw, darker and more color-saturated than I expected, which triggered a fear that it was going to have not only a misleading ABV but also a non-pilsner taste. Nope! I'm just still an idiot who hasn't learned to either a) figure out what a beer's appearance means, or b) stop paying attention to a beer's appearance. Nooner has pleasant aromas of black tea with lemon and a very small touch of honey, with an overall earthy and floral profile. The flavor shows more of the traditional peppery German pilsner hops that add enough flavor and bitterness to satisfy anyone looking for a quality pilsner.
Now if only they'd stop lying to people looking for a session beer.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.
Illustration by Sam Woolley.
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