A friend recently told me he enjoyed an Arrogant Bastard Ale from Stone Brewing Company for the first time recently. He described it as very tasty with some sweet, malty overtones. Which is exactly how I’d describe it. But a review recently pointed out that Arrogant Bastard seems to have changed a bit from the brew it was a few years ago. I’ve never had it at the source, which is to say I’ve never had it fresh from the brewery, which is when beer is best. You remember the born on date campaign Budweiser was running on their cans? Sort of the same idea with craft beer. It’s a live product, which responds negatively to many environmental issues, not the least of which are jostling, light, storage temps, oxygen and a host of other issues.
If you go back in time many hundreds of years to when the British Empire was seeking to subdue the Indian sub continent for its rich trade in spices and textiles, it needed soldiers. And to keep soldiers happy in the hot and humid environment that is India, they needed beer. The empire had plenty of breweries back in England, but beer shipped around the horn of Africa reportedly tasted terrible to the soldiers and did nothing for moral. So it was decided to add more hops, which act as a preserver and higher alcohol content, which also tends to preserve beer, and ship this new product to the soldiers in India. Upon arrival, it was not the fresh, highly potent beer it was when left, but it was a mellow and drinkable beer that greatly improved the moral of the hot and miserable soldiers. (paraphrased of course)
My point is that as craft breweries grow and to sell their beer into other markets, they must change recipes to insure the beer still tastes good when it’s brewed in California and ends up in Florida. From my experience, nothing will ever taste as good and fresh as local beer, but it’s nice to be able to get that variety from out of state and still taste something authentic. But where is the line between what is served fresh at the brewery and what is decidedly different in a can or bottle on the other side of the country?
I’ve heard many reports that Brewdog, Scotland’s rogue craft brewery, has excellent beer when tasted at the source, but which is relatively travel worn by the time it reaches American shores. I think many of their bottled products taste amazing, at least the ones I can get in Missoula, but it makes me wonder if they taste much different at the source.
My question to you is, do you prefer your beer local and fresh, or are you good with a slightly different interpretation in a bottle or can designed to ship well?