Good Beer Hunting

Former Stone Brewmaster Mitch Steele Sees an IPA Problem in America

Stone’s former brewmaster—and soon to be Atlanta brewpub owner—Mitch Steele is concerned with the IPA’s continued dominance of the American craft beer marketplace. Speaking with the Australian Brews News, Steele, who left Stone earlier this summer to start his new spot in the ATL, theorized that people are putting too much emphasis on selling IPAs—and some other more “extreme” beers—at the expense of other styles.

Because these things tend to get lost in the internet hype machine, here’s the full quote: “We’ve got people who are trying to sell beer who tell me, ‘unless it says it’s an IPA, or it’s got coffee in it, or it’s 12 percent alcohol or something, it’s not going to get a lot of interest here in the United States’…I think the pendulum has swung way too far into the IPA side. People are putting all their focus on IPAs and variations of IPAs. I’m a lover of all beer styles.”
He has a point. The IPA is the undisputed king of craft beer and has been for quite some time. However: It would be premature to say that the craft beer industry—born of a rebellion against beer homogenization—is turning into what it was created to rage against, even if Steele’s statements are supported by all the data in the world (and they are). Conversely, though, his statements do somewhat belie another irrefutable truth: There is more variety in the American beer marketplace today than ever before. So, what gives?
Well, there’s certainly no shortage of trend pieces out there asking, “What’s the next IPA?” But it’s tough to imagine any single style blowing up the way the IPA has, and guesses as to which might emerge as a contender from some smart cats have included sours, Blondes, and, as Steele himself wondered aloud to the Brews News, Pilsners. And for that matter, you don't have to look far for a much-loved brewer or two that'll echo his response.
While Nostradamus wasn't available for comment by press time, there are some evident hurdles facing some of these other potentially-ascendant styles. Consistency is hard enough in brewing any beer at scale, and sours are notoriously unpredictable. They also often fetch a much more intimidating price than most widely available IPAs, creating another barrier on its way to the throne. Lagers, meanwhile, simply tend to take longer to ferment than ales, extending the length of time from tank to market. There also may be an issue in less educated corners of the beer world where people unfairly liken all Lagers to the types of mass-produced liquid they think they need to avoid entirely.
So maybe instead of asking “What’s the next IPA?” we should build on Steele’s observations and instead ask, “Is the ubiquity of the IPA hurting variety at large? If it’s not yet, will it ever? If so, when will that happen? And if ‘when’ arises, what's next for craft beer in America?” It's a lot to think about, for sure. And some of these brewers seem like they're already thinking in that direction. It’s the ones blindly banking on IPA that may need to worry.

—Dave Eisenberg
IPA has gone too far: Mitch Steele [Brews News]