You hear the complaint nowadays almost every time someone enters a bar: “Does this place only serve IPAs?” Indeed, it can sometimes seem like breweries today strictly make hoppy brews (and they do currently account for around 25% of total craft beers sales). You’ll still get some sour ales and adjunct-laden stouts every now and again, but if you want a style other than those, you may very well need a time machine.
The craft-beer world wasn't always so one-note, however. Back in the late-90s and early-2000s, every brewery worth their malt had a full lineup of beers of varying styles. Most were yet to have a single IPA in their arsenal, and almost none had any sour styles. If you visited a brewpub over a decade ago and ordered a full tasting flight, you’d be handed a paddle with all the colors of the rainbow.
That meant blonde ales and browns, Vienna lagers and Scotch ales, wheat beers and oatmeal stouts.
If you’re in your early twenties, you might have never even tasted some of those styles of beers. Nowadays, those aforementioned styles are as stale as a Dane Cook stand-up set, ignored as a new Brendan Frasier movie.
So what the heck happened?
A craft beer grew in the aughts, tackling more extreme flavor profiles became the name of the game. It was these simple styles—most of them not particularly complex, many not a good canvas to experiment on—that soon fell to the wayside. Sure, some of these styles technically still exist, and are even produced by hip breweries on occasion. Though in many cases they’ve surely been bastardized and made stylistically unrecognizable: dry-hopped, imperialized, barrel-aged, fruited, or dosed with vanilla beans. Some breweries are still devoted to the classics, no modern bells and whistles necessary.
"Our Troegenator has never been something the beer geeks are like, 'Holy shit, we have to have this beer!'" notes John Trogner, one of the founding brothers of Tröegs Independent Brewing, referring to his company's dopplebock, a style few Americans are brewing these days. "But every year it has this slow, steady growth; it's kind of like the backbone of the brewery." Though Tröegs has tickled geeks of late with juicy IPAs like last year's Nimble Giant, Trogner's Pennsylvania brewery continues to find great success with beers like Mad Elf (Belgian dark strong ale), DreamWeaver Wheat, and Nugget Nectar (amber ale, discussed below)—styles that aren't exactly "cool." Maybe that flagrant ignoring of beer trends is why they're celebrating their 20th anniversary this year.
Look, I’m not particularly in the mood to return to the late-1990s days of drinking quotidian brown ales either. Still, I do find this decline in stylistic diversity disheartening. The Brewers Association lists 152 styles of beer, and the Great American Beer Festival awards prizes each year in 92 different categories, many of which I’d imagine barely have any entries. Ultimately, I worry that we are headed to a beer world that is stripped of its character, with IPAs being the only cockroaches to have survived the nuclear winter.
Below, we look at some styles that far too few breweries even consider producing. Why try to sell some bearded dude on the greatness of an ESB, when you can easily get him to buy a case of hazy IPA cans, no salesmanship necessary? Fortunately there are a few holdouts, however, that refuse to cave to the modern market.