Goose Island recently released its Brewery Yard Stock Pale Ale (BYSPA), a forgotten beer style resurrected in collaboration with beer historian Ron Pattinson. Little Earth Project, a brewery that specialises in historical beer styles, has also brewed a stock ale, as has Burning Sky. Carlsberg too has been casting its gaze to yesteryear with its Rebrew, a recreation of a 19th-century beer using ‘the first purified lager yeast’, while Roger Protz has brewed a Victorian-style IPA at Ubrew. Hell, we’ve even had a US brewery recreate one of George Washington’s beers, while Heineken has gotten in on the act with H41. It really does seem like brewers and breweries are going back to the future – but why?
There’s no doubt that for some it’s (partly) a PR exercise. It may be that Goose Island is aiming to reassert its ‘craft’ credentials post AB Inbev takeover, and Carlsberg and Heineken may be anxious about the rising popularity of ‘craft beer’ and the importance of provenance. I went to the UK launch of both BYSPA and Rebrew having been invited by the respective PR companies, and while the Goose Island event was fantastic, it seemed to me Carlsberg got it wrong.
The Goose Island event included a presentation by Mike Siegel, Goose Island’s ‘brewing innovation manager’, and Ron Pattison, detailing the history of stock ale and background story of their own iteration. The Chicago brewery’s founder John Hall was also in attendance, schmoozing like a complete pro – he’s a gentleman, and clearly still incredibly passionate about beer in general and Goose Island in particular. Carlsberg? Well if you are going to attempt to elevate the brand by re-brewing a premium, limited edition historical beer, why then go and put it in a green bottle? The choice of venue was bizarre too; while the Goose Island event was held at legendary London ‘craft beer’ bar The Rake, the Carlsberg event was at a chintzy City bar.
PR aside, is the trend trend for historical beer styles also a response gloomy hop harvest forecasts, with brewers forced to focus on less hop-centric beer styles? Goose Island needn’t worry about securing hops, but perhaps smaller breweries do. Is it part of the wider cultural phenomenon that has seen an endless stream of period dramas blight our TV screens? People tend find comfort in bygone eras, even when life could be nasty, brutish and short. I suspect it’s a combination of factors: marketing, the search for authenticity by paying homage to the past, and paranoia about the availability of hops.
Getting back to the beer, BYSPA is fantastic; it’s funky, earthy and dry, while Rebrew is a million miles away from the blonde fizzy lager we’re all familiar with. I suppose it’s best not to overanalyse the renaissance of historical beer styles (irony klaxon); better to simply embrace the ever growing diverse range of beers we now have access to. It truly is a wonderful time for beer.
I was invited to both events where free beer was poured, including tasters of both BYSPA and Rebrew, and I was also given a bottle of each to take away.
For more on the Goose Island event and BYSPA event see this post from Martyn Cornell, go here for more on historical beer stlyles, see this excellent post for more on Rebrew, and go here for more on Little Earth Project