The ubiquitous beer among beer geeks, for a while, was an IPA.  The style is still extremely popular…some people are simply hop heads.  However, many people enjoy several other styles of beer, and there has been a recent resurgence in sour ales.  Classics and new world versions are beginning to abound.  To me, this is a very nice change.  Sours are perhaps the most interesting and intricately weaved beers, at least in my mind. Yet, they’ve not achieved the level of popularity that is enjoyed by IPAs, specifically American versions. So what’s the new IPA?  Is there one?

It seems to me that the new most popular style of beer is not a style at all.  The replacement for the IPA is, ostensibly, the collaboration brew.  This thought stuck me yesterday when I saw that the largest craft brewer (Sam Adams) is doing a collaborative brew with the oldest licensed brewery in the world (Weihenstephaner).  This could likely be the largest collaborative brew currently possible among brewers (unless Budweiser and Miller do a triple-hopped collaborative brew mixed with horse dung…there are ways to improve their product).

Think about it.  Collaborative brews have achieved an extremely meteoric rise in popularity (can I really say extremely before meteoric?).  Where were the collaborative brews two or three years ago?  Now they are everywhere.  This goes to show how mercurial the minds of us craft brew drinkers are.  The fast rise in popularity has almost made collaborative brews hackneyed.  Okay, that might be overstating the case, but it seems that collaborative brews are showing up everywhere.  Why is this?

In some respects, I began thinking that perhaps our post-prohibition discovery of craft brews is a case where repression made us go crazy.  Did we grow-up to fast as craft beer drinkers?  I don’t know.  But we are rarely comfortable with the simplicity of a well made lager or British ale.  When we started drinking craft beers, we pushed hard, we pushed fast.  In short, we rushed headlong into craft beer with abandonment.  I think typical of our American attitudes (myself included) that maybe we have been impatient with our growth, like a 7’0” clumsy fourteen year-old.  Sure, we will be a great basketball player once we mature, but in the meantime we might be a bit awkward.  Point being that I think in some respects we shot up too fast.  Hence the demand for more and more.

Our extreme categories, our big IPAs, and our otherwise pushed boundaries seem to have left us reeling a bit.  Maybe the reasons we are seeing so many collaborative brews is because we now tire so quickly of our commonplace IPAs and other styles.  On top of this, there is so much out there that we feel obligated to drink it all and are afraid to like one beer too much.  So, the one-timiness and uniqueness of the collaborative brews helps us to feel that we are on the move and drinking history (in a sense).  We are always getting something new, more unique, bigger, stranger or a plethora of other adjectives that fit into our perpetual thirst.

This sounds really critical of people and collaborative brews, but it isn’t.  I’m simply point to why I think we are seeing so many and why I think collaboratives are the new IPA.  In fact, here is my positive spin of collaboratives.  People are not just drinking IPAs anymore.  Collaborative brews offer people a chance to try a style they might not have had or normally stay away from.  This is a good and horizon-expanding exercise. Perhaps people will rediscover a style that they’ve written off.

When I found out that Orval was brewing with Boulevard, I was excited.  I saw that it was an imperial pilsner and thought that it might be a great beer.  It is telling that certain people on beeradvocate and other large review sites were automatically critical before even tasting the beer.  To me, this is, once again, indicative of certain factions in our beer culture tending toward extremism.  The thirst for crazier and crazier beers seems to be insatiable.  Problem is that we will eventually find ourselves grasping at straws because we will have seen and done it all.  Personally, I’m excited that collaboratives offer the chance to try good beers brewed together.  So what if it’s a pilsner?  I’m looking forward to trying excellent ones.

As I said, collaborative brews give us all unique opportunities to try new (or classic), beers and I’m happy about that.  By all means, keep those beers coming.  But I suppose my question might be deflating if I maintain an attitude of wanting bigger, crazier, and stronger beers.  What’s next?  That’s the question.  It seems that our drinking is a bit like Jimmy Hendrix on guitar.  He stopped recording because he had run out of new material and new ideas.  Yet, the best stuff he did was blues, which was not really new at all. Newer, bigger, and more isn’t always better… is it?

What is next?  It’s hard to imagine that our beers will keep getting stronger.  Are our IPAs going to get IPAier?  Collaborative brews offer something new indeed, but they already seem to be getting old.  I remember last year at Dark Lord Day when I got some Popskull; Three Floyds did a collaborative with Dogfish Head.  Everyone was excited about the brew, couldn’t wait to drink it.  Here are two breweries that make huge and unique stuff.  For my part, I thought the beer they made was terrific.  However, many people were very critical of the brew.  Why?  Only because it wasn’t huge.  In fact, it was a very traditional ale.  Yet, some people couldn’t see beyond their expectations and attitude of extremism.

Some of us beer geeks may be a bit like adrenaline junkies in our extremism.  We kill ourselves for the next thrill or we simply get bored with the chase.  Still, it seems in our youthful beer brashness that we’re asking what’s next.  But we need to be careful because we might not find anything after a while.

What’s next for me?  Just enjoying good beer.  Re-visiting classic pilsners, porters, and a world of great beer that is all around me.  The new IPA for me is the the old IPA.  It’s Jimmy Hendrix playing the blues rather than trying to keeping pushing the envelope.