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tales from the dusty corner of the cellar.

Shut the hell up, bitter provider!
Posted Saturday, January 14th, 2012 by bakes

I open the Indestructible Box, a tank of a thing that would survive a collision with my beater Volvo, and look at the latest bounty received in the longstanding TipTop vs Bakes beer exchange.  Among the bounty of Midwestern offerings was a 22 ounce bottle with a clean, simple logo stating "Steel Toe Provider Ale," an unassuming yet promising 5% ale.  As it was cold and as I was in the mood for something not-huge, I popped it open and poured it into my glass.  Nice golden color, white head, a beery-looking beer... but the aroma was fresh, hoppy, lightly malty, and it tasted wonderful.  And it got me to thinking...

A year and a half ago Tip Top and I hit up the (now late lamented) Alchemist as the final stop on a one day Vermont beer tour.  It's a long as hell trip, and the stop at the Alchemist wasn't going to be a one beer and goodbye trip.  So we start with the Ouroboros at 8%, then John Kimmich mentions that Heady Topper was on tap, and then a couple of surprises from the cellar, none of which were less than 8%, and I think about the drive home...

Then I look at the beer menu and see four words:  Shut The Hell Up!  at 3.3% ABV.  OK, why not...

It was an epiphany; a beer of incredible balance, full of hoppy goodness and light, honey/grain maltiness.  I enjoyed the living hell out of it.  And realized as the night wore on that I was discovering its subtleties, and enjoying the fact that I wasn't getting snockered.  Plus it was fun as hell to shout, when the bartender asked if he could get me anything, "Shut the hell up!" "Right away sir!"  The beer reminded me quite a bit of Surly Bitter brewer, another beer with tremendous flavor balance and dazzling hoppiness that, at 4.4%, I could enjoy all day (and have).

There's a place for beers such as these, and it's a place at the everyday table.  I love big complex craft beers as much as anyone; a well brewed Imperial stout or double IPA or Belgian wild ale is a wonderful thing and I enjoy them often.  But how many can you have in an evening before your palate is decimated by the sheer weight of the flavors in these beers?  Craft beer drinkers should have flavorful, lower alcohol options for times when they want to simply enjoy brews over a long period of time - yes, call them session beers if you will. 

Yet some brewpubs seem to look down their nose at these offerings.  Some make them as a sop to the Coors Light drinker and pretty much admit as much; "we have this for the macro swiller, you don't wanna try it."  Well, why brew something you feel the need to apologize for?  Alchemist certainly didn't; neither does Empire Brewing Co in Syracuse, whose Skinny Atlas Light is an amazingly tasty kolsch that hits the spot on a hot day and whose GABF awards are as proudly displayed as those for any other beer.

The place for these beers is in the everyday fridge; this is where there is room for exponential growlth in the craft beer industry.  Beers such as Provider and Bitter Brewer and Shut The Hell Up are beers you can hand to a macro beer drinker and open their eyes to the possibility that not all craft beer is "heavy," beers that you can drink all day at a backyard barbecue and enjoy the hell out of as much as you enjoy the ribs on the smoker, and beers that serve the same function as a macro lager but serve a higher purpose by engaging the taste buds as opposed to passing over them.

Here's hoping more craft brewers embrace such styles and celebrate them in their lineup.