If one of the more prominent trends in craft brewing proves to have some staying power, then the future of beer lies in its past.
Last month, the Brewer's Association, the pre-eminent organization of American craft brewers, released its 2013 beer style guidelines, an industry-standard guide used to define, categorize and judge the seemingly endless varieties of beer. This year, two new beers were added, bringing the total number of unique styles recognized by the association from 140 to 142.
You might assume that these new styles are modern creations, the result of myriad tweaks and hybridizations developed within the craft-brewing scene. You'd be pretty far off. The two new styles — Adambier, a pre-Reinheitsgebot strong ale originating from Dortmund; and Gratzer, an 18th century Polish beer made from smoked wheat malt — are archaic styles brought back from the brink of extinction primarily by homebrewers and small American breweries.
This fascination with archaic and obscure beers is not entirely new. Delaware's Dogfish Head Brewery has long been known for its resurrection of extinct beers, sometimes reproduced through means as obscure as scraping residue from ancient pottery found in tombs and cultivating new yeast strains with DNA that closely matches historic versions (e.g., Birra Etrusca). Even Pennsylvania's Victory Brewing Co., known for brewing traditional styles, is collaborating with Ohio's Market Garden Brewery to bring back a nearly-extinct 19th century English beer called Kennett Ale.
Anyone who's been paying attention to such trends has no doubt noticed the rise in popularity of Berliner Weiss among beer enthusiasts; there's even a movement to establish a new take on this traditional German style cultivated right here in the Sunshine State: Florida Weiss. And Gose, a style once as rare as they come, has become a staple in small brewery tap rooms across the country.
Seminole's Rapp Brewing Company may be the local epicenter for this kind of retro experimentation. Even before his tasting room opened last year, brewery founder Greg Rapp was pouring his takes on Berliner Weiss, Gose, Roggenbier and Lichtenhainer at local beer festivals. His version of a classic Gratzer was on the tasting-room menu a full month before the Brewer's Association announced its addition to this year's style guidelines.
Rapp's original Gratzer was a small beer with big flavor. At a diminutive 3 percent alcohol by volume, it was characterized by a sharp smokiness and extremely light body. If you stopped by the tasting room a few weeks ago, you probably noticed a new addition to the draft list: BA Gratzer, a new version brewed to the 2013 Brewer's Association specifications.
Rapp's BA Gratzer is a little smoother and less smoky than the earlier version, and at 4.7 percent ABV, it's also a touch stronger. Although some may be put off by its still-prominent smokiness, it's a very drinkable beer, and I would be surprised if it didn't become part of Rapp's regular rotation. For now, it's probably the only example of this style that you'll be able to find just about anywhere.
With a search of beer check-in app Untappd's database yielding just over a dozen commercial examples of Gratzer currently brewed worldwide, it's unclear whether or not this particular style will catch on with the masses.
Other styles, like the aforementioned Gose, have been surprisingly successful in a short period of time, And with the release of this year's Brewer's Association guidelines, it's likely a matter of time before Adambier — which currently only has one commercial example listed on Untappd — starts popping up on tap list menus across the country.
While I doubt this newfound infatuation with endangered styles amongst craft brewers will change that, it may very well be that right now, old is the new new.
Justin Grant can be reached at [email protected]