Monday, 15 May 2023
Innovation and change
From my observations of beer history, one is a constant. The other rather intermittent. Which one do you think is which? Change the former, innovation the latter.
Changes in beer are driven by many factors. The great majority of them external. My personal favourite is taxation (unless I'm the one paying it). One of the biggest factors driving change in beer. Because governments love tinkering with taxation. And those changes have a knock-on effect on the beers being brewed.
Where tax is a change driven by men's actions, other drivers are less directly under human control. Like demographics. Generations inevitably come and and go. And with them their beer preferences. This is the process by which styles are born, grow to adulthood and then, like me, slowly crumble and die.
Even styles which stick around a long time are always in a state of flux, adapting to the changing environment around them. Nothing illustrates this phenomenon better than Mild Ale. Which kicked off in the early 19th century as a 6% to 11% ABV pale beer and ended the 20th as a 3% dark beer. You can't change much more than that.
True innovation in brewing is far rarer. Things like the adoption of the hydrometer and thermometer. Baudelot coolers. Refrigeration. Pure yeast cultures. Mash filters. Continuous fermentation. (It may have been a total disaster, but it was truly new.) Stuff that really hadn't been done before. And genuinely transformed brewing.
Most of what's called innovation today? Mere tinkering with ingredients. While change is inevitable, it's rarely innovation.