This week’s Beer Geeks episode – a visit to Noble Ale Works in Anaheim, CA – got me thinking about creativity and craft beer. Noble was not doing well until they brought in a new brewer, Evan Price, and he turned things around. Pretty quickly, he became known for brewing a wide variety of creative and unique beers, using unusual ingredients and flavors. But that isn’t the heart of what made him successful. It was obsession with the basics of brewing that made that happen.
Each of Evan’s unusual beers is – beyond unexpected flavors or ingredients– a good or great beer. Carefully brewed and balanced so that the flavors make sense and work on the palate. And at their core, they are well made by a careful brewer who knows what he’s doing. As Evan explained to Michael, when he first got there, he focused on the basics, on building a strong foundation of basic beers. Then he began to branch out.
It reminds me of something I like to tell young producers about making television – only with discipline can come creativity. Put another way, only when you understand the rules, can you know when and how to break them.
It applies all across the board in the craft beer world. There are unusual beers I like. Others I don't like. Some of those I can respect for being good, well made beers not to my taste. Others? They feel like gimmicks, made by a brewery trying to run before it has totally learned to walk.
As Michael likes to point out, he was German trained – four ingredients done the traditional way, and nothing more. Which gave him a phenomenal base from which to embrace the widest range of beers and styles. But at the base of them all are great ingredients, knowledge, history, complex chemistry, and care.
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