The Badass Beer Advent Calendar: December 2nd—New Belgium Snow Day
Today's Advent Calendar beer comes from another long-established American craft brewery, and one of the largest. Colorado's New Belgium Brewing makes Fat Tire Amber Ale, one of the most recognised and iconic American beers (that isn't Bud, Miller, Coors or PBR), along with Mothership Wit (an organic witbier), 1554 Belgian Dark Ale and Ranger IPA (the brewery's representatives around the country are known as Beer Rangers). Until recently New Belgium's winter seasonal was an ESB called 2° Below, but that was replaced this year by our beer for December 2nd. Snow Day is a beer with an identity crisis.
Although it's hardly a new concept, someone not so long ago had the idea of combining the rich, dark, high-roasted character of a stout with the hoppiness of an IPA, and almost immediately a fight broke out amongst the beer geeks. Is it a hoppy stout, or is a very dark IPA? And what shall we call it? Well, the obvious answer is Black IPA, but it was pointed out by many that IPA stands for India Pale Ale, and if it's a pale ale, how can it be black? That's an oxymoron. Some started calling it Cascadian Dark Ale, after the region where most American hops are grown in the Pacific northwest. Yet others have opted for the simple and down-to-earth American Dark (sometimes Black) Ale.
Whichever way you slice it, using dark malts to brew a lighter style of beer (or vice versa) has been going on for centuries. Probably the most well known example is the German schwarzbier which is simply lager brewed with the kind of darker malts normally reserved for porters and stouts, instead of the usual pale malts. Many of you might be familiar with Shiner Bohemian Black Lager, and the mightiest brewer in Ireland got in on the act recently with Guinness Black Lager.
People sometimes try to resist change citing tradition, but traditions have to start somewhere. As long as it's not done purely for its own sake or too precipitously, change and experimentation is a Good Thing and it's how we got all of the beer styles we know and love today. There was no such thing as Pilsner beer before 1842, but now it's just about the most widely brewed beer style in the world. Porter was developed from London Brown Beer, and stout evolved from porter, although there are many who say stout and porter are the same thing. Well, have you ever seen them both in the same room at the same time? Of course you have. And IPA, whichever story you believe about its origin, didn't spring magically from the ground, fully formed and pristine. It was made by tweaking existing recipes. Even bitter, seemingly part of the British beer landscape since time immemorial, hardly made a dent in the sales figures before WW2.
Alton Brown says "Play with your food', meaning don't get too precious about what should be done, and don't be afraid of new ideas. Try a new ingredient here, a different wine pairing there. My attitude to beer is of a similar nature.