Revisiting the Idea of Modern Classics

Today I want to revisit an idea that was first brought up over two years ago – the concept of a “modern classic” (a name that doesn’t seem to quite fit, but we’ll use it for now). The basic idea is to figure out beers that are great tasting, but have also significantly shaped craft beer in the past fifty or so years. The ultimate goal is to recognize the beers that have had the largest impact in creating the current craft beer world and make sure they get their due respect (plus it’s also sure to cause some arguments at the pub). It is also a way to appreciate how far the industry has come from meager beginnings.

Using from 1960 to the present is just easier because it has been well documented and the cause-and-effect of certain beers is more evident, which is not always the case when you go back in time (try figuring out influential Belgian beers or the first porter). Unfortunately this creates a very North American oriented list as the past couple of decades have been led by American innovation (or this is just my continental bias). The top candidates I would put forth are Anchor Steam, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and the Samuel Adams Boston Lager. The Blind Pig Inaugural Ale (the first double IPA) is also due some recognition, but most beer lovers never got to drink the beer and would be hard up to say whether or not it tasted any good. (Perhaps calling it an honorary modern classic would be appropriate.) There may be lots of other beers that you may consider to be better, but these four to me really had the largest impact on American craft beer.

From a Canadian perspective, I would argue the Unibroue Maudite and La Fin du Monde are modern classics. (If picking one, Maudite might win out just because it came out in 1992, while La Fin du Mondo wasn’t made till ’94.) Not only are they incredibly tasty Belgian-style beers, but they really showed that there was definite consumer demand for these kinds of beers. These were beers with complex flavours to be served in unique glassware, but were also accessible and created a lot of craft converts. Using the beautiful corked bottles was just gravy. The beers have gone on to become internationally famous and a big source of pride for the Canadian beer industry.

Unfortunately there isn’t an Ontario beer that I would say fits the criteria. There have been some fairly popular craft beers, but none that have revolutionized the industry in the same way as the other beers I’ve mentioned. Ontario may never have the one beer that changes everything. Instead, we may get a slow, gradual increase of craft beer that is the result of the hard work and tasty beers of a number of breweries. If anyone wants to argue for an Ontario beer I would be happy to listen.

For terminology, I don’t love calling these beers “modern classics,” but haven’t been able to come up with a better name. The idea of a beer hall of fame is terrible, because eventually the subject will turn around to taste. Part of the idea of a modern classic is to reduce the amount of subjectivity – even if a particular beer doesn’t appeal to one’s tastes, they may still be able to appreciate the influence of a certain beer. I also have a beef with the hall of fame system in that there is usually a yearly quota to fill and sometimes unworthy candidates slip through.

The general idea really hasn’t changed much from when I first thought it up. The list of beers is fairly small, but hopefully others will be championing for beers that should make the cut. (A high alcohol beer from Brew Dog? An American sour/wild ale? Hoegaarden?) Let the debates begin.

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2 responses to “Revisiting the Idea of Modern Classics

  1. Patrice Brunet

    Great read. That would definitely make for some interesting conversations. But do we want to just discuss beers or also people? I think a lot of this wouldn’t have happened without forward thinkers, like Michael Jackson. Might be worthwhile to discuss both 🙂

    • I would say only beers. A lot of people associated with great changes in the industry (Fritz Maytag, Ken Grossman, Peter Celis) are tied to a beer/brewery. But if actual awards were ever handed out, they should be called the Michael Jacksons

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