Young and Hungry

Infinium: Ahead of Its Time or Failed Experiment?

Since writing a post last month about Infinium, the champagne-like beer made by brewers from the Boston Beer Company (makers of the Samuel Adams line) and Weihenstephan Brewery in Germany, I've been curious to learn how it's been received. (Not enough to carry that thought home to my laptop after encountering one of those sexy bottles in a shop or restaurant, though.) Infinium's hybrid nature– not quite beer, not quite champagne–makes assessing its quality a difficult task.

Then this week I saw Clay Risen's post on The Atlantic Food ChannelWhen Bad Beers Happen to Good Breweries: The Case of Infinium. Unfortunately most of Risen's readers, or at least the ones who left comments, were too busy barking at his use of literary devices and nitpicking small factual errors to get the point of the post. After reporting on Infinium's icy reception by beer reviewers and users of popular beer-rating sites, and then expressing his own distaste for the beer, Risen states that a brewery that creates a beer that is not liked by its customers has failed.

Craft brewers willingness to experiment (making the beers they want to make regardless of how the general public or even a niche fan base responds) is a quality that has propelled American craft beer to where it is today. Not every beer is unanimously lauded, and some miss the mark by a long shot, but without the freedom to take those risks, brewers would cease innovating. And the rest of us would live in a world without Kolsch, Black IPAs, or any other beer style birthed from a little creativity.

I happened to like Infinium, but my interest in it, and as a result my writing on it, was more about the story behind the beer. For me, Infinium's significance lies in the collaboration between one of the first and largest craft breweries in the U.S. and one of the oldest and most traditional breweries in Germany, and the method the two unlikely partners developed to make it. By approaching American craft brewers for help thinking outside the box, beer makers in Germany are beginning to break away from centuries-old practice. That's pretty exciting considering the rich, robust brewing culture that exists there and the potential for a German brewing revolution that could transform beer in Germany and beyond.

I don't believe Infinium was made with hard-core craft beer fans in mind–a group that includes most beer writers and users of sites like RateBeer.com and BeerAdvocate.com. So it is no surprise that a beer created as much to appeal to fans of champagne as to craft beer nuts would be received somewhat coldly by the latter group. Infinium is no Led Zeppelin of beers, but like Infinium and many new things, those now-legends of rock were also not well received in their early days.

Luckily most of Zep's adversaries eventually came around. My question is, will craft beer drinkers' palates be more accepting of an experimental beer like Infinium with time, or does Infinium deserve to be slammed (in the negative, non-chugging sense) as a failed effort in experimentation?

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Comments

  1. #1

    The experiment was well worth the trouble, but the beer was unfortunately not worth the price. I couldn't agree more that breweries need to experiment, collaborate and continue to surprise us, but the final product has to be worth the price on the bottle. In this case, it wasn't, at least for me. One bottle of Infinium was good for two pints of beer. At $20 a bottle, that's $10 a pint, retail. For that price, the beer needs to be quite good ($26 is a jarring price for Bell's Hopslam, but always worth it). Infinium was just good. That said, I didn't regret buying it, but I didn't bother buying another bottle. And I assume that was the experience of many craft beer enthusists. Once they got a chance to taste the Sam Adams/Weihenstephan collaboration, most weren't willing to go back for a second bottle at that price point. As for the regular drinking public, I'm not sure how many of them would be willing to pay $20 for a bottle of beer.

  2. #2

    I thought Infinium was good, but nothing impressive. Considering it was the product of collaboration between brewing giants, it was easy to assume they would produce a superior product. That said, even the best brewers (or bands, to use your metaphor) don’t produce hit albums every time.

    To further abuse your band comparison, perhaps Infinium is more aptly compared to The Who’s concept album Tommy – not completely understood when initially released, but in due time, appreciated for pushing rock music forward in concept and craft, and ultimately considered a groundbreaking piece of art.

    As to whether Infinium will eventually be appreciated as such, only time will tell.

    A great article Tammy.

  3. #3

    I'm with THF. I think the expectations were set really high when the brewery names were mentioned.
    The Infinium was okay, nothing spectacular. But, I would like to note, my family members, who like champagne, did really like it.
    Personally, I think the beer was more champagne and less beer, which left a lot of beer lovers wanting more. The champagne drinkers, however, likely saw it as more innovative than I would.

  4. #4

    Thanks for the thoughts. The price is a factor for sure, and I think the more champagne-like character of the beer was an issue for hard core craft beer drinkers. THF - perfect choice on Tommy and we shall see indeed.

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