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 Channel, When 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?