Mixed beers: Creativity and customization or abomination?

by David Holub

On one hand, it’s like putting ketchup on a steak, a ruinous bastardization of beer that had been brewed with particular flavor and body profiles to be enjoyed in its purity. On the other, it is beer lovers customizing, getting creative and exploratory with beer, which is, after all, the spirit of craft brewing to begin with.

Mixing beers, taking two beer styles – an IPA and a red, say – and blending them to make something new, is something that keeps it interesting and new for experimenting beer lovers. For some brewers of those beers it’s celebrated; for others, it’s frowned upon, offering a range of takes on the practice, from it being nothing new, to the customer is always right, to hemming and hawing and otherwise gritting their teeth when they see it.

“If people want to mix, that’s fine. If they want to ruin a perfectly good beer, that’s fine, too,” said Ska Brewing Co. Head Brewer Kurt Randall.

Brewers and bartenders in Durango say a lot of mixing starts with curious brewery employees before it is something customers begin asking for. Most have creative names – the Train Smoke at Steamworks, or the Silly Rabbit at Carver’s – and some with racy names breweries wouldn’t want in print.

While the popularity of particular mixes comes and goes, people usually mix beers to get more personally suitable flavors or alcohol levels.

“If something’s too hoppy or too malty, you could blend it together,” said Steamworks bartender Ryder Okumura. “Or if the Prescribed Burn (chili beer) is too spicy, they can do some more Kolsch and tone that down a little bit.”

Carver’s bartender Liz Murphy sees something similar. “I think some people who are typically IPA drinkers won’t necessarily want to drink an entire raspberry wheat, but they love the flavor so they like a little of that raspberry flavor to their IPA,” she said. “Plus, it’s fun.”

While some brewers take varying degrees of issue with the practice, they definitely take note. If they see people putting two beers together, why not listen to that and give people what they want?

“That’s the thing about craft beer – customers will be like, ‘We like this and we like this,’ and then we get creative and try to mimic that,” said Durango Brewing Co. brewer Troy Sliter.

Added Steamworks’ Chad Quinn: “If you like the red but want a more hoppy red. Now people are just brewing Imperial reds, which is kind of that same idea, right?”

Brewers might tolerate mixing, but they have to put their feet down on some combinations – no imperials with sessions, no nitros mixed with CO2s, no sweet beers with hoppy beers. Those would just be abominations. Or would they?

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