By Jim Vorel at Paste Magazine

Hindsight bias, also referred to in a more academic sense as creeping determinism (which sounds much more push-your-glasses-up-the-bridge-of-your-nose nerdy), is by no means a concept we can apply toward only political science and economics. The phenomenon refers to the tendency that humans have to look back on significant events from the past—to look in hindsight—and erroneously assume that it should have been easy to perceive those sea-change events coming. It’s a fallacy because of the way we as a species commonly overrate our awareness of what is actually happening around us at any given time—turns out it’s much harder to determine that events are important as they’re happening. And that goes for craft beer, just as much as it goes for anything else.

The evolution of beer styles, and of fads within the craft brewing industry, moves in fits and spurts. Where some styles have persevered relatively unchanged for decades, for instance, others have seen themselves totally upended by an offshoot of that style that gradually comes to dominate the conversation. Others flare to life, come into vogue within the blink of an eye, and then recede into the background once more. To say it’s obvious what outcome a new fad will have in its moment of upswing is more than a little absurd—look no further than something like session IPA, which was hailed as representative of a “health conscious” popular movement five years ago, only to fade away and now return again in the guise of “low-cal” IPA. Or black IPA, which achieved near universal saturation for a year or two before returning to niche status. At the top of the crest, there’s rarely a clear indication that the pullback is coming.

And what that means, in the end, is that we must use a bit of hindsight to determine which beers truly did represent the emergence of something new and significant. Each of these five selections fits that description: They are beers that came into a well-defined scene and provided a shot of inspiration, pushing the style in the direction of something that is now considered ubiquitous. It’s not that they necessarily invented new styles; rather, they provided early examples of offshoots that would explode in popularity in the years to follow, or helped convince American drinkers to give something new a chance.

Funky Buddha Brewery Maple Bacon Coffee Porter

First Brewed: 2011

I’m almost certain that every element and adjunct in this beer—the maple, the bacon, the coffee—had been incorporated in some other brewery’s porter or stout before 2011, but Funky Buddha putting them together in concert with each other feels like an early entry in what would later be a much more widespread and recognizable trend. Despite the lack of breakfast cereal, or Girl Scout cookies, or an entire tray of cake, this is undeniably what we would now characterize as “pastry stout.” Or, you know … pastry porter.

The source makes sense: As we’ve written in the past, Florida’s Funky Buddha has always been a trend-setter when it comes to experimentation within the arena of “flavored” beer. They’ve been on the front lines for a decade at this point, daringly trying combinations of flavors that sometimes work, and other times flame out spectacularly—no surprise there, as it comes with the territory. But when their creations are on point, their triumphs have gone far beyond the level of “hey, that’s not half bad” and into the territory of revelations. And many of the biggest successes have come within the framework of big porters and stouts, whether we’re talking about the coconut-infused Last Snow, or the breakfast-inspired novelty of Maple Bacon Coffee Porter.

Granted, Funky Buddha was building on the pioneering efforts of others such as Founders Brewing Co., whose beloved Breakfast Stout (made with oats, coffee and chocolate) helped build the framework of the concept. But they pushed that line of thinking several steps further via the use of maple and bacon, making this into an early example in the “I can’t believe they put THAT in a BEER!” school of craft brewery marketing. It wouldn’t take long before other breweries started aping the same concepts, leading to an ever-more-absurd progression of kooky adjuncts.

The important difference, though, is that the flavors of a Funky Buddha concept like Maple Bacon Coffee Porter actually work in harmony with its seemingly absurd premise. Which is to say: They’re not afraid to experiment, but they also know not to go too far. Drink this beer today, and you’ll be impressed by the judicious use of flavoring. It doesn’t taste like liquid smoke, or coffee extract, or a jug of Mrs. Butterworth’s. It tastes like a quality porter, accented by subtle flourishes of all three key adjuncts. That’s the key, and that’s the aspect of a beer like this that subsequent iterations from competitors have often lost in translation through the rest of the 2010s. Too many breweries (and too many consumers) still believe that “more” correlates directly with “better.”

May 29th, 2020

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