Yesterday's post about the gluten-free beers as The Alchemist pub and brewery in Waterbury, Vermont is a great example of the shifting sands of gluten-free products. The "Old Guard" - in this case, beers such as RedBridge, New Grist, and company - has been upstaged by a "newcomer." In this context, you might call the Alchemist a game changer, a new standard, a reviser of expectations, or a mover of the target. This is a decidedly good thing.
Sometimes, we adjust our expectations for lack of choice in gluten-free foods, or we lower our expectations to meet what is currently available, since "something" is better than "nothing." And sometimes, when enough time passes with us eating "lowered expectation" foods, we forget what "the good stuff" tastes like. In this sense, we've recalibrated what "normal" is (the same way I recalibrated what normal was for my body after years of being sick... until I was suddenly healthy on the gluten-free diet more than three years ago and remembered what normal really was).
Then, someone like John Kimmich comes along and upsets the pecking order. His beers are charting new territory for GF brews. Less than 24 hours after tasting his Celia Saison and Celia Framboise, I knocked back a bottle of RedBridge. And to be honest, it suddenly left a lot to be desired. I hesitate to call it "undrinkable," but whereas before I would be content to enjoy a few bottles, I was now more than happy to stop at one bottle. The flavor didn't invite me to enjoy another; not the way Kimmich's beer did.
More recently, my brother- and sister-in-law and their family visited us in Colorado. One night we all went out for pizza for dinner. The pizzeria happened to serve New Planet gluten-free beer, and - curious to see if my RedBridge experience would be repeated in the wake of the Alchemist - I ordered a bottle to do an updated review. When I poured the bottle into a pint glass, it held no more or less head than my home brew. The nose and the flavor both had very strong tastes of apple and citrus (not what I'd expect in a pale ale). It was more like drinking a beer-like hard cider, or a hoppy, effervescent apple wine, than it was like drinking a true beer. My tasting notes included the word "disappointing."
But when I reviewed New Planet here on NGNP a little while back, I mostly had positive things to say. What had changed? Certainly nothing about the beer itself. Rather, the landscape of GF beer had changed, thanks in very large part to Kimmich and the Alchemist.
On the one hand, this creates a dilemma for me as a reviewer. What do I do about all the beer reviews I've previously written? I feel like I have to go back and include an asterisk at the end of each post. It also creates a dilemma for other gluten-free brewers. RedBridge, New Planet, New Grist and the like are faced with steep competition. They can respond in one of two ways - maintain their status quo, or improve their beer to stay on the leading edge of quality and taste. Those that adhere to the former won't last for long, and those that adhere to the latter are a benefit to us GF beer drinkers. When someone like Kimmich comes along and changes the rules of the game, other companies are forced to follow suit, and our GF beer-drinking taste buds can be very thankful for it.
And now, a question for you: What companies or products have been game changers for you? Maybe a local GF bakery, or a pasta, or whatever. But let us know who's setting the standard for you in the gluten-free world!