Craft Breweries Are Going Retro, Bringing Back Classic Beers of the Past

Courtesy of New Holland Brewing
Craft breweries are reviving or reimagining some the beers tat put them on the map. 

Back in the ‘90s, beer was simple. Your typical craft brewery offered about five or six easy to understand styles like a Porter, a Hefeweizen or a Pale Ale. These brews were the “core lineup,” and you could expect to find them at every visit. Nowadays, some brewers eschew core beers all together: brewing what they want, when they want. Though constantly rotating taps can be more exciting, it can also be frustratingly unpredictable. A new favorite might be gone before you even get a second taste.

It looks like some breweries have come to understand this frustration because they are reaching back to breath new life into some beloved beers. Call it “heritage,” “throwback” or “legacy,” major brewers have shown an increased interest in digging through their own history to reintroduce or reimagine products that are an important part of their past.

In April, New Hampshire’s Smuttynose Brewing Company – one of the craft beer movement’s early standouts – announced it would pay tribute to its history with its new “Heritage Beer” series. “After nearly twenty-five years and hundreds of different brews, we wanted to celebrate some of our favorites,” founder and president Peter Egelston said announcing the concept. This “new” product line will be composed of previously-retired beers, including “old year-round favorites, discontinued seasonals, or limited-run Big Beers.” First up, the brand’s heralded S’muttonator Double Bock – a brew craft beer fans certainly remember well.

Michigan’s New Holland is taking a slightly different spin on this idea to celebrate its twentieth anniversary. Its one-time release “Throwback” series will include six beers, described as “an assortment of fan and brewer favorites from the past 20 years.” Going with six beers isn’t a coincidence: These throwbacks will be sold as mixed six-packs, allowing drinkers to grab the brewery’s history with one hand. “We want to thank everyone who has supported us over the past two decades by bringing back some of our favorite brews,” company president Brett VanderKamp, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Bear Republic Brewing Company, which has been around since 1995, has chosen to reclassify some of its best-known ales. In what appears to be an effort to clear out some space in its year-round calendar, the California brewery is moving four of its core beers into a newly designated category for 2017 – the “Legacy Series.” Instead of axing these beers altogether, the brand will now rotate them throughout the year: a seasonal schedule of the brewery’s classics. “While our team is constantly creating new recipes, the Legacy Series is a testament to the success of the great classic Bear Republic beers that have been a part of our portfolio for over twenty years,” said Master Brewer Peter Kruger. Red Rocket Ale (spring), Hop Rod Rye (summer), Peter Brown Tribute Ale (fall) and Big Bear Black Stout (winter) will all get this new designation. Though fans used to getting these beers whenever they wanted might be disappointed, moving classic beers into a seasonal rotation is a nice compromise compared to killing the beers all together.

Of course, bringing back classic beers isn’t anything new. Breweries constantly bring products in and out of rotation. But it’s good to see these brands taking the time to better embrace this process and calling out these classics for what they are – like a band going on tour to play one of their classic albums. 

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