In art history there is a constant battle between realism and idealism. This duality can be seen in almost all creative fields to some extent. In art we see a repeated transition from realistic focus on line and form, to the expression of the feelings of the artist. In music, many consider there to be a double helix effect where if one trend is in the descendent, another is in the ascendant (synthy styles vs raw; punk rock and new-wave). In the world of craft beer, this dichotomy can be seen simultaneously in the efforts of different brewers.
Some brewers are traditionalists. They take a classic style and fine tune their recipe to mirror their ideal. Here in British Columbia one of the best examples is Driftwood Brewing from Victoria. Driftwood is most renowned for their Fat Tug IPA, a magnificent hoppy IPA that rings in at 80+ IBUs and 7% ABV. The Fat Tug does feature hints of grapefruit and even notes of mango and passionfruit but the result is not at all a “fruity” beer but rather an ideal hoppy ale, a benchmark for what a great India Pale should taste like. These tendencies are true of other brews by Driftwood such as their White Bark Wit and their Farmhand Saison, both Belgian style beers that strive to be brilliantly true to form.
Other brewers are explorers. They see an open frontier waiting to be discovered, new tastes to try, new styles to create. An excellent local example is Parallel 49 brewing here in Vancouver. One of their signature brews is their Gypsy Tears Ruby Ale, technically referred to as an American red or amber but in reality so much more. This 6% ABV ale rings in at 40 IBU which puts it well in the running with many IPAs. It is malty and rich, quite full bodied but so uniquely balanced with a hoppy aroma and restrained bitterness that it really is one of a kind. Parallel 49 continues this trend with many of their beers like the Seedspitter Watermelon Wit and the Hoparazzi IPL (India Pale Lager), both of which defy the norms of the traditional styles they emulate.
Ultimately both brewers are brilliant in their own right. Both are heavy hitters in the craft beer scene here on the west coast, both with completely different battle plans. This is not a matter of right or wrong, better or worse, but simply two different but equally prevalent philosophies present in craft beer today.