OK I knew from the start the difficulties in composing this session. How can I do justice to American beer when the majority of the greatest US beers are not available in the UK? The answer was to work with what I could find, which were mostly the classics. To start things off I reached for the Anchor Steam Beer: A traditional west coast ale/lager hybrid style revived by the legend that is Fritz Maytag in San Francisco. Many of you may know of Fritz as one of the great founders of the modern American craft brewing movement, which kicked off in the 70’s/80’s era. Another classic beer to come from the west coast beer movement was my second beer of choice:
Sierra Navada Pale ale; another well published American classic, clean and zesty showcasing plenty of American hops. This was followed by:
Sierra Navada Stout; Dry, roasty and clean textured Irish style stout, probably one of my favorite examples of the style.
After this came the more exotic:
Goose Island Matilda: The Chicago based breweries interesting take on an Orval style Belgian ale. Nicely rounded with a smooth orange fruit like character with an obvious lack of the lively carbonation the style requires. In this very rare case, I actually find the American interpretation to be less assertive than the original Orval. In comparison Matildas hop flavor has a bigger role in this beer and the carbonation is lower, making it cross into non Belgian ale alittle. Orval is far more distinctive, but despite this Matilda is nothing less than a great beer.
Flying Dog Brewery Snake Dog IPA: From Denver. This beer I recall drinking a few years back as a less experienced taster and found it to be the most explosive hop bomb I had ever encountered. After visiting California myself, coupled with more beer drinking experience I can conclude this is not as extreme as I first thought, but still has that fairly explosive hoppiness making it probably the most aggressive American IPAs available in the UK.
Anchor Old Foghorn Barleywine style ale: Saved this one for some blue cheese at the end of the night. Brilliantly bold with rounded malt, warming alcohols and a well balanced hop character. In a strange way it reminds me alittle of my home made Vintage 2008 ale, but with completely different hop profile.
Still to this day I come across people who think American beer is all about fizzy, bland, pale, mass market pap. Around 30 years ago they would have been right, but today the US contributes massively in brewing innovation, beer style evolution and the production of bigger, bolder more extreme beers.
The Americans were inspired by the great brewing nations of Europe, which is why today most beer styles found in the states are ether derived from or are European styles (Steam beer being an exception). In the present day Americas brewing innovations have rubbed off on brewers worldwide. This has led to brewers in places like Australia, Scandinavia and Japan all thinking, ‘hey, we don’t need a brewing heritage to live the dream, lets set up shop and kick out some crazy styles’. I have also been to America myself (only California, on a beer hunting holiday) and the range of craft beer available, as well as the respect for craft brewing is superb. One of the most refreshing things is getting away widely regarded UK beer concept that the beer market is roughly divided into two groups, those who drink keg beer, and those who drink ‘real ale’, but this is slowly changing.
That’s Independence day over with. The beer was drunk and copious amounts of burgers fries and doughnuts were eaten as a further part of the tribute. Next time readers I shall be attempting to conduct a Belgian beer night in one of the Belgo restaurants of London on Belgians national day. July 18th.