Thursday 6 August 2009

American Craft Beer

GBBF trip post No1

Despite being from the delightfully remote and beautiful Cumbrian valley of Eskdale, where the population of sheep1 greatly outnumber us humans and the air is crystal fresh and clear, I always enjoy with great relish a visit to London. This time I was here for the Great British Beer Festival and incidentally to also attend the 21st birthday party of the British Guild of Beer Writers. I'd have to admit to childlike excitement as I stepped off the 15:12 at Euston, incredibly less than 3 hours after I'd boarded it at Oxenholme in The Lake District.

My first call on Monday was the Porter House in Convent Garden. My hotel was at Earls Court and a change at Leicester Square was needed anyway. It's two minutes walk from the tube station and a guarantee of something reasonable to drink. The guild party was not starting until for another three hours so I had time to kill. Having got myself a bottle of Liberty Ale I walked out into the sticky afternoon mug that is expected alfresco in these southern city places, and settled to enjoy my beer.

Within a few minutes a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers walked up simultaniously greeting me and the three others on the next table, who it turned out are also members. "Has it started already?" he asked. "Has what started?" I returning a further question. "There's an American beer tasting session downstairs, I'm sure you'd be welcome as a guild member". Well it would be churlish to refuse, wouldn't it?

The "New world" beers are still an area of research I need to develop. Although I've had my hands on them here and also in Oregon, I'm quite convinced I need to explore them more. A bad experience, as it turns out, with Arrogant Bastard Ale had made me sceptical about the whole American beer scene. That is until I cracked open a bottle of something different from the same consignment 2 years later which changed my view completely.

This tasting session was about to confirm that there is a whole new angle that can be applied to beer. It showed, that in fact, the bottle of Arrogant Bastard Ale I had before must have been duff as not only did it taste foul, but it also made me as sick as a dog. The very nice gentleman who gave it to me probably didn't know, and I was too polite to object. The beers I tried here all excited me, including Arrogant Bastard.

There were, I believe, four American breweries represented including Stone and Victory. As well as my successful second chance at Stone's beer I was impressed by V12 which had an incredible Belgian style nose, quite unmistakably. I asked, because I suspected, what yeast was used and was delighted to hear it was Westmalle. That explains things. In the taste there is something that cuts through the wonderful Belgian style and declares itself American, the hops I suspect is what makes it and together it works fabulously well. At 12% ABV not a session beer, but as I'll explain later in this series of posts, that, in itself, does not produce drunks. In fact, it would seem to me that this could not be further from the truth.

There were incredible stouts and porters and IPAs and even a hoppy Pilsner to really inspire. All beers with bags of flavours and most with ABVs higher than are the norm in the UK. I realised these beers were all beers I'd like to have better access to and started to ask how I could obtain them. The answer seemed to be that I'd have a problem in my location, up in Cumbria. Then somebody pointed out that there was no reason why we couldn't make these type of beers here in our green and pleasant land. It would make them cheaper than these imports and cut down on global freight into the bargain.

The majority of our UK beer culture is about the tradition of real ale. There is nothing wrong with this, but it's by far the loudest drum being beaten. There is more to beer than "Trad Beer" as my cellar technician terms it, seemingly with disdain. Even the labels on the bottles of these US beers project an excitement and a cool image that is almost completely missing from the craft beer scene in the UK. These people are about pushing boundaries and making something even more exciting than was done last time. We could learn a lot. If nothing else we could learn that we need to fight the prohibitionist movement, not join in with it.


1Now, I know what you're thinking, and you are right. The totty quality is significantly better in London.


Curmudgeon said...

I imagine if some of our domestic brewers put "Resist Prohibition" next to the exaggerated scaremongering that constitutes the "official safe drinking guidelines" Don Shenker and the rest of his crew would be up in arms. Maybe BrewDog should to it just to wind them up…

Whorst said...

By "hoppy pilsner" I'm assuming you mean Prima Pils? That's great beer.
What were your thoughts on the awards?

Ed said...

Actually I was thinking 'I wonder if they're Herdwicks?' when I saw the sheep comment. Maybe I need to get to London!

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

I wasn't trying to poison you. Honest.

Unknown said...

Curmudgeon, I really DO think BrewDog should try it..

Wurst, I think it was the Prima Pils - it was nice. On the awards, I've yet to look at them. GBBF news 2 posts away.

Ed, what can I say - go to London! (Yes, mostly Herdwicks)

BUL180 - I absolutely know you we're not trying to kill me. There was something VERY sour and acidic in the bottle you gave me - I struggled with it. I think it might have been an infection in the bottle causing lactic acid. The one I had on Monday was nice, although not as nice as Zippy IPA by Dave, or was that Dave, or perhaps Ted..

Erlangernick said...

Colour me skeptical of the idea of a 22 oz bottle of foofy Calibeer having made you actually *sick*. Must've been something you'd eaten.

Coincidentally, I've just drunk my first Prima "Pils" in years tonight, which had been gifted to me by a beergeek who'd found his way to my part of the world last week. I put it up against four German Pilses, and, well, it just ain't a Pils.

It's more of a 5.1% IPA. The hops are simply wrong; I believe they've changed over the years and Victory have added a citric, New World hop to the mix. A beautiful beer though, albeit cloudy compared to the likes of Aufseßer, St. Georgen Bräu, Doppel-Hopfen, and yes, even the overly-vaunted industrially-pumped-out Jever.

It's also a bit too big. But lovely. Pity I can't have a 4% bitter here with similar hopping. At least Victory may have solved their infection problems of years past, as this one didn't gush and wasn't walnutty.

Please leave British beer alone. We need something to offset the Yanks' geeky over-the-topness.

Unknown said...

Erlangernick, I don't mean to be rude about British beer, although perhaps I am unkind. I love British beer and despite having some American influenced beer on the bar right now I'm just getting to the bottom of my first pint, which is very British.

Yanks geeky over-the-topness? Perhaps there we'll have to disagree. I'm not sure that anybody needs to offset anything. That is just as crazy as the Yanks saying we've got to offset this infiltration of warm, flat, boring British beer, which some do, occasionally.

Your sceptical view of my very real reaction to the beer is understandable, but trust me, I was told this beer was fantastic and I had to try it. The label even suggests that if you don't get it you are not worthy. It really did taste of stomach acid. "But I've got to understand this American beer" was my thoughts, it was one of the first I'd ever had, I knew no better. So 22oz of hell later, still not getting it, my digestive system certainly did.

For a short while, I really did believe I was not worthy. Perhaps I'm not, but at least I do now get it.

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

I don't really like Arrogant Bastard myself, never have, but I recall the very very small bit that you allowed me to sample out of that bottle to be, to invent a new and upsetting beer description phrase, malty-sticky-weird.

Re: Zippy IPA.

I brewed this beast with the grain bill alterations we discussed over the phone. It's still chugging along in FV1 and I will likely chill it tomorrow morning and cask it up Saturday night. It came out more on the brown side than red, and, despite my best efforts, the O.G is only 1.053. I can hardly call it an IPA, due to my increasing annoyance with calling anything hoppy an IPA despite its color (colour), so I will style it as a Hoppy Ale. Hopefully that will confuse people. It's going to be named "2 Daves", and will appear in around two weeks on a bar near you, if you happen to live in Oregon or neighboring states and don't mind driving.

Knut Albert said...

I think both Thornbridge Hall and BrewDog show that it is possible to make US style beers in the UK - and doing it very well!

Erlangernick said...

Dave, sorry that I wasn't being clear. I was not necessarily 100% sober when I posted the above.

Coincidentally, I encountered an infected, nay, polluted swing-top bottle of local pils just the other day, and I have had the occasional infected PNW bottled beer in the past too. I was just needling you for some reason.

What I mean about the Yanks' over-the-topness is (and I'm a Yank in case it ain't obvious), American "craft" beer is very trendy. On the opposite extreme, German brewing is ultra-conservative. You lot on the island there seem to hold a nice middle ground. You continue to brew basic, traditional English kinds of ale, but also do some experimenting.

This is a good thing, IMO.

And please call me "Nick"; the "Erlanger" bit is where I live.

Unknown said...

Nick, all noted, and I see your point.

Apparently there is software available to stop the posting if you are unable to pass a simple test of sobriety. I sometimes wonder if I could do with that to stop me posting. But then again, perhaps a little bit of reckless posting just livens up the debate, I'm all for that.

Anonymous said...

I think it would be wonderful to see more American style beers here in the UK-- not to replace "trad beers" as your tech puts it, but to broaden the spectrum. In many ways, it makes more sense to brew these styles than import them.

It's been said before, but this would also mean pubs would need new kinds of glassware to serve those high percentage, binge-drinking "cures"!

Great post, by the way-- you articulate a lot of the things I've been thinking.