I’ll Take a Hoppy Amber
It not so long ago that beer in the USA meant Bud, Sam Adams and a few other big brands … but these days, parts of the USA are a beer drinker’s heaven with craft breweries popping up quicker than you can say “21st Amendment*“. Whilst I guess this is replicated all over the USA we’ve certainly seen plenty of evidence of this new direction in the South.
In Durham NC we visited a burger and craft beer bar. In Charleston SC we chanced upon a Food Film Festival which included a film about the craft brewing industry in Charleston and tastings of many (I lost count) of their brews. Now we are in Asheville NC. With more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the US, Asheville was first named Beer City USA in 2009 and has swept the competition almost every year since. It has an ‘Ale Trail’ and a beer festival pretty much every month.
Craft brewing has seen rapid growth in the UK in the past few years and this year’s CAMRA handbook listed over 100 new breweries so I know it’s exciting times in the UK as well; but what strikes me about the beer scene in the US is not only the volume but also the unadulterated, youthful exuberance of it all. Unencumbered by the “cask versus keg” controversy, centuries of brewing tradition or regulars telling you “it’s never been done like that before” startup breweries have charged into it with no rule book and a pioneering spirit.
This means that experimentation is rife with brewers focusing on creating beers which don’t necessarily appeal to the middle of the road but which revel in niche aspects like big hops, major citrus, sourness, unusual additions (chocolate, coffee, smoked malt) and eyewatering bitterness. I tasted one brew which our server claimed was her favourite. Honestly, it was like drinking cider vinegar and only my growing sense of Southern hospitality and manners prevented me from spitting it back into the glass. But that’s not the point, because amongst all of that variety everyone will find something they like, be they young, old, male, female, seasoned drinkers or newbies. Even Holly has been enjoying a few brews and particularly liked the ones tasting of grapefruit (yes, you heard me right) …. take note Colin at the Ship Inn, Kingswear, we may wean her off the merlot yet.
The other striking aspect is the alcohol level of these beers. At home I would consider any beer over 5% ABV to be strong, but for American driners that would qualify as a “sessional” beer. Here 7% is perfecly normal and we even tried one at 13.5% (don’t). I asked one of the brewers in Charleston why this was and why not brew at lower abv’s. He rejected my suggestion that folks choose stronger beers to get loaded more quickly and argued that made for more distinct flavours … or at least I think he did because I’d had a few by then. Luckily we ubered back to the hotel.
* The 21st Amendment of 1933 repealed the 18th Amenedment of 1920 thus ending prohibition.