The beer revolution in the United States is real, and it is beautiful. Naysayers can chalk this up to a fad. Traditionalists can scoff as they sip their can of watered-down mash. Both, finally, are only depriving themselves of what has become a ferocious revival of beer in America. Americans have long been mocked for their beer preferences, lacking in both substance and variety. So what did they do? In the truest of American fashion, they took the best styles of beer in the rest of the world and made them better. All I can say is, “Better Late Than Never”.
The conventional lager-style American beer was originally brewed from necessity. As prohibition was being gradually repealed, a loophole created by the Volstead Act permitted for alcoholic drinks that were deemed to be non-intoxicating to be generated. Shortly after the complete repeal of prohibition, America entered World War II and the demand for beer skyrocketed. Given the conditions, the beer would have to meet two criteria: It should be easily mass-produced, and constructed of cheap ingredients. Americans, being the creatures of habit that we all are, became accustomed to the beer and literally nothing changed for the next 40 years.
What is now called craft beer actually has roots in the 1980’s in America. It’s popularity was limited to cult followings for the most part, with a couple of breweries breaking with national availability. The growth remained slow, as the big American”macrobreweries” continued to dominate the marketplace. Areas on the West Coast and Denver became famous among the beer community as the meccas for craft beer, but their visibility from a national perspective remained minimal. The past decade has witnessed an explosion in the amount of and the popularity of craft breweries across the nation. According to the National Brewers Association, craft beer saw a 17.9% increase overall in 2013, even though it still lays claim to only 8 percent of the total beer market. 2013 saw the launching of over 400 new breweries across the United States, and the smart money is on 2014 surpassing that amount. Competition in America has always bread innovation, and the beer industry is no different. When you haven’t found a beer that appeals to your palate, you’re simply not trying. Let’s take a closer look at a few of the key styles, including a few of my personal favorites in each category.
A beer made by British merchants with enough hops (and alcohol content) to survive the long journey to British-controlled India.
The signature sour flavor of the English Style IPA persists in the American IPA, but with it comes the inclusion of hop varieties that produce an remarkable spectrum of aromas and tastes. The American IPA traditionally has an orange color, and an unmistakable aroma of fruit and floral. There are many variations of the American IPA, but the most common (and in my opinion yummy ) is often referred to as a West Coast IPA, tracing back to its roots in the Pacific Northwest and California. Contrary to the frequent assumption, a sour beer is probably not a bad thing. The best IPA’s find a way to include enough hops to create the great aroma and flavor that beer drinkers have come to love, with a balanced finish that leaves you savoring every sip.
Like coffee, Inda Pale Ales are most definitely an acquired taste. If the hops are too overwhelming, I would recommend starting out with a Pale Ale. Pale Ales offer a similar flavor, with a lesser IBU, and a tend to be less of a shock to the system. Lower ABV “Session Ale’s” have also become popular.
The Stout. The stout typically stays true to its title. It originated as a term for a particularly powerful porter, but has since morphed into it’s own style of beer. Full-bodied, flavorful and satisfying. These are typically enjoyed while the air is a bit colder, but do not be afraid to keep a few in the fridge year round.
Stouts generally provide a malty taste, often described as”roasty”, with regard to the coffee notes which are common. In actuality, many breweries have begun partnering with local coffee shops to create coffee stouts that incorporate more of that taste. Stouts are full-bodied enough to incorporate chocolate and milky flavors without coming off as a sweet drink.
Ambers/Reds: Ambers and Reds share some commonalities, most notably the color. The difference comes with the degree to which hops are added, and the resulting ABV.
Ambers tend to get a smooth finish, with a caramel and malty taste. The complexity of them allows for the inclusion of multiple tastes, without significantly changing the final product. I would consider Amber beers to be a”medium” beer, falling right in the middle of the beer spectrum, and thus a excellent choice for craft beer newcomers.
Reds and Imperial Reds are generally a hopped-up amber, balancing the maltiness of an amber with a crisp, bubbly finish. The hops also tend to drive up the alcohol content, especially with the reds reds, which makes these a great cool weather beer.
Personal Favorites: Martin House Brewing Imperial Texan
Belgians: The Belgian beers have an extremely distinct flavor, but offer a fantastic variety of finishes. It is difficult to pinpoint the group of flavors that embody a Belgium beer, but if you have ever had one, you can recognize it almost instantly. There is a propensity to brand them as wheat beers and they’re commonly expected to be served with an orange. But to tag all Belgian beers as simply a beer that comes with citrus could be a disservice and downright wrong. We’ll concentrate on the less publicized varieties…
The Beligan Dubbel, AKA abbey ale, tends to be darker, higher in alcohol content and less sour than the average Belgium beer. A good abbey is hard to beat.
The Saison’s are lighter, fruitier and frequently offer a little bit of spice.