The definition of American Beer on Urban Dictionary reads ‘What the rest of the world knows as water’. Well, that was one of the definitions, I couldn’t publish the first one but I do recommend you take a moment to go and read it.
However, a quick spot of research will prove otherwise and there is a large selection of good-quality American beers on offer in the UK and I’m aiming to give you a quick beginners guide.
It seems that it is the usual suspects such as Budweiser, Coors Light and Miller which are all inoffensive and, quite frankly, very bland which are giving the rest a bad name.
These aforementioned lagers are clearly not all that the USA has to offer and I was sent on a tasting mission where my palate was treated to an array of IPA’s, Stouts, Porters, Oaked ale and a Barley wine style ale from states such as Maryland, New York, California and Colarado.
Most people who take a passing interest in beers will have come across Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn and Sam Adams beers in the UK which are having an impact in the UK.
Anna Beam, who works at the Port Street Beer House, is originally from Baltimore and knows agreat deal about beer, which makes her the perfect person to help me on my quest!
When I asked her to talk me through the American beers for sale in Port Street, I realised my request was ridiculous when she simply replied, ‘How much time do you have?’ and pointed to a full fridge full of bottles.
She then informed me that they have around 100 consisting of bottled beers and guests which come and go on draft.
Anna also said that they used to have more American bottles but they’ve had to make an effort to cut back to promote more British beers, proving that beers from the US can stand up to their British rivals.
“I think beers like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada are changing people’s opinions on American beers in this country so far,” she said.
She recommended Odell Brewing Co.’s IPA, which is sold in Port Street for £5.50, quite expensive for a bottle of beer but it is 7% and absolutely delicious. Using the traditional IPA recipe shipped from England to India in the 1700s, they’ve stamped a taste of America on it by adding extra hops and creating a much bolder flavour.
Anna even told me that there are now breweries in the US brewing Belgian-style Lambic beers as well, so they really are getting enthusiastic about beers from all over the world.
This isn’t really surprising after talking to Chris Nelson and Merideth Canham-Nelson, a husband and wife partnership, originally from the states, who travel the world tasting beers.
Merideth told me that her favourite beer is German-style and she loves the Bavarian culture. However, Chris said that if California was a country it’d be the best country in the world for beers.
He said: “Because of Bud, Miller and Coors, I think there are misconceptions of what American beer is. Just like the uninformed here in the States think that beer in England is warm and flat. All countries have their crap lagers but don’t want the perceptions of their brewingcommunity to base upon them.”
Merideth agreed and said that America has something for every taste, which is not surprising given its vastness.
It is not too unusual to find a bar serving a hundred or more different kinds of beer in the US, both bottled and draft, though most will have perhaps a dozen or three, with a half dozen on tap.
While agreeing that it’s great that the US is exporting beers, the couple suggested that for the best experience you have to go over there and try the beer straight from the source, which ties in with Chris’ overall beer philosophy; drink local.
It’s always been said that countries never export their best stuff, for example, Australian’s apparently don’t like Fosters and Spanish folk reckon San Miguel is overly gassy.
As for comparing British beers to American beers, Merideth says comparison is futile.
“One of the special things about beer travel is that you get to experience beer within its own context. The British beer tradition is distinctly their own and needs to be understood that way.
“American craft beer has developed its own identity, which, if I have to define it, would generally be toward bolder, hoppier, in your face versions of traditional beer styles,” she said.
Microbreweries, some of which have grown to be moderately large and/or purchased by one of the major breweries, make every kind of beer in much smaller quantities with traditional methods.
Most microbrews are distributed regionally and bartenders will know the local brands. Some brew pubs make their own beer in-house, and generally only serve the house brand, much like in the UK.
So, there we have it. Drink local, try new things and don’t judge a book (country) by its overly exported cover (beer).
Here’s a small list of beers I’d suggest to start with:
Samuel Adams Boston Lager (Widely available)
Odell Brewing Co. IPA (Available at Port Street Beer House)
Drake’s Aroma Coma IPA (Chris’ favourite beer)
Scrimshaw Pils (Merideth’s favourite beer)
Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale (Available at Port Street Beer House)
Big thanks to Anna Beam and Ewan Summers of Port Street Beer House who took the time to recommend beers to me. And to Chris and Merideth, otherwise known to the Twitter world as @thebeergeek and @girlbeergeek