The beer revolution in the USA is real, and it is beautiful. Naysayers can chalk this up to a fad. Traditionalists can scoff as they sip on their can of watered-down mash. Both, finally, are only depriving themselves of what has become a ferocious revival of beer in America. 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 As prohibition was being gradually repealed, a loophole created by the Volstead Act permitted for alcoholic drinks which were deemed to be non-intoxicating to be generated. This threshold, for whatever reason, was deemed to be 3.2% alcohol by weight, and thus came the introduction of the modern day light lager. Shortly after the complete repeal of prohibition, America entered World War II and the demand for beer dropped. Given the circumstances, 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 another 40 years.
What is now referred to as craft beer really has roots in the 1980’s in America. It’s popularity was limited to cult followings for the most part, with a few breweries breaking with national accessibility. The growth remained slow, as the large American”macrobreweries” continued to dominate the market. Regions on the West Coast and Denver became famous amongst the beer community as the meccas for craft beer, but their visibility from a national perspective remained minimal. The last decade has seen an explosion in the number 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 america, and the smart money is on 2014 surpassing that amount. Competition in America has always bread innovation, and the beer industry is no different. If you haven’t found a beer that appeals to your mind, you’re simply not trying. Let’s take a close look at some of the main 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 trip to British-controlled India.
The signature bitter flavor of the English Style IPA persists in the American IPA, but with it comes the inclusion of hop varieties which make an amazing spectrum of scents and tastes. The American IPA traditionally has an orange color, and an unmistakable aroma of floral and fruit. There are many variations of the American IPA, but the most common (and in my view tasty) is often referred to as a West Coast IPA, tracing back to its origins in the Pacific Northwest and California. The”hoppiness” of an IPA is quantified in IBU’s, or International Bitterness Units. Contrary to the common assumption, a sour beer is most certainly not a bad thing. The best IPA’s find a way to include enough hops to make the terrific aroma and flavor that beer drinkers have come to enjoy, with a balanced finish that leaves you savoring every sip.
Like coffee, Inda Pale Ales are definitely an acquired taste. If the jumps are too overwhelming, I would recommend starting out with a Pale Ale. Pale Ales offer a similar flavor, with a lower IBU, and a tend to be less of a shock to the system. Lower ABV “Session Ale’s” have also become popular.
Personal Favorites: Deep Ellum Brewery IPA, Lone Pint Brewery Yellow Rose IPA
The Stout. The stout typically stays true to its title. It originated as a term for a particularly strong 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 little 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 java notes which are common. In fact, many breweries have begun partnering with local coffee shops to produce coffee stouts that incorporate even more of that flavor. Stouts are full-bodied enough to incorporate chocolate and milky flavors without coming off as a sweet beverage.
Ambers tend to get a smooth finish, with a caramel and malty taste. The complexity of these allows for the inclusion of multiple flavors, without significantly changing the final product. I’d consider Amber beers to be a”medium” beer, falling right in the middle of the beer spectrum, and so a great choice for craft beer beginners.
Reds and Imperial Reds tend to be a hopped-up amber, balancing the maltiness of an amber with a crisp, bubbly finish. The hops also tend to push up the alcohol content, especially with the reds reds, making these a wonderful cool weather beer.
Personal Favorites: Martin House Brewing Imperial Texan
Belgians: The Belgian beers have a very distinct flavor, but offer a fantastic variety of finishes. It’s difficult to pinpoint the collection of flavors that embody a Belgium beer, but if you’ve ever had one, you can realize it almost immediately. 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 includes citrus could be a disservice and downright wrong. We’ll focus on the less publicized types…
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 provide a little bit of spice. These beers are crisp, refreshing and are often enjoyed in the summer season.