The Prohibition era, which ran in the United States from 1919 to around 1933, pretty much wiped out the American brewing industry. When it eventually ended, the last-standing beer companies consolidated to dominate the market, leaving the only beers being produced to be mainly mild and bland lagers. Drinkers were faced with little choice and an unsatisfying tipple. More and more, people turned to homebrewing, which led to the rise of microbreweries, often taking inspiration from the drink being produced in European nations. Eventually some were made on a larger scale, and these drinks became known as craft beers.
In 2012, the American Brewers’ Association estimated that there were around 2,075 microbreweries, whose remit is they must be independent, traditional and small. producing less than 6 million barrels a year. Also, at least 50% of their volume must be malt beers.
Pretty much every US state has its own fine beer brewing traditions, with abundant joints where you can happily spend an evening tasting. Here are three of my own personal favourites.
Created by the Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware, the history of this beer is fascinating. In 1997 a molecular archaeologist was alerted to a residue that had been found on vials in the tomb of King Midas, the ruler of Greece who died around the 8th century BC. It was known to be an alcoholic beverage, and subsequent chemical analysis revealed the various ingredients of the residue, including saffron. Fast forward a few years and the archaeologist met the founder of Dogfish Head at a party, and they teamed up with Dogfish to recreate Midas’ favourite beer at a feast to celebrate his funeral. For a period, this was actually the oldest known beer recipe. Sweet and dry, with a taste somewhere between wine and mead, the beer goes well with curries, chicken and fish dishes.
In 2001, the same year that Dogfish Head brought the Midas Touch to market, the Samuel Adams brewery in Boston set a different kind of record when it launched its Utopia range. For a period this was the strongest beer in the world, with an alcohol percentage of 24-27%. Usually brought out in the Fall months, Utopia is made of all natural ingredients, including maple syrup! Samuel Adams himself was a founding father of the USA, and believed to have been a brewer himself. The company that bears his name is now one of the largest American-owned breweries in the States, and regular interesting tours of the brewery run, encompassing its history and production methods, and of course featuring a tasting at the end.
Gonzo Imperial Porter
The choice of name may give something away here. The Flying Dog brewery began life in the town of Aspen, Colorado, home at the time to the legendary journalist and founder of the Gonzo movement, Dr Hunter S. Thompson. He was a heavy drinker of course, and would spend many hours, indeed days, propping up the bar of his local tavern. The award-winning Imperial Porter was named in his honour, and like many of the other Flying Dog ales, the artwork on the label is by Thompson’s long-time friend and collaborator Ralph Steadman. Expect to taste coffee and roasted chocolate, and pair it with mushroom dishes, BBQ, smoked meats and cheeses.
Whenever I’m in the USA, usually every few years or so, I always seek out something new to try, and often arrange for a few cases to be shipped over if I find something I really love. American craft beers really are some of the best in the world and if you haven’t experienced them yet then you’re missing out. Tour companies such as Grand American Adventures roam throughout the States, giving you the opportunity to taste greatness.
Rob loves nothing more than a beer festival to get him in the mood for the autumn and a bit of home brewing