Reconsidering American Beer

On Sunday afternoon, I found myself at a trendy Bushwick restaurant (Tutu’s, for those of you in North BK) with two famished ladies. It was a long and harrowing ordeal, the specifics of which I won’t get into, but suffice it to say that after much finagling we found ourselves ordering drinks. My girlfriend’s companion, a visitor from Germany, was perusing the beer list when she sighed, and then loudly muttered that bars in the states only have “terrible” German beers (these being Radebeger and Bitburger). I pointed out that bars in Europe also import “bad’ American beers like Budweiser and Coors and sell them at outrageously inflated prices. Her retort was that America doesn’t make any good beer.

If her goal was to behave like a model “Ugly European” tourist, mission accomplished. Disregarding the fact that she was looking for a beer that was comparable to Corona (the most overpriced and flavorless of all the Mexican beers I’ve sampled), to make that sort of statement in the year 2014 outs you as someone who knows nothing about beer. As someone who enjoys all types of beer, from the trashy and cheap to the pretentious and pricey, it’s readily apparent to me and anybody else in the world who considers beer to be something more than a party tool or an accompaniment to football (American or otherwise) that the old trope of “American beer tastes like piss” has gone the way of the dinosaur.

According to the most quotable of quotable sources on the Internet, Wikipedia, there are some 2,800 breweries operating in the United States today. Of those, more than 2,000 are independent microbreweries. Short story made shorter, we’ve been taking beer seriously in the States for some time now, and you only have to spend a little time in any decently sized urban area to see this put into practice. Holding true to the nature of its country of origin, American beer is staggeringly diverse and differs from region to region.

Here’s a sampling of what I’ve been enjoying lately:

Leinenkugel Summer Shandy

This ultra-drinkable, delicious Shandy first got under my nose at Governor’s Ball, where it was a welcome and random addition to a lineup of overpriced cans of Miller and Foster’s. This bad boy is smooth and sweet as everything you want on a hot and humid day. It’s even better on draft (I found it on the menu at 5 Napkin Burger, go figure).

21st Amendment Bitter American

A very good bar with a small, weekly rotating tap-list just opened up a short walk from my apartment. Shout out to Left Hand Path, and shout out to the 21st Amendment Brewery, which I just discovered a few weeks ago. The Bitter American goes down clean and crisp with a bit of a hoppy aftertaste. It’s another great beer for the summer, as its flavor profile isn’t overwhelming and the low alcohol content means you can drink a lot as the thirsty night wears on.

Old Rasputin Imperial Stout

Lest I be accused of a wimpy American who can’t handle “real” beer, I thought I’d throw one of my favorite Winter standbys into the mix. Produced by the Northcoast Brewing Company, Old Rasputin is a hefty 9% ABV, and is the perfect thing to sip on as you get toasty by a fire. It runs as black as Guinness, with a flavor as robust as the mad Russian himself.

Abita Turbodog

I first downed this favorite at a bar in New Orleans, on draft, after spending about 8 hours in a car. It was the perfect introduction. Abita has a lot of great offerings, but I’ve always found myself partial to Turbodog. It has a rich, coffee-like flavor, a bit similar to a Stout like Old Rasputin, but with considerably less body (A comparatively mild 5.6% ABV), so you can drink a few without feeling waterlogged.

Rogue Dead Guy Ale

Rogue is one of the more interesting breweries out there, in my opinion, and the Dead Guy Ale is certainly not for everybody. It’s fairly hoppy with a spicy finish, and a combination of flavors that’s a bit hard to pin down. It’s brewed in the style of a Maibock, so if you imagine something like Shiner, but up the body by about 75% you’re…somewhere in the ballpark. Rogue: an enigma.

To close, I’ll cut and paste a comment from a BeerAdvocate forum member (from Sweden, no less) who had this to say, in a thread discussing whether or not American beermakers had surpassed(!) their European counterparts:

“For a lot of people, US beer equals Bud and Miller Lite, and of course those people will say that US beer sucks–but I don’t much are about their opinion since they don’t know the first thing about what’s going on in US brewing overall.”

 

Amen to that.

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