Last night saw the start of the Port Street Beer House American Beer Festival – a celebration of craft brewing, if you will – featuring draught beers of distinction from the gold old, bad old (delete as personal politics dictate!) US of A. There are undoubtedly some great beers that come out of the States and we were going to taste some of them!
As we enter (as is now standard) we received the traditional 5 “raffle style” tickets. Each entitles you to a “sample” of beer being presented this evening (frequently a half pint). The first of these beer was Rogue Farms Good Chit Pilsner by Rogue Brewery from Newport, Oregon. A pale beer at 5.2% abv, it was a nice enough pilsner style beer, quite refreshing, but undistinguished compared to what came later!
As well as tasting the beers, we were going to be guided through by the Ambassador (love the title!) from The Brewers Association in Europe – Andreas Falt. (The Brewers Association is the body in the US that represents many Craft Beer brewers).
An excellent relaxed public speaker our Mr Falt! He led us through a kind of “time-line” of US Brewing from 1900 through to the “Craft Years” which (acc to the Brewers Association) started in 1980 – effectively with the founding of Sierra Nevada Brewing by Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi in Chico, California and the brewing of their landmark beer Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
The timeline started in 1900 with approximately 3000 breweries operating in the US, these breweries making standard beers of the day including Lagers, Ambers and Bitters. Via Prohibition, The Great Depression and WWII, this number plummeted to less than 50! Prohibition being key here. The brewers that survived did so by still making drinks, just diversifying into fizzy pop production (or Coors Lite, as we know it! Am I the only one actually frightened by JC Van Damme’s teeth? Avoid that dentist!!!)
1965 marked a major brewing point in the US with the purchase of Anchor Brewing in San Francisco by Fritz Maytag and, in particular, the making of their first really hoppy beer, Liberty Ale in 1972.
The explosion in home brewing following the lifting of its abolition by Jimmy Carter in 1975 led, eventually to the setting up of breweries such as Sierra Nevada, New Albion and New Belgium through to the likes of Rogue, Odell etc.
Next came the second offering on the beer front (we’ll skip the CASK CONDITIONED Sierra Nevada Torpedo for now, shall we?) this being Modus Hoperandi by Ska Brewing of Durango, Colorado. At 6.8% abv (note the rising alcohol levels as we go along!), I have never had this legendary beer. Amber, I didn’t get much of an aroma (I generally let kegged beer warm a bit before I drink it!) but in the mouth? A different matter entirely, Quite well-balanced, but with shed loads of tropical fruit and piney notes. This was much more like it!
There are currently approximately 2800 breweries in the US, of which 1600 are “Brew-Pubs”, a very popular type of venue in the ‘States. Did you know there are 57 breweries (inc Brew-Pubs) within the city limits of Portland, Oregon? Me neither, but I’d love to go! In essence, most beers brewed in the US never get exported far because they are drunk locally. A quick chat through the most popular beer styles (IPA, Pale Ale and Ambers), the relatively recent phenomenon of canning craft beers (Modus Hoperandi being predominantly canned) and the recent introduction of lining the cans to exclude the “metallic taste” and thus keeping the beer fresh and tasting better. (An interesting anecdote about a blind tasting with CAMRA members preferring Maui Coconut Porter – a CANNED beer of all horrors! Ha!)
The next beer was the Belgian Style Blonde IPA by Sierra Nevada at 7.4% abv (abv rising again!). (The first time that Andreas himself had tried this) Pale, with a bubblegum and cream soda aroma, I’m not sure about this being an IPA, but it would have been the best Belgian Wit I’ve had, if it was from Belgium! A truly excellent smooth Wit, slightly sweet with a hint of banana split. Superb (NEARLY my favourite of the evening!) and apparently a style growing in popularity in the US.
A quick talk from Andreas about the regional preferences for beer in the US (East Coast – European styles, Mid West, slightly hoppier with European influences too – Odell Cutthroat Porter for example, and then West Coast – HOPS from the Yakima Valley!) and the criteria that determines what is actually a “Craft Brewery” in the US. (Amount of beer produced (vast!), independent ownership and traditional ingredients.) Also a little thread on the experimental nature of US Craft Brewers.
Next beer up was up the scale again at 9% abv and was Iniquity Black Ale by Southern Tier Brewing from Lakewood, New York State. An initial chocolate and hoppy, citrus aroma gave way to hints of chocolate overlaid by piney, resinous hops. Black IPAs are not everybody’s cup of Lapsang, but they work for me. And this was excellent. Can also be described as a Cascadian Black Ale. (If anybody sees their Creme Brulee over here, let me know ‘cos my buddy Col REALLY wants one!)
At this point, food was up. Some excellent chilli topped Hot Dogs, but, being slow, everybody else had snaffled all the Jalapenos! Greedy little sausages!!!
Andreas explained as to how, once you go over the 8.5% mark, American brewers start to use the prefix “Imperial”. In response to an audience query, Andreas conceded that there was essentially no difference between a Double IPA (DIPA) and an Imperial IPA, to merriment from the audience! A quick chat re “Barrel Ageing” and sour beers. Also a recommendation about Crooked Stave brewery of Denver, especially for sours.
An interesting comparison of ostensibly similar beers in Sierra Nevada Torpedo and Ska Modus Hoperandi. Both big IPAs but with markedly different hop characteristics (Citrus v Piney resins)
The final presentation beer was from Flying Dog of Frederick in Maryland and was their Green Tea Imperial Stout at 10% abv. With four different malts and hopped with Warrior hops, this was as black as sin and had a lightly smoky nose and offered a boozy promise backed up in the mouth with loads of roast, more than a vinous warming hint and, TEA. I could actually taste tea in all that darkness. I just wanted to wallow in this! That lucky sod Chris stood next to us had two ‘cos his missus wasn’t keen!
A final chat from Andreas. Of 212 Million Hectolitres of beer produced in the States, 7% of this is “Craft”, 15 million Hectolitres (that’s near 3 BILLION pints!). The largest export markets are Canada, Sweden & the UK. But only 1% of US Craft beer gets exported. Just shows how much gets drunk locally! A comment about trying to break into Germany provoked a chuckle or two!
(POTUS viewed through the PRISM!)
Andreas is an accomplished and genial public speaker. It is obvious that he loves his job (and who wouldn’t!) and is passionate about the beers he promotes on behalf of his employers. This was an excellent event and one I would certainly attend next year! Andreas also told me earlier that he will be involved with an Italian Craft bar at IndyMan later this year. Can’t wait. A nice guy!
It was great to chat with a few people last night, Tyson (all too briefly), Chris and his missus stood next to us (thanks for the chin-wagging!), James & Jon from Joshua Brooks. A wide cross-section of people here tonight, all united by a love of great beer!
Favourite brew? As if you need to ask! The Flying Dog Green Tea Imperial Stout was simply sublime. Followed closely by the Sierra Nevada Belgian Style Blonde IPA, a gorgeous Wit (IMHO!)
Thanks again to MC Jamie and the guys at Port Street for putting on a superb event. Get in there before that Sierra and Flying Dog sell out!
Ooh! Had to have a 1/2 pint or three of the Sierra Nevade Torpedo on CASK! SUCH a gorgeous hugely hopped citrussy beer. Stunningly good and a candidate for beer of the month!
Now. A 10:00 chuck out was a bit early for me, so we (Jaz & I) toddled over to Soup Kitchen for a final beer.
I suppose it WAS a Monday evening, but it was virtually deserted! But I was SO glad I popped in! Revolutions Brewing! Clash London Porter! Oh I was one happy chap! I’ve been agitating to get their Manifesto Stout over here for a while now, but this will MORE than do! A lovely porter at 4.5% abv with plenty of roast and coffee but significant bitterness in the finish. Can we have some more over that there hill please!
That then was it for the evening. I really enjoyed Andreas’ talks and the beers he presented topped off by a total surprise in Soup Kitchen. Back of the net!
So, Jaz & I go our separate ways, with me towards my chariot, supplied by First Buses!
On that note…’til next time! (Bury / Ramsbottom and the East Lancashire Railway this weekend!)