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October 1, 2007 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

American Beers

Appropriately enough, it was a pair of fictional Australian philosophy professors – both called Bruce – who memorably described American beer as being very similar to making love in a canoe. This label has dogged the reputation of American beer for many years, often with good reason.

The global availability and aggressive marketing of very ordinary mainstream beers from breweries like Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors have created a general disdain for American beer.

It is very easy (and correct) to be disdainful of the ubiquitous Budweiser (4.9 per cent). The claim on the label that they “know of no brand produced by any other brewery which costs so much to brew and age” had me in tears of laughter.

The flavour is almost invisible, though as the beer warms up the taste becomes slightly chemical. There is so much rice in Bud that it is hard to know if you have bought a six pack or sushi box. Sure, if you can put a man on the moon I guess it is relatively simple to take all the flavour out of beer, but I’d question the point.

The eponymous Miller Genuine Draft (4.7 per cent) may look slightly more like a beer and slightly less like a urine sample but it also has a slightly metallic nose, a thin body and a semi-sour finish. Brewed in Wisconsin where the state symbol is a Badger, it sure tastes like one may have died in a MGD fermenting vessel some time ago. While the Budweiser is insultingly empty, the Miller is actively unpleasant.

I expect more from the greatest nation on the planet. The country which invented muscle cars, cheese burgers, smart missiles and Pamela Anderson’s red swimsuit should not be represented by such timid brews. These are beers designed by committees, with recipes written by accountants.

To find the pioneering spirit of the United States you have to head for the craft and micro-breweries, which are making some of the most flavorsome and extreme beers in the world. They have helped resurrect lost beer styles and created some new ones (though I doubt Pumpkin Ales will ever take off anywhere else…).

The classic Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (5.6 percent) is fragrant, luscious, bursting with fruit and brimming with bitterness. One sip forced me to reexamine all my American beer prejudices.

For a hophead like me, each drop of Full Sail Sunspot IPA (6.5 per cent) is rapturous joy. This is a blisteringly bitter battleship of an ale literally heaving with pungent hops.

Deschutes Inversion IPA (6.8 percent) is at least five times as bitter as the average New Zealand draught beer. Every bitterness unit danced on my tongue as this beer left me speechless. My expression while sipping the Inversion – I am told – was one of extreme happiness, or perhaps a mild concussion.

Beer does not like heat, or movement so shipping beer here can take its toll. These beers would be simply incredible if supped in the shadow of the brewery. Still, I would rather drink Sierra Nevada which had been filtered through Al Gore’s toupee than even the freshest Budweiser.


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