The introduction of craft brewing has to be a good thing. In the UK it stems from the 1970s and the small scale production of cask ales, a welcome reaction to the influx of Euro-pop lagers which flooded into the UK at this time. Many of the local breweries had closed due to company concentration (larger companies buying out their smaller competition) which had made way for the large companies such as John Smiths, Bass and lager companies, Carling, Carlsberg etc.
With micro brewing a new ideology towards beer and brewing was born with the particular view of seeking high quality beers of unique flavour. Whilst this manifested itself in the UK with the growth of microbreweries focussing on real cask ales the idea and ideology didn’t go unnoticed in the US.
The brewing industry has a rich heritage in America due the numerous techniques brought to the country by the immigrants from throughout Europe, bringing their own particular brewing techniques and styles of beer, with a large amount of influence coming from the pilsner style beers of Eastern Europe and Germany plus the influence of the hoppy, bitter ales from the UK. But this rich heritage was almost destroyed due to the prohibition movement which saw the number of breweries radically reduced. The period of federal prohibition ran from January 1920 to December 1933. During this time the only breweries to survive were those which brewed near beer, which was alcohol free, and those who kept their companies alive by the production of ice cream. When prohibition ended these big hitters who had kept themselves in operation were able to monopolise the American beer industry. These were the likes of Pabst, Miller and Anheuser-Busch who brew Budweiser. The beers on offer from these producers were relatively uniform and uninteresting and could remain that way as they faced very little opposition.
In 1969 Fritz Maytag took ownership of the Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco California. This was important as though they didn’t know it at the time a revolution had begun. Maytag brewed high quality beers of distinction that ran against the grain of what was main-stream at the time. This was the birth of craft beer in America.
The first recognised craft brewer in America was the Boston Brewery and their world renowned beer, Samuel Adams Boston Beer. Soon a number of other small scale breweries with the microbrew ideology of producing quality beers of flavour and distinction started to operate and by 2001 there were a total of 1,458 breweries in the US.
The American craft beers do differ from the UK Microbrewery real ale style beers in that they have largely a larger style in their approach, often more fizzy that a real ale, yet they capture the spectrum of flavours available in real ales and also incorporate a lot of the techniques used in ale production. They tend to be quite fruit forward and particularly hoppy but of the many I have tried I couldn’t recommend them enough, they are genuinely fantastic, flavoursome, unique and thankfully due to their artisan and dedicated approach free of some of the chemical junk that the bigger producers employ, i.e. synthesised alcohol or other chemical additives such as stabilisers, preservatives and flavourings. My personal recommendation would be Sam Adams, Anchor Steam, Brooklyn Brewery and the Odell Brewing Company in particular their flagship 90 Shilling Beer. Yum.
There is one company in the UK though who have seen this American approach and adopted the craft techniques and ideas. They are Brewdog, the Scottish company. Founded in 2006 by James Watt and Martin Dickie, with their first brew produced in 2007, Brewdog incorporate all that is wonderful about craft beer. They are innovative and experimental and they produce some excellent beers of distinction and flavour. Their loyalty to the craft beer cause is inarguably apparent on the front page of their website www.brewdog.com suggesting that they are “proud to be an intrepid David in a desperate ocean of insipid Goliaths.” Their range of beers for a company which has only been producing beer for five years is astounding with apparently 21 beers having been made by Brewdog in their short existence. The Punk IPA is an awesome beer and I would urge beer drinkers and non-beer drinkers to give it a try to see just why craft beer is the way forward.
What really stands out about Brewdog is their high-strength beers though. The 2009 Tokyo beer gripped the attention of the Portman Group (the Mary Whitehouse of the beer world) for its 18.2% ABV; they had had previous clashes with Portman due to their marketing approach. Later in 2009 they produced Tactical Nuclear Penguin, a beer at 32% ABV before the German producer Schorschbräu stole their crown as ‘strongest beer in the world’ brewer with their 40% schorschbock. To counter this Brewdog produced Sink The Bismarck! at 41%. On the tenth of July 2010 Brewdog blogged about their new 55% beer The End of History, a beer that apparently costs $765 and is served in a bottle rammed into a dead animals. Whilst the Portman Group (and certain animal groups) may criticise Brewdog for their tactics and approach they definitely stick to their mission statement, that they are the punk approach to beer that punk music was to popular culture. Whilst I’m yet to try their more gargantuan beers, £40 per bottle for Sink The Bismarck! being the sticking point, I can wholly recommend their more moderately alcoholic ones, as mentioned the Punk IPA being a particular favourite. Whilst they definitely flirt with extremes their immersion in the craft ideology of innovation and experimentation is certainly something I can roll with.
Andrew D. Clark