The Sessions #79 USA versus Old World Beer Culture

On the first Friday of every month beer bloggers around the world join together for The Sessions (which are also known as Beer Blogging Friday). There’s no entry fees or membership required, we all just write a blog entry on a pre-determined topic each month.

This month’s session is hosted by Adrian Dingle at Ding’s Beer Blog. His topic is the United States versus Old World beer culture.session-logo-sm

‘‘Anyone with any inkling of my online, in-person and blogging presence in the American beer world since 2000, will know that the whole of my beer experience in that time has been coloured by, sits against the backdrop of, and forms the awkward juxtaposition to, my English beer heritage and what has been happening the USA in the last few years.’’

Much more succinctly he says ‘‘What the hell has America done to beer?’’.

What have those pesky Americans done to beer? Well they’ve done good and they’ve done bad.

Obviously the biggest good they’ve done is give the whole craft beer scene a new lease of life. Sure, there were a range of brewers over in Europe – most notably Belgium – but I reckon the renaissance of good beer that we’re experiencing here in Australia and others are likewise experiencing around the world, just doesn’t happen if the Americans don’t take the lead.

For better or for worse, the rest of the world takes many of its cues from the United States. So when a load of people in the United States started making and drinking good beer, that inspired others around the world to give it a go.

So we had brewers wanting to try something different to the lagers that are so prevalent here in Australia. And we had people who’d perhaps come back from a trip to the US, or knew someone who had, and got turned onto the beers that way. So they went and bought those new beers the new brewers were making.

Now, of course, taking our cues from the United States isn’t always a great idea. It means we start to think Miley Cyrus is a good singer for one, and it also means that a lot of old people like me start talking about ‘‘twerping’’ ignorant of the fact that anyone who is not a teenager who uses teenager words instantly looks like a dolt.

In the beer world, taking cues from America has led to the belief in some segments that ‘‘bigger is better’’. An IPA isn’t really an IPA unless it’s got a stupid amount of hops in it. A beer isn’t a beer unless it’s about 15 per cent alcohol. Funnily enough it’s the beer version of the stereotype that foreigners have of Americans – they’re just too loud and demand that everyone take notice of them.

Now I have been known to drink those high alcohol, heavily hopped beers – but just for the experience. It’s a novelty – drink it so I can tick it off the list. They’re certainly not beers that I’d come back to. God no, I don’t want to drink two beers, be punched in the face with hops and fall asleep drunk. I want some session beers, something I can drink three or four of and still be rational.

A lot of those beers exist here in Australia, but I can’t help but think the alcohol content is creeping up. Seems to be 6 per cent is now becoming the norm for craft beer, which I take as being a result of the US influence.

Which is a bit of a pity because I’ve always felt that high-alcohol beers are the easy option. All that alcohol hides any flaws. But a lower-alcohol beer, now that is a concept that allows the true skills of the brewer to shine. If they can make a three or four per cent beer that tastes fantastic, then you know they’ve got some special talents indeed.

7 replies »

  1. I suppose there is something to be said of this summer’s latest beer crazes in the US – shandies and session IPAs. Both were immensely popular and came with low-ABV and high flavor. Depending on who you are (DING) the “session” IPA may not apply if they’re 4.5 percent ABV, but I believe that Americans are starting to appreciate more nuanced beers more.

    The huge ABV and hop bomb beers are never going away, but at least there’s a growing market for the rest!

    • That’s good to here about the session-friendly beers. I guess over here we only see a small percentage of the US beers that are available. And most of what we do see are climbing past the six per cent mark.
      So my perception could be a bit skewed.

  2. Bryan is right on. There is a big lower ABV movement here (4.5% is becoming pretty common). It started at the local level a couple years ago, largely with brewpubs and very small-scale package breweries. Then last summer, and moreso this summer, it’s becoming common for “bigger” package craft brewers like Schlafly, Founders, etc. Also, Berliner Weissbier (which is usually around 4%) is gaining a bit of traction with a number of brewers (Bell’s Oarsman has been around for awhile, actually).

    Your point is a good one, though. We certainly did have a pretty good run on big stuff…which we like to do, of course. Hopefully soon, our shift will be reflected elsewhere in the perception of US beer.

    And for the record, I don’t know anyone who thinks Miley Cyrus is a good singer. 🙂

    • I think there’s is a place for both. The big beers are a bit of a novelty and get beer geeks talking. Sessionable beers are what you want while watching the football on TV or in some situation where you want to enjoy a few beers without getting blotto.

      • Indeed. There’s mainly big stuff in my fridge right now. Wouldn’t it be funny, though, if the US went big, in the way we like to do, on low ABV. Ok, so maybe that wouldn’t be funny like haha.

  3. Spot on, friend! “bigger ISN’T always better” please note the plastic construction monstrosity called Ninki Minaj.

    If you really want to see a low abv, high hop adventure- check out #ManSurvivesOnHops, two weeks on BrewDog’s Nanny State beer and no other liquid. Basically tasty hop water and American will power.

    Americans do things to the max- and the world loves us for it ^.^


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