Friday, January 18, 2013

Why American Craft Beer is Better Than Ever: A Brewer's Manifesto

Posted By on Fri, Jan 18, 2013 at 12:10 PM

click to enlarge Co-founder Jesse Friedman at Almanac Beer Co. - ALMANAC BEER CO.
  • Almanac Beer Co.
  • Co-founder Jesse Friedman at Almanac Beer Co.

When someone says "I don't like beer" my reaction is almost always the same: "Challenge accepted!" It's not that the so-called beer-hater doesn't like beer -- it's that they don't like any of the beers they've had up until now. Chances are, it's been a pretty narrow selection of what's out there.

We're in an American Craft Beer Renaissance: an explosion of new bottles and tap handles, each offering a personal story and a distinct creative point of view. Craft beer-focused bars and restaurants are overrun with new choices, and new craft breweries are edging their way into restaurants and bars that might have once dismissed the idea of a "beer menu." There has never been a better time to be a craft beer lover. If you are someone who cares about trying new flavors and possibilities, the craft beer world's doors are wide open and welcoming.

See also:

- Biere de Chocolate: Almanac and Dandelion's New Blend

- Beer of the Week: Boston Beer Company Revives Historic New Albion Ale

- Hold Onto Your Livers -- SF Beer Week is Coming

Beer offers the widest possible range of flavors for food pairings, and the best opportunities to chase transcendent pairing moments. It easily goes places wine can't by balancing sweet and bitter, malt and hops, yeast and water to offer the best playground for bringing food, pairings, and people together.

The modern American brewing landscape offers unprecedented choice and opportunities. The all powerful, dominant West Coast IPA is a big part of it, offering bright citrus, pine and floral aromas against a backbone of caramel malt, balancing sweetness with a bitter structure, with layers and layers of aroma hops on top. I like to pair them at dessert, pulling the citrus aromas out and using the bitterness to counterbalance a sweet dessert.

click to enlarge SONYA YU/ALMANAC BEER CO.

Brewers are rediscovering almost abandoned lost European styles, and recreating them with gusto and bravado. Track down a "Gose" -- a tart German wheat beer brewed with a touch of salt. The salt adds a touch of savoriness against the wheat beers yeasty character; similar to salt on food, it pulls more savory notes from the brew and makes its flavors pop.

Or try a a spontaneously fermented beer. For those in the wine world, they'd be called "naturally fermented," meaning that local yeast and bacteria in the air are used create a complex, tart, barrel-kissed wild beer. Inspired by (but not beholden to) the great sour beers of Belgium's Lambic region, these sour ales mature for years in wine barrels as the biology works it way through the beer creating deep and soulful flavors.

A personal favorite is a Saison. Originating from the Belgium/French border, this farmhouse ale uses simple ingredients to create complex flavors. Based on a recipe of pale malt, wheat, light hops and a distinctly assertive yeast, these ales have aromas of banana, clove, black pepper, spice, citrus zest, and if you're lucky, a touch of barnyard funk. I brew mine with local honey, ginger and French oak. Pac Brew Labs emphasizes the fruit character with hibiscus. Both beers are Belgian in heritage, but would be unrecognizable in the old country. They are distinctly American creations.

Unshackled from history and tradition, "does it taste delicious?" is the only thing that matters in brewing today. While everyone complains that nothing is made in America anymore, you can go to your local brewery and try something unique that doesn't exist anywhere else. It's pure creativity on tap.

Jesse Friedman is the co-founder and Chief Brewing Officer at Almanac Beer Co. Follow him at @beerandnosh

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