Wasssup y’all. Oh sorry I forgot I wasn’t in The States no more (oops there it goes again). So I thought it would be nice to give you a rundown of my little beer pilgrimage to the States.
Week one of my beer trip to the US was a thoroughly enjoyable excusion around Boston and New Hampshire. Overall impressions? These guys love their beer, they know how to brew in volume, tear up the recipe book and consumers are always looking for great beer from interesting breweries. Ok, so I was almost solely seeking out local beer Mecca’s but I barely saw a Budweiser or miller light all week. For anyone who still thinks American beer is just light and fizzy; where have you been? Times have changed. Whatever preconceptions I came with about the health of the US craft beer market have been surpassed. The beers are available, plentiful and tasty. The best part is that the consumer now expects great beer and is educated enough to explore what is on offer. Great beer is so widespread and readily available, I swear even the hobo’s are chugging double IPA’s to get their kicks.
Boston has a great beer scene. Everything from brew pubs, serving great beer and food combinations like their own amber ale beer battered fish and chips (Cambridge brewing company), to up market beer bars (Park and Meadhall), to downmarket dive bars with colossal beer lists and drinking challenges such as chugging 130 of the different beers available in 180 days (at Bukowski Tavern). Of course Boston is also famous for its pioneering breweries which are now on the ‘factory’ size scale such as and Harpoon and Sam Adams. Both of these have thrown open their doors to the public and are doing fantastic, extremely affordable and educational tours.
Whilst the larger brewery tours were fun and interesting, I felt a little let down by both in different ways. The Sam Adams tour of their ‘experimentation and research brewery’ was over the top American enthusiasm, incessant one liners and wise cracks and little insofar as the actual operation of the brewery, more ‘so you guys want some free beer?!!!’ Closely followed by much whooping and cheering. The enthusiasm for beer was great but the entertainment factor heavily outplayed any insight into what they actually did on site. I was happily surprised by their beer, it was better than I expected and indeed I remembered. Maybe free beer always tastes great?
Over at Harpoon Brewery on the Boston waterfront they run a slick operation. We tried to head there in a Saturday afternoon. After seeing the queue of 100 people patiently waiting in -2C and making enquiries in my best British accent the possibility of joining a brewery tour, we decided to cut our losses and head to a local sports bar, which just happened to have over 20 taps on draft. When I returned by myself on a Wednesday there was no queue but still a wait for a tour. There are few worse places to while away the time. A flight of beer and a fantastic fresh baked IPA pretzel later in the beer hall, I joined the tour. More US enthusiasm from the tour guide and if I closed my eyes I could swear he could have been plucked straight out of a scene from Anchorman. Interesting tour and plenty of free beer, it’s just a shame I found the beer a little bland, watery with little body. Maybe not all free beer tastes great after all.
The state of New Hampshire has a wealth of great breweries and knowing my inclination to seek out great American Beer, A friend of mine went out of her way to plan a day of Brewery visits in Portsmouth. Starting off at Red Hook brewery, we had lunch in the tap room restaurant and a personal guided tour of the facility. In the tasting room we had a number of samples of both Red Hook and Widmer Brothers Brewing, who merged to form the Craft Brew Alliance in 2007 (part owned by Anheuser-Bush). On balance I actually preferred the Widmer Hefeweisse and the Pitch Blank IPA compared to the offerings from Red Hook (Audible, Long Hammer IPA and ESB).
Heading further into the picturesque, seaside town of Portsmouth we visited the Portsmouth Brewery, with a tour given by one of the brewers followed by a taste of all 12 beers which were available on tap! They were all exceptional quality and served straight from the fermentation tanks under the pub. My highlight was stumbling into Earth Eagle Brewings, a tiny brewery and tap room tucked away in the heart of the town working off a 2 barrel (72 Gallons or 576 pints per brew). These guys are the epitome of ‘craft’, extremely bearded, experimentational (their Cochon beer is brewed with four smoked pig’s heads http://eartheaglebrewings.com/stories), enthusiastic about their business, socially conscious and community driven. They were lovely guys creating fantastic ‘out there’ beer.
Vermont has the highest concentration of breweries per capita in America, so as you can imagine I was pretty keen to get over to a couple. I had a ski trip planned for the weekend so I made some twitter enquiries as where was best to visit. The consensus was that Whetstone Brewery in Brattleboro would be a convenient stop off for a light snack and a few beer samples. It is a proper brew pub with a 3.5 barrel capacity (126 gallons or 1008 pint capacity) located in a stunning location right on the Connecticut River. In the name of market research, I chose the flight of 6 beers. They came in all manner of styles and all were incredibly tasty and full bodied.
New York, New York… Well what to say. It was great to be back and I was determined to seek out the best beer possible. The city has an impressive list of beer bars which if you are looking for great places to drink beer, these guys just get it:
Tørst – 615 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn (Minimal, clean bar with huge list of hard to find beers)
Top Hops Beer Shop – 94 Orchard St, New York (beer shop / bar perfect for discovering new beer)
d.b.a. – 41 1st Ave, New York (famous for beer)
ABC Beer – 96 Avenue C, New York (cosy, relaxed and chilled out)
Reichenbach Hall (5 West 37th Street) – German beer hall serving great German beer and incredible food. Pretzels bigger than your head.
Spuyten Duyvil – 359 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn (little disappointing, looks to be living off its reputation. Staff were rude)
Probably not surprisingly there are few accessible breweries in New York, most are ‘upstate’ where industrial space is more on the affordable side and best accessed by automobile. However, any beer trip to New York would not be complete without a visit to the Brooklyn Brewery. The Small Batch tour was great fun, giving the opportunity to sample some of the less readily available beer. Their flagship Brooklyn Lager tasted great. Fresh as you like suds from the Brewery with the Blast (Double IPA) and the Sorachi Ace (Saison) being particularly memorable.
Great beer is now a given in so many bars in the US. The growing trend for craft beer and increasing number of breweries is showing no signs of slowing with the market share for craft brewers hitting 7.8% of all the beer sold in the United States, up from 6.5% in 2012. This trend is interesting reading for the UK craft beer market since ‘craft’ beer has only really hit public consciousness in these shores since around 2011. For those of us who embrace the tasty, complex and imaginative beer coming from this beer revolution we can expect more of the same.
However, I believe we are still a long way off matching the Americans for the sheer accessibility to tasty beer. The public is more informed and expects variety of choice and excellent quality beer as standard in bars over the other side of the pond. If we want great beer to occupy more fridge and tap space in our pubs and bars, we need to exude the virtues of great beer to our friends and help promote independent breweries! Enthusiasm is infectious and beer is delicious, so give it a go!
Why not bring some friends along to a craft beer tasting? Or organise a private beer tasting for a gathering of friends or birthday party, book one for your work colleagues as a team-building or client entertainment? If you are interested in booking Indie Ales for a tutored beer tasting, please get in touch via the form below or check out my upcoming events.