I’ve been openly critical of the United States since arriving in Bosnia, and I have copped a bit of flack from my peers for it. As hard as it is for me to see the redeeming qualities of the cold dead war-mongering elitist nation that I unfortunately represent everywhere I go, I thought I’d post about something America really does kick ass at… brewing!
America is a melting pot of cultures. It was made great by immigrants (yes, immigrants!) bringing their traditions to the shores of the new land. You see this heritage blending in American fashion, you see it in American architecture, you see it in American cuisine, and more visibly than anywhere else I think, you see it in American brewing.
The Belgians are often acknowledged as the most prolific brewers in the world. After all, the monk’s there have been continually making fine ales for well over 1,000 years. These Trappist ales are amongst the most sought after beers on the planet. Others claim the Germans are the best. It is they who developed the purity law Reinheitsgebot in 1516 mandating that all beer contain only three ingredients; water, barley, and hops. I even have a soft spot for Canadian brewing, which uses its abundance of pure water and unspoiled natural assets to craft some of the most clever (and potent) beers on the market. All of these great brewing traditions though, are trumped by the craft and micro brewing movement in the USA.
I recognize that Denver is the beer drinker’s Mecca. The state of Colorado has over 120 breweries, more per capita than any other, and it hosts the most prestigious international beer competition in the world in the Great American Beer Festival every year. On the shelves of any bottle shop you are likely to find brilliant examples of all styles. From the resiny citric high alpha hop bomb India pale ales from the Northwest to the barrel-aged brettanomyces infected piquant sour ales born from wine gone wrong, there really is something for every palate.
The small brewing movement was resurrected symbolically by the Anchor brewing company in San Francisco in 1965, and has been sweeping across the USA ever since. There are now infinite breweries, infinite choices, and everyone is pushing the boundaries of what is possible. This year I enjoyed beers made with birch syrup, mole sauce, sweet potatoes, and even that pricey coffee that has already been through the digestive system of a weasel in Indonesia. It really is a spectacle to behold.
Over here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the brewing legacy is not so rich, and the products on offer mimic the Bud/Miller/Coors mass market adjunct lagers from back home. Lighter pilsners of the German and Czech styles seem to dominate here. There is one brewery in Sarajevo just a few blocks from where we are staying. They make five beers; a light pils called Sarajevsko that is absolutely everywhere, a dark (tamno) beer that is a bit sweet but quite palatable, an unfiltered offering only available at the brewery, an inconsistent Premium that I can’t quite place, and a Radler, which is a low alcohol beer with lemon flavoring added. Competition is slim for this brewery, as the brewery in Tuzla produces two awful beers, and the imports are all about the same; Tuborg, Bavaria, Karlovacko, Pan, Lav, and a host of low budget rotgut half liter cans. The beer isn’t terrible, it just gets old fast. There are no hops to speak of in any of these beers, no funky yeasts, no grain diversity.
Maybe it is a good thing for my health, but I am ready to get back on the craft beer train. For all the things America does that are just so brutal and gruesome, the beer made there stands up to any in the world, and aside from my girlfriend and my family, it is the first thing I miss when I leave, and the first thing I go back to when I get home. If you aren’t yet hip to this bright spot of the American economy, I suggest you go to your local and order yourself a nice frothy pint of O’Dell IPA and contemplate the finer things in life. If on the other hand you are the committed Silver Bullet or Budlight Lime swilling type not willing to break the mold, then forget it. Just keep putting those signs about Obama’s fraudulent birth certificate in your front lawn and kicking your neighbors dog.