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Nov 26, 2014

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American Beer Month
Views from across the ocean

Why is American beer served cold?
So you can tell it from urine.

- An old joke
It wasn't long ago that American Beer Day would have seemed like a more appropriate length for celebration than American Beer Month. Beer drinkers from outside North America generally made fun of what was brewed here, and rightfully so. Many still do, but generally those are critics who haven't sampled American products in the past 20 years.

Michael Jackson writes more nice things about American beer than any other outsider, but it wasn't always that way.

In his 1982 "Pocket Guide to Beer" he wrote:

"When the U.S. beer drinker is in a mood to be critical, the complaints are often misdirected. The fundamental criticism of U.S. beers is not that they are especially weak, which they are not. Nor is it that they are a mess of additives. It is that they lack variety.

"The overwhelming majority of beer produced in the U.s. are of but one style: They are pale lager beer vaguely of the pilsener style but lighter in body, notably lacking hop character, and generally bland in palate. They do not all taste exactly the same but the differences between them are often of minor consequences."

Consider now what he wrote in 1999:

"Brands of lager designed to be virtually flavourless account for about half the beer sold in this country. It is very hard in Britain to find a market for a lager that tastes of anything (barley-malt or hops, for example). I am painfully aware of this when my fellow British suggest, as they often do, that all beer in the United States is bland and watery. A contemporary was at it again the other day while simultaneously recommending Bud Light: a familiar case of our mocking the Americans while aping their dafter habits. With Independence Day in sight, I would prefer to celebrate the most interesting of American beers, some of which have more flavour than anything made here."

Or this from another column last year:

"If I wanted to find a traditional Märzen-Oktoberfest, I would have to look harder in Bavaria than the U.S. Should I desire a true India Pale Ale, the style's country of origin, England, would have a hard time delivering; the American examples are far more assertive."

Read more from The Beer Hunter.

British writer Roger Protz, author of many books on beer and a regular contributor to several periodicals, wrote in his book "The Ale Trail":

"Many people tell me they have visited the US, failed to find anything drinkable and turned in desperation to imported Bass and Guinness. They are unaware that some 400 (now nearly 1,500) micro, craft, new wave or 'specialty' brewers now operate, many of them concentrating on ales of remarkable quality."

Read more from Protz in Protz On Beer.

Jeff Evans , editor of the Campaign for Real Ale's The Good Beer Guide author of "The Good Bottle Beer Guide", offered these thoughts after a trip to the U.S. in 1997:

"All this leads me to conclude that brewers in California are in a fortunate position. There is clearly terrific public support for their work. They are elevated by the very striking affiliation that exists between quality beer and quality food in your society -- a connection we are still trying to establish in the UK, where beer, unfairly, remains way down the list as far as "gourmets" are concerned. Your guys have great imagination and great technical skill: It's a combination which can only succeed."

Nick Funnell no longer looks at the U.S. from the outside. He moved to Philadelphia from England in the early 1990s to brew at Dock Street Brewing Co. and no brews for Sweetwater Tavern. in Virginia. He's often said he came to the U.S. for the brewing opportunity:

"Although people never believe this, it's much more exciting over here than in England. Here 's new and exciting ... most consumers don't know much about beer and they're willing to try all manner of things."

July 2002

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