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10 Great American Beers

March 2024
3min read

MICHAEL JACKSON CHOOSES OUR BEST

For many American consumers, wine was either “Burgundy” or “Chablis” before the renaissance that began in the 1960s. That is hard to credit today; and so, too, have we largely forgotten the fact that beer in the United States has also enjoyed a renaissance, perhaps even greater than that experienced by wine, and less commonly understood. “Pilsner,” the first golden beer, conquered the world so thoroughly that 50 years ago “modern” beer was a standard pilsner type in a can, a convenience product along with the sliced white bread and processed cheese. That’s all changed now, and here are some of the finest results of the American brewing revolution.

1. TUPPERS’ HOP POCKET PILS

for its dizzyingly heady bouquet. Also the more cedary, appetizing Hop Pocket Ale. Creator Bob Tupper is a schoolteacher and beer enthusiast who hosts seminars and tastings in Washington, D.C., at a bar called the Brickskeller, which has more than a thousand bottled beers. A “pocket” is the sack in which hops are traditionally pressed. The Hop Pocket beers are among a wide range produced at the Old Dominion microbrewery, in the Virginia suburbs, near Dulles Airport.

2. ST. VICTORIOUS

is a strong (8.5 percent alcohol by volume) dark brown lager. This style is known as a double bock, and it is regarded in its native Munich as a warmer for winter or early spring. This example is creamy, nutty, and portlike. It is produced by Victory Brewing, of Downingtown, Pennsylvania. The founders Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet met at the age of 10.

3. BROOKLYN BLACK CHOCOLATE STOUT

is the ultimate dessert beer. It has an astonishingly chocolatey taste—but contains none. Stouts gain their color and flavor from grains that have been highly roasted during the malting process. Brewers use the term chocolate malt to describe a variation in which carbonization is avoided. Traditional stouts are fermented with ale (as opposed to lager) yeasts, which impart a fruitiness. This stout tastes like a Sacher torte. The company was established in 1988 and built a brewery in a former matzo bakery in Brooklyn, New York, in 1996.

4. GREAT LAKES DORTMUNDER GOLD

has a grainy dryness in addition to the big maltiness that characterizes all beers from this brewery, in Cleveland, Ohio. The Gold is one of the few lagers to model itself on the firm-bodied, minerally style of Dortmund, Germany. The brewery also has an amber red, yet maltier, Vienna-style lager, named Eliot Ness. There are bullet holes from his era in the brewery’s restaurant, formerly the Market Tavern.

5. EXPEDITION STOUT

tastes like beef braised with prunes and port wine. This immensely strong (10 abv) stout is from the Kalamazoo Brewing Company, in the Michigan city of the same name. The world has very few breweries specializing in stout. Most of those produce only one; this brewery has been known to offer 10 very different stouts at the same time.

6. NEW GLAHUS WISCONSIN BELGMN RED

New Glarus is a Swiss settlement in Wisconsin. There the brewer Dan Carey, who worked extensively in Europe, has created his own counterpart to a Belgian cherry beer. It is based on raw and malted wheat and four types of barley malt and is fermented with a mixed culture of ale yeast and other microorganisms. The beer has an almost purple color, a textured body, a malty background, and a beautiful balance of almondy fruitiness and tart ness. It has won several awards in Europe.

7. LA FOLIE

is in a rare style that is given an intentional sourness by maturation in uncoated wood. The classic example is Rodenbach Grand Cru, made in Belgium. Rodenbach’s former brewer Peter Bouckaert now works in Fort Collins, Colorado, where, at the New Belgium Brewing Company, he produces La Folie. It is a blend of two brews, matured in red wine casks and tuns for periods of between one and three years. Semiwild yeasts are used. The blend has a further fermentation in the bottle, with a red-wine culture. La Folie has a dark, pinkish amber color, a sustained bead, a toff eel ike start, then apple and passionfruit notes. Quite sour in finish, but a beautifully balanced, food-friendly beer.

8. ANCHOR STEAM BEER

is an American original. This style of beer, something of a hybrid between an ale and a lager, was developed during the California Gold Rush. Brewers were trying to make the new lager styles without access to the necessary cooling. They improvised by using very shallow fermentation vessels, with a high proportion of the brew exposed to the air. The result was a highly carbonic beer. When the casks were tapped, the emerging CO2 seemed like steam. Anchor Steam is firm, dry, lightly fruity, and very complex.

9. SIERRA NEVADA PALE ALE

is the most universally admired product among American lovers of specialty beers. In its emphasis on hop aroma, its floweriness, its clean, lean malt background, and its digestibility and drinkability, it has set a style that is often described as American pale ale. The brewery was established on a shoestring in 1981 by partners with minimal experience. It has been run in a quietly single-minded manner and became the biggest micro.

10. BRIDGEPORT INDIA PALE ALE

Bridgeport, founded in 1984 as Columbia River Brewing, is the oldest pub-micro in Portland, Oregon, a great city of small beers. There are about 20 breweries here, more than in any other city worldwide. The Northwest especially favors very hoppy styles like India pale ales. This example has a lemony, grapefruity, resiny aroma; an oily palate, with suggestions of vanilla pod; and a rush of minty bitterness in the finish. No fewer than five hop varieties are used. Today’s American IPAs are typically far hoppier than those produced in Britain. Pale ales sent to the British Empire in India were given a heavy dose of hops as a preservative on the long sea journey.

An internationally recognized authority on beer and spirits, Michael Jackson has been chronicling the microbrewery movement from the beginning; his most recent book on beer is The Great Beer Guide .

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