American beer is great.
The general perception in, as far as I’m aware, the rest of the world, is that Americans know nothing about beer. The most common description is, charmingly, ‘pisswater’ and when I moved here, that’s pretty much what I was expecting. At best I hoped I could get a low-quality pint of Guinness or a relatively inoffensive bottle of Budweiser. I was pleasantly, and completely, surprised by what I found when I got here.
It’s true, there are some terrible American beers. Not terrible in the way that Carling, Fosters and Heineken (more on that one later) are, but terrible in fact that, whilst the taste isn’t awful, they have pretty much no positive factors in their favour. Miller Lite, Miller, Bud Lite, Coors Lite, Coors…all these and many more are so weak I genuinely wonder if it’s possible to become drunk on them before inducing hyponatraemia (from water intoxication). The texture isn’t satisfying, the taste is barely noticeable and the drink itself isn’t refreshing. These are terrible beers. Unfortunately, they’re also the beers that America most prolifically exports, and the beers that have the biggest marketing budgets.
However, take a trip over here, and you’ll be inundated with the choice offered by a plethora of local breweries, some small and niche (Magic Hat or Blue Point), and others with a respectably large operation, (Sam Adams) all of which offer good quality American beers. American beer is not to be confused with an ale, and is rarely going to be served uncarbonated and lukewarm as with so many wonderful British beers, but it still seems unfair to describe these as lagers. They have body, warmth, taste and texture and can attain a fairly potent alcoholic content without becoming offensive.
Beerwise, I’m particularly lucky to live in Astoria in Queens, a fact that every New Yorker responds to by asking “Oh, have you been to the Beer Garden?” – I have, and it’s fun, but it can’t hold a candle to my local bar, Sunswick 35/35, which is regularly visited by beer aficionados from around the city. Sunswick has a list of around 30 draft beers at any time, which seems to change every week, and consists mostly of offerings from local breweries. They regularly hold speciality beer events and brewery nights. There’s really no shortage of good beers if you’re willing to look.
Coming back to Heineken, however, on my trip to Amsterdam I took a detour into The Heineken Brewery Experience, which was supremely informative as to the four ingredients of Heineken and the end result.
I tasted the barley water which is made into mush at the first stage of brewing. It was foul. I then smelled and ate a thimbleful of the hops that are next added to give the distinctive bitterness. They were foul. And, after they were exposed to fungi (a secret yeast) for a while, I ventured to the tasting room where an experienced brewer taught me exactly how to fully appreciate the taste of Heineken.
It was foul.