It was Easter 2017 when a team from WilliamsWarn travelled across the USA and Canada attending the Craft Brewers Conference in Washington DC, visiting our good friends and co-collaborators The Two Cowboys in Canmore, Alberta and learning a lot about the craft beer scene in North America, meeting and speaking with many industry experts.
I used to travel to the USA frequently and in that time, I experienced the development of the craft beer scene first hand from 1996 to 2008. I enjoyed many of the beers from many of the breweries across the USA. My personal favourites during this time were Sierra Nevada, New Belgium Brewing, Stone Brewery and Dogfish Head.
What struck me back then was the willingness of brewers to really push boundaries in terms of style and equally the consumers’ willingness to adopt them. Stone Ruination was one of my favourites but at 100+ IBUs it is bracingly bitter and certainly no session beer. Sierra Nevada had some classic styles and did them exceptionally well. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was the benchmark APA in my book, as was their Torpedo Ale the benchmark American IPA. On the East Coast, Dogfish Head, aside from having a cool name, educated the market on the relationship between wort boil time and bitterness and created some outstanding beers. 90 minute IPA was a personal favourite. Back then it felt like APAs, IPAs, Californian Commons and Cream Ales were really leading the way.
Fast forward nine years and I see a totally different landscape.
First stop Washington DC and after visiting a couple of brew pubs, the first thing I noticed was the diversity of styles. Sure, the pale ales and American IPAs still took a share of the menu, but now add to this perfectly executed versions of Biere De Garde, French Farm House Ales, Saison, Imperial Porter, Berliner Weissebeer, Cream Ales, Kolsch, Gose, Belgian Golden Ale, Dubbel. Seriously, I could go on. The thing is that the craft brewers in the various brew pubs and breweries I visited were totally nailing these beers with descriptions on their beer menus that described them so well. The number of hop varietals is off the chart and while supply of some of the mainstay hops come and go as demand exceeds supply, they are being filled by so many new and exciting varieties: Falconers Flight, Zycos, Azacca, Medusa… do you see what I mean?
We then headed out to the beautiful Alberta town of Canmore, nestled in the Rockies to spend time with our Canadian collaborators The Two Cowboys and visited their local brewery, The Canmore Brewing Company . The beer landscape was quite different. Lager was back on the table again hops bitterness was dialled down compared to east coast USA. Very notable at the Canmore Brewing Company was their Coffee Brown Ale, a collaboration with local top notch coffee producer Rave Coffee. You can see below the collaboration in progress.
What linked these regions together was the use of flavour in beer. Not only the aromatics imparted by hops, but sweet, bitter and sour flavours imparted throughout the brewing and post ferment process. Take a look at the beer menu of the Blue Jacket in Washington DC for example – a fantastic brew pub with 20 draft beers on tap. So many directions: blood orange, kumquat, passionfruit, tangerine, rose hips, pink peppercorns, elderberries and of course the more traditional brewing flavours coffee, vanilla, chocolate and cinnamon.
In Arizona, we visited Culinary Dropout in the Arizona State University Town of Tempe. There we met the restaurant manager Clancy who gave us a wonderful tour of some local Arizona beers. If ever you find yourself in Tempe, do yourself a favour and get to this place and say hello to Clancy. He is an absolute quality guy who will treat you well, as will his entire team.
The standout beer for me in the Arizona scene was the Huss Brewing Company Koffee Kolsch. I love a good Kolsch. Who would have thought you could impart coffee, cinnamon and vanilla notes into a light bodied lager that leaves you wanting another one because your taste buds have been properly tantalised. I implore you, seek it out.
Coffee…. it is going to feature in my next blog article. Probably not in the way you may be thinking. Watch this space. Now to make that flight to San Diego.