Tuesday, 24 March 2009


I regularly read the BeerAdvocate and RateBeer forums. It's a form of cheap and harmless entertainment. But something I read today just made me gasp.

Here's the quote: "There has been more innovation in American brewing in the last 25 years than in European brewing in the last 250 years."

I wouldn't say that was a contentious statement. More like complete bollocks. And bollocks that insults the generations of brewers who helped progress brewing to where it is today.

Let's see what important innovations I think have taken place in brewing (not necessarily European, but mostly) over the last 250 years.

  • the thermometer
  • the hydrometer
  • very pale malts
  • patent malt
  • steam power
  • mashing machines
  • underlet
  • steam cleaning
  • pure yeast cultures
  • pasteurisation
  • colour measurement
  • bitterness measurement
  • electric power
  • brewing sugars
  • Farbebier
  • decoction mashing
  • steam heated copper
  • filters
  • conical fermenters
  • Burton unions
  • symbiotic yeast/lactobacillus cultures
  • continuous fermentation
  • attemperator
  • refrigeration
  • stainless steel vessels
  • metal barrels
  • beer engine
  • CO2 dispense
  • the microscope
  • force carbonation
  • bottling machine
  • whirlpool
  • heat exchange cooler
  • powered roller malt mill

That's just what I can think of off the top of my head. I'm sure there are many I've forgotten.
Maybe I've missed something, but what exactly are the wondrous innovations that have taken place in the last 25 years in the USA?

Innovation isn't just mixing up existing ingredients in a different way. Or sticking beer into a variety of barrels. Or am I misunderstanding the meaning of the word?


Alistair Reece said...

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, innovation is "The act of introducing something new" - so no you are correct, mixing up the ingredients is not innovation.

Anonymous said...

Over hopping, unlined oak barrels and fruit and veg additions have all been tried and largely dismissed by European brewers many generations ago.

Oblivious said...

An wasn't it Labatt (Canada) that developed ice beer and not the German Eis beer?

Aaron Bennett said...

"Maybe I've missed something, but what exactly are the wondrous innovations that have taken place in the last 25 years in the USA?"


- making hop tea instead of beer and marketing that as EXTREME?

(this one is cutting edge)
- convincing people that the fact that it is possible to drink a beer is a feature? "drinkability! New to bud light!"

- fooling suckers into believing that drinking coors light will lead to sex with twins?

Alistair Reece said...

"fooling suckers into believing that drinking coors light will lead to sex with twins?" - make that fooling twins into having sex with suckers and that might be an innovation.

Matt said...

What's wrong with you people? Never mind hydrometers and thermometers and all that technical stuff, brewing IPA and imperial stout 'to style' are the great contributions of our American cousins.

Joe Walts said...

Every country has its idiots.

Anonymous said...

""brewing IPA and imperial stout 'to style' are the great contributions of our American cousins""

I thought for a moment that you were serious.
That term ..."to style"...makes my skin crawl.

Andrew Elliott said...

You don't consider the BJCP or their Style Guidelines to be even more innovative than anything else on that list???? :-D

Pivní Filosof said...

The biggest American innovation. The Budweiser beer.
Bugger! That was also European...

Anonymous said...

Ron, I too cannot agree with such a broad statement as you quoted. I think it is fair to say that in my own lifetime (post-18 years old), brewing styles - I don't like the term either but don't know a better one - in the United States have been more diverse than in the Old World. The beer scene until recently in the U.K. was fairly conservative for example (if anything getting smaller with the rise of lager and the closing of regional breweries, also, the near-disappearance of mild).

That is for the last 25 years, not 250 years. But in the last 250 years, there was a huge number of beer styles in Europe (e.g., the plethora of top-ferment styles in Germany you have mentioned, strong Burton, pale ale Burton, all kinds of porter and stouts up to Russian-level ABV, Arctic Ales back to mid-1800's, strong IPAs just outside London, very strong country stock beers, spiced beers like purl and so on.

Even if we restrict the statement to non-technological innovations, I find myself perplexed by it.


Ron Pattinson said...

The artist formerly known as wurst, if you want to post your opinion without having a personal dig at someone, I'll be happy to publish it.

Your dissenting voice is welcome, just be nice to the other children.

Tim said...

Debatable to the eurotrash or Brit purists, but I think the best US innovations are those to the hop industry.
I still highly rate cascade.

Also the idea of putting quality beer in a keg or 'proper keg' is a pretty good innovation. Service and storage of beer under carbon dioxide, whilst predates the past 25 years is still a great US beer innovation.

Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, if you compare like-for-like, that is Europe as a whole with the USA, I don't think Europe does too badly.

Denmark, everyone forgets Denmark. I think most States in the US trail it pathetically in terms of variety. They brew pretty much all the major world styles. And loads of the faddy American ones.:-)

Add to that Belgium, The Czech Republic (all those lager styles no-one brews anywhere else because they haven't noticed they exist), Franconia where every brewery's beer is unique, the idiosyncratic beers of Italy, Austria's unknown lagers.

Then there's British cask beer. And Menno, here in Holland. And the folk traditions of Zoigl and Sahti. Almost forgot those.

No diversity?

Pivní Filosof said...

If it is styles we are talking about. Where is the American innovation? Resurrecting some, mostly, British styles hardly anyone was brewing anymore and making them "-er" doesn't count as innovation in my books.
Creativity? Envelope pushing? Perhpas. Innovation, not so much.
Ron, you forgot to mention brewing with rice...:)

Anonymous said...

Ron, I would have to agree taking Europe as a whole but I think it is fair to compare the U.K. and America, which was my intention. Both are English-speaking countries. America derives culturally from British traditions. America's top-fermentation ale specialities, old and new school, are all inspired by England (mostly, Scotland and Ireland too in part).

On my many visits to the U.K. in the last 25 years I felt that beer there, great as it was, seemed limited in variety in style terms. There were countless real ales of the highest quality but many tasted rather similar to me. Brown ale in bottle was going out. Barley wine in bottle was going out. Guinness Stout bottle-conditioned ditto. Lager was on the march.

Whereas in the U.S. in this period you had a sometimes unruly proliferation of beer styles; mistakes were often made but the many one-offs and interesting variations (everything from chile beers to heavy-hopped barley wines to fruit beers to minty stouts) had no counterpart that I could see in Britain even though Britain had the traditions, it had just forgotten about them or they were ironed out by consolidation.

But I take your main point if we include all Europe. Also, I think the English scene has changed a lot even in the 3 years since I last visited.


Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, you're moving the goalposts. This discussion started as USA compared to Europe.

I could say, let's compare Belgium with Texas. Or Utah with Australia.

Anonymous said...

Yes, maybe Lager is not an innovation after all, nor brewing with pure yeast strains... LOL

Unknown said...

A friend of mine pointed me at this Blog. Amazing how you manage to write an article on the subject 'ale' every day...

Unknown said...

Amazing how you manage to write every day on the subject 'ale brewing'.

Anonymous said...

All I can say in my defense is that essentially in my mind I had the comparison of Britain and United States and I think that is a fair comparison for the reasons I stated (and that the comparison of the U.S. to Europe as a whole is not fair). But that was not the question, you are right.


Bill said...

The dude who posted this garbage isn't worth your anger. Be comfortable knowing you have forgotten more about beer than he will ever know.

Tim said...

Ron, did you already forget what you wrote last month. This post and the comments have more than a slight whiff of beer nationalism.

"The world of beer is one exciting whole. Not a series of competing fragments. 'Which country brews the best beer?' What sort of stupid question is that? 'Where's the pub?', 'Can I have a pint of that, please?', 'What are you having?' They're good questions."

Sure, the quote from the forum is blatantly nationalistic and wrong. But there are many excellent breweries making excellent beer here in the USA. Beyond that who gives a damn what some moron said on a website? I'm thirsty.

Ron Pattinson said...

Tim, my point isn't nationalistic. It's attacking a misuse of the word innovation and ignorance of the centuries of real innovation that have resulted in modern brewing.

It's nothing to do with who brews the better beer, or which country is "best". The development of brewing has been a cooperative effort in which brewers from many nations have taken part. I'm sure some of the items in my list originated in the USA.

Tinkering with ingredients isn't innovation in my book. Developing force carbonation is. Something that creates new ways of making beer.

Anonymous said...

Quoting Time :
'Also the idea of putting quality beer in a keg or 'proper keg' is a pretty good innovation.'

'scuse me, Sir, but what have Belgian, German and Czech breweries been doing for decades, then ?

Rob Sterowski said...

See if you argued there had been more innovation in America in the last 25 years than in Europe in the last 25 years, you might have a thesis worth discussing (though I fear the discussion would inevitably descend into beer nationalism). But more than in the last 250 years? That's so ridiculous a position that it can only be sustained by nationalism, extreme stupidity, or both.

Joe said...

Even if you make a good argument just for the past 25 years – which would still be controversial not to mention pointless – it overlooks the fact that most of the American innovations have been by and large inspired by Europe's great brewing tradition. And when we Americans are honest with ourselves we see that we're actually part of the same tradition.

The innovations, I think, come from borrowing from any and all of those European countries rather than being mired in any one nation's tradition. It's coming full circle now that European craft breweries are doing some things inspired by American ideas which were inspired by European ideas in the first place.

Thesis and synthesis and and so on it will go.

Mark Andersen said...

As you said, I think people are confusing expirimentation with ingredients for innovation. It's not the same thing. From a homebrewing perspective to me a couple of examples of innovation are

Liquid Yeast that comes in a smack pack

7 gallon conical fermentor that lets you release the dead yeast from the bottom

A temperature control device that allows you to take an ordinary chest freezer and turn it into a lagering container.

Those are innovations. Adding more hops to your beer or dry hopping or brewing a Chicory Stout might be considered creative (or stupid) but aren't really innovations that we can all benefit from.

Ron Pattinson said...

Marc, that was my point exactly. The word innovation is being devalued. Sadly, it's not only in the brewing world. Celebrity chef like thyrowing the word around a lot, too.

mrbowenz said...

The only innovation I can think of credited to the American brewing industry ......is marketing , marketing doesn't taste very good , beer tastes good.