Tuesday 5 May 2009

What I learned on my holidays

After two trips to the USA in quick succession, I feel better qualified to comment on the American beer scene. Though I am well aware that my experiences are just one tiny snapshot in a wall-sized collage.

Let's start with the positives. I'm an optimistic chap, after all.

  1. Everywhere I went, had something drinkable. The includes non-beer orientated places like a hotel bar, Applebee's and TGI Friday. I was more surprised that this was true in Wisconsin. New Glarus seem to have got their Spotted Cow into every bar in the state. Good on them. I've had more exciting beers, but I was more happy to down a few Spotted Cows. It was good to see a local beer so readily available.

  2. Cask beer is widely available in New York. Every beer bar stocked it and every pints I had was in decent condition. That's not a simple or as self-evident as it may sound. Cask beer is tricky to look after and it appeared pubs were making the necessary extra effort.

  3. Good beer is starting to enter mainstream consciousness. A colleague who wasn't a craft beer drinker and hadn't left the East Coast for 15 years knew of New Glarus.

  4. My experience of liquor stores was more limited. I only went in the one. It was way out in the distant New Jersey suburbs. But it had a resonable selection. More interesting beers than I had chance to sample in a week.

  5. Not all beers are dominated by C- hops. I was taken aback by the accessibility of beers like Weyerbacher Old Heathen. Rather subdued, in fact, for an Imperial Stout. I rather liked the more easy-drinking beers that I tried.

  6. The hop bombs aren't as crazily bitter as I had expected. 90 minute IPA I had feared would be more of a challenge to get through. In reality, it was in the same ballpark as the Bitters of my youth. Things like the original Barnsley Bitter.

  7. Specialist beer bars offer a reasonable variety of draught beer. I mean not all the same basic style, which is what you often find in Britain. Though, if I were to compare Blind Tiger with, say, Wildeman the latter would come out on top for the breadth of its beer selection.

  8. The locals are pretty friendly. Even in New York, I struck up conversations with a varity of fellow customers. Including the very nice cheese man.

Now for the not so good.

  1. TV's. Bloody TV sets everywhere. I can't think of one bar I visited that didn't have a TV. That includes the first-division beers place like Blind Tiger. It's annoying, distracting and creates on obstacle to social interaction which is, after all, what pubs are about.

  2. Deafening music. Many pubs I drank in had the music way too loud. At one in the afternoon and just a handful of drinkers in the bar and the music was at disco level. This didn't apply to everywhere. Blind Tiger and d.b.a. both kept the volume at an appropriate level.

  3. Not enough weaker beers. Ignoring the cask English beers, Rattle 'n' Hum had almost nothing under 7% ABV. And lots 9% plus. I only had one beer there, because I couldn't find a second that was weak enough. It was a hot, sunny afternoon, over 30º C. Just thinking about an Imperial Stout gave me a headache.

That's enough about the USA for now. Back to my usual indigestible fare of ancient brewing manuals and 19th-century legislation.


Tim said...

With the not so good - every pub seems to be either and OIrish theme pub or a sports bar.

Kristen England said...


Do know that most of the things served out of a Firkin in this country are not actual cask beers. They are usually just filled into firkins from bright tanks or maybe from the secondary with no intervention of the brewer and definitely none by the landlord.

Oblivious said...

Do they prime then or are forced carbonated Kristen?

Tim said...

Ron, A fair critique. Though I don't see how TVs are an obstacle to social interaction. I find the only obstacles are miserable bastards.

Tim That Comments on the Same Blogs as Me, Where have you visited? Sounds like you did not have stray far from tourist areas or put much effort into finding decent pubs.

Kristen England said...


Rarely are they primed. Most of the time they are carbonated in the bright tanks. Sometimes you'll get some sediment in the bottom of the cask but this is mostly due to being non-filtered. Having said that, there are a few places that actually do cask conditioned beer but most of the time they are for special occasions.

Ron Pattinson said...

Kristen, I've heard much UK cask beer is prepared in a similar way nowadays, without a real secondary fermentation in the barrel.

Gary Gillman said...

That is very interesting, and somewhat disappointing. This brings such cask ale quite close to North American microbrewed draft beer. The only difference is our stuff is served colder and (generally) more carbonated, factors that can be palliated by letting the drink warm and decanting it into a second glass, which I often do.

A slow secondary fermentation is the key to cask beer, to give it the right type of light bubble and a special flavour that seems partly due to greater yeast presence but also to special flavours which develop in the cellaring phase.

Can one assume that the real ale to be served, say, at CAMRA's upcoming summer national festival will all be real real beer?

What about Fuller's beers as served in London pubs year-round?


Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, you'd need to speak to a landlord to get the full gen on cask beer in the UK.

Some beers definitely do have a proper secondary fermentation. Timothy Taylor Landlord is one.

Stonch said...

Kristen, I've heard much UK cask beer is prepared in a similar way nowadays, without a real secondary fermentation in the barrel.True. Doom Bar is an example of a beer that's brewery conditioned and racked as a finished product. However mostof the beers I've served still require secondary conditioning

Gary Gillman said...

I have known for many years that some breweries were putting beer racked at the brewery in casks for hand-pull, but I thought this was a minor practice and one not growing due to CAMRA's view on it. It seems this is not so today or at least one must ask the publican if his cask beer beer is sedimented, something I shall do from now on.

I have two reasons for disliking brewery-conditioned beer put through hand-pumps. First, beer racked at the brewery, in my experience as a consumer, generally won't last as long as beer sent on its lees to the market. In particular it is liable to damp paper oxidation unless consumed fairly quickly. That "beer needs grounds", an 1800's (or older) dictum, has proved itself to me many times. (The oxygen in the container is absorbed or transformed in some fashion by the yeast). My second and main concern is that the beer won't have the complexity of flavour of true cask beer. I have numerous times sampled the same beer in brewery-conditioned (unpasteurized, because forget pasteurized keg for this purpose) and real ale forms; the latter almost always wins out.

I'd have the brewery-conditioned product served cold and fizzy, as in most North American craft production for draft, rather than put through hand-pulls warmer and less carbonated. That way there is a clear demarcation between the two forms and I happen to think each tastes best in those respective ways.