Anyone who has known me for any length of time, or who has read almost anything that I’ve written about beer online in the last 20 odd years will know, I have been struggling with US beer culture for the best part of a quarter of century. I’ve written countless forum and FB posts about it, indulged in umpteen blogs, and had a million private conversations and exchanges that have expressed my frustrations.
Most of those discussions have not generated much in the way of definitive conclusions, and in my opinion the state of US beer has never been worse. That’s right, never been worse. Ever. Even in the days when Bud, Miller and Coors had 99% (or whatever that colossal number actually was) of the market, at least American adjunct lager was somewhat recognizable as beer. With the absolute ubiquitous Cerberus hell-hound of fake, fruity ‘sours’, melted candy bars in barrels, and canned hazed orange juice, the ignorant consumer base seems to have pushed ‘brewers’ to make beverages that literally aren’t beer. Of course, I’ve written about this many times prior, notably here so this is nothing new, but what is new is that an acquaintance of mine said something really simple that might just open up some explanations as to how we have arrived at this point.
Scott Burgess is the founder, owner and brewer at the recently opened Bierkeller in Columbia, SC. I’ve been aquatinted with Scott for many years but only online and we’ve never met – such is the nature of many relationships in the internet age. Anyway, with his Teutonophile tendencies, and his respect of the Reinheitsgebot, Scott and I have a lot in common when it comes to tradition and traditional beer. What that means is that he and I see eye to eye on a lot of American beer culture, and he is an ally of mine in that regard. Anyway, today he made quite a simple observation that I’ve never really thought about much before, but absolutely resonated with me.
In response to my initial prompt that was asking a question I’ve asked over and over about the production of the Cerberus in America, and the ever increasing arms race surrounding such non-beer, Scott had this to say.
“… [American brewers] perhaps unintentionally created a tasting versus a drinking culture early on by wanting to provide variety and exoticism at all costs (and, to be fair, to (in their minds) have some fun with the thing). Now the consumers they created want more and more of the same (!) variety so they can taste something “new” every time. Most often these days it’s a new color or fruit flavor or hop. Drinking culture is something completely different …”
The part of that which resonates with me is the “tasting versus drinking culture” comment – YES! That’s it! That’s one of the main reasons American beer culture is what it is. THAT has influenced so much in American brewing in my time in the USA. My response to Scott was more succinctly,
“Americans don’t really ‘drink’ per se. I think this is bringing us back to session beer!”
One simple way this manifests itself is the extreme lack of drinking that takes place at lunchtimes in the US, and the almost total non-availability of REAL session beer here. In short, things are very different here, and it’s not good. It’s led to where were are now in the not beer world of American ‘beer’.