Regional Characteristics of Craft Brewing.
It is surely apparent to even the most casual observer that the selection of small batch, or micro brewed, beer has grown steadily for many years. Early on in the craft brewing revival it was widely speculated that the microbrew revolution was merely a fad and once over, factory beers would once again be the only beer left standing on the shelves. But these smaller brewers have not only survived, they have thrived and revitalized many brewing traditions nearly lost forever. What has emerged is rather amazing. When you travel the United States and sample beers over a wide geographic range, patterns emerge in the beer styles and flavors you sample. These brewing tendancies are based on the history of beer making in the region, the availability of ingredients, and even the climate of the area and its effect on the demand for various beer styles.
Let's look at some of the broad regions of the country and what you can expect in the general styles of beers. While this exercise sheds some light on how each region has evolved, it is by no means an absolute reference. There are many wonderful exceptions to every generalization.
New England has roots that run to the very beginnings of when Europeans first settled North America, and one of the first traditions these settlers brought with them was brewing. Many of our founding fathers not only enjoyed a brewed libation, they often made their own. One of the biggest craft brewers even takes its very name from a famous patriot and brewer from the American Revolution. The microbrew revolution has not traveled far from its heritage, and you will find almost exclusively beers made in the English tradition. This is ale country, and most brewpubs even have the traditional hand pulled beer engine offering true cask conditioned ales at cellar temperatures. While English ales rule in the North East, a few renegades are offering Belgian style ales. These beers are very traditional in their hops and malt balance, smooth and very drinkable.
Many Germans migrated during the 1800's to the Midwest in search of farm land and work in the booming cities. With them they brought a long tradition of brewing cold fermented lagers from their homeland of Germany, Bavaria, Poland, and other middle European countries. True to form, this portion of the country still has some of the best lagers to be found in the world. It is this part of the country where brewing survived during prohibition and then blossomed after its downfall. The United States largest brewers are still in the Midwest, but they are no longer alone. The beer selection you will primarily find here focuses on lighter beers that have been cold fermented and offer crisp clean colors, the floral and citrus aromas of Noble hops, and little in the way of estery yeast by-products. The exception to this rule is the amazing bounty of aromas you may find in a glass of traditional Hefeweizen, or wheat beers with the yeast left unfiltered.
Settled mainly by the French, the south and Gulf Coast has little in the way of a brewing history. The very warm climate made growing malt and hops nearly impossible, and fermenting in this heat is unpredictable. As such, the South does not have many brewpubs and Micros in order to define their space. With the advent of refrigeration, and the ease of shipping ingredients now, there are some great brews beginning to take shape. So perhaps it would be better to wait until more brewing traditions have been created before pigeon-holing this newcomer to the brewing scene. One thing that is noticeable is the effect hot weather has on the beer drinkers desire. Lighter beers served ice cold are in much greater fashion than the heavier and warmer ales served by their neighbors to the North.
The mountains of Colorado, Nevada, and Idaho are especially noted for unparalleled skiing. Along with skis, vacationers often bring a hearty thirst worked up from multiple trips down the mountains. Here an ever-growing brewpub scene offers some of the most varied selections in the country. It is almost like the brewers of the mountain region reflect the many expectations brought by visitors from every corner of the world. Here you will find German lagers, English Ales, and American originals all served side by side. But one characteristic that begins to shine through comes from the proximity of the hops growing region in the Pacific Northwest. Beer here has a distinct extra dose of hops that make them All American. Instead of using hops imported from Europe, beer is most often embued with American varieties descended from traditional hops of the world.
West Coast and Pacific Northwest
The West Coast is mostly affected by the very close US center of hops growing in Oregon and Washington states. Beer styles here are most certainly American. The Pacific Northwest is also the heart of barley growing in the United States, so it is no surprise that the density of micro brewed beer is higher here than most anywhere else in the country. And every brewery or brewpub offers many styles with assertive hops; in the kettle for bitterness as well as large amounts of dry hops in the barrel for aroma. Most styles are American adaptations of German or English traditional brews, adapted for the cool wet weather and utilizing the abundance of local ingredients.
While throughout the world there are literally dozens of styles of beer , relatively few are brewed in any one region of the United States. Each area has been influenced by climate, availability of ingredients, and tradition, to develop a limited number of distinct beer offerings.
Michael Briggs is a beer fanatic and a frequent contributor to BreweryMall .