Beer chauvinism!

by Chris Bertram on August 23, 2011

Recent discussion on twitter, facebook and blogs involving, inter alia Matt Yglesias (yes, again!), Erik Loomis (who kicked it all off), Scott Lemieux, John Band, Dsquared, me, and others, tells me that people get much more excited about who has the best beer than about the role of the brewing industry in late capitalism and the fate of organized laboour. It also tells me that the claim that country X has the best beer is ambiguous. Some people think that the United States now brews the best beer, but even they are forced to concede that should you wish to actually drink the stuff, you are better placed (for example) in England where a ten-minute stroll from your front door (in any major or minor city) will likely get you to a pub with a decent selection. However, the partisans of nouveau American beer chauvinism have asserted that whilst England may score highly on that dimension, the typical US supermarket has a world-beating selection of brews. I’m not so sure. But first some commentary on our three questions (accompanied by some photographs). (This post is, incidentally, fortified by the excellent Jennings “Sneck Lifter” from Cumbria, a dark bitter at 5.1% abv.)

Question 1. Who brews the best beer?

I’m not convinced this is a meaningful question, actually, since different beer styles aren’t easily commensurable. English-style real ales, for example, aren’t readily available elsewhere but are greatly appreciated by their consumers (like me). True, they attract some ignorant barracking from continentals and North Americans regarding their temperature, but, like Rousseau’s Spartan in Considerations on the Government of Poland , attached to his black broth, we’re entitled to say that we know your pleasures but you cannot know ours. But pushed for an impartial opinion, I’m going to have to go for the Belgians. Not only do they make lots of the stuff, but they also make lots of different kinds . I’ve noticed American commentary referring to “Belgian-style” beers. But that’s absurd. There is no Belgian-style: there are various Trappist ales but they vary massively among themselves (compare Orval with Chimay bleu, for example); there are lagers; there are fruit beers; there are English-style beers; there are the lambics (which are quite unlike anything available anywhere else). No doubt there are many decent US beers, some in a vaguely Trappist style—and I confess to being very impressed by Goose Island’s “Marguerite” on a recent trip to Chicago—but I’m not convinced you guys are really at the races. Germans and Czechs? Some very nice stuff, but too restricted in range.

(Addendum: The range of different styles in the British isles is probably not well appreciated by outsiders. For one thing, there’s a north-south divide in beer styles in England (with north being somewhere about Sheffield I guess). Southern ales are flatter, northern ones are fizzier. There’s some discussion in Ian Marchant’s excellent The Longest Crawl which I’d recommend for its additional philosophical content (on which Praisegod Barebones is not allowed to comment). The Irish have their stouts of course, of which Beamish is slightly more palatable than the rest, the Scots drink pints of atrocious “heavy”, and the Welsh, oh well …. even Dsquared isn’t going to stick up for Brains or Double Dragon.)

Question 2. Availability (1): Availability in bars

Well there’s actually two questions here. Is there some bar that you could hypothetically get to with a decent selection? Could you walk out of your house or office in any medium-sized town and find a bar with a decent selection within 10-15 minutes? No doubt there are some really great places in Los Angeles you could hypothetically get to after a drive. Maybe that’s even true of Festus MI (to pick an example at random). But on this criterion Europe just wins. No serious contest. Where wins? Probably Belgium again. For ambiance, I’d choose Ireland, but we’re talking beer here and the Irish have a vastly inferior product. So Belgium.

Question 3. Availability in supermarkets

Note: availability in supermarkets not specialists shops known by devotees. Well it is here that the partisans of the United States have been most sure of their ground. I’ve been in US supermarkets, but I haven’t paid all that much attention, so they could be right. I’m sceptical though and I’m guessing that we might actually be better off in the UK. I haven’t done a survey, but I did wander to the end of my road (200 yards) to take a picture of what’s on offer at my local Waitrose. Pictures below. I’d be very interested to know how that compares to your country.

beer by Chris Bertram
beer, a photo by Chris Bertram on Flickr.

The beers above are mainly English ales of various kinds. “Sneck Lifter” is at bottom right.

beer-2 by Chris Bertram
beer-2, a photo by Chris Bertram on Flickr.

Various sorts of Belgians here, from Duvel (lager), some Chimay bleu, a Lindemans fruit beer of some kind, Hoegaarden, Budweiser Budvar (Czech), some German wheat beers (both dark and light), third shelf has Indian and Japanese. Shelves and shelves of other generic stuff both in bottles and cans.

beer-3 by Chris Bertram
beer-3, a photo by Chris Bertram on Flickr.

This is mainly ciders actually (well we are in the West country) but there’s more Czech Budweiser and some Pilsner Urquell. Not sure where the Becks all went to, it is out of shot somewhere.

{ 182 comments }

1

Steve LaBonne 08.23.11 at 6:57 pm

No doubt there are many decent US beers, some in a vaguely Trappist style—and I confess to being very impressed by Goose Island’s “Marguerite” on a recent trip to Chicago—but I’m not convinced you guys are really at the races.

You’d be quite wrong there. There are American brewers (including Ommegang, which is actually owned by the Belgian proprietors of Duvel) which produce absolutely first-rate, authentic ales in a variety of classic Belgian styles anywhere from saisons to quadrupels.

2

RICKM 08.23.11 at 6:59 pm

1) Duvel isn’t a lager

2) the US is bigger than England or Belgium. Its beer culture varies by geography. You could walk in basically any bar in Philadelphia, and find an extremely impressive beer selection. If you know where to go, you could find bars with 100s of types of beer. Not to mention the two week long festival known as beer week.

3

Steve LaBonne 08.23.11 at 6:59 pm

P.S. Duvel isn’t a lager.

4

Chris Bertram 08.23.11 at 7:00 pm

@Steve – I’m sure I’m going to be better educated by the end of this comments thread!

5

dsquared 08.23.11 at 7:01 pm

Actually I will stick up for Brains, albeit that I would certainly rather argue for it than drink it. It’s an aquired taste like Young’s (I can’t remember if it was me or Alex that noticed that every Northener in London can recall first going into a pub after arriving and going “but this is horrible!!”. You can’t call yourself a local until you like it).

6

Chris Bertram 08.23.11 at 7:02 pm

I stand corrected on Duvel, btw.

7

SamChevre 08.23.11 at 7:02 pm

I’d say that’s comparable to what’s at my local Kroger (and I’m in VA, which has notoriously poor distribution).

I’m not sure that a bar within 15 min walk is quite fair, as in many places in America there are no bars within a 15 minute walk. But I will say that good beer in bars is far more available, and cheaper, than it was 10 years ago.

8

dsquared 08.23.11 at 7:05 pm

WOW!!!! A whole festival devoted to beer?!?!?! Certainly that puts the lid on it. Philadelphia is the world capital of beer. Chris, you must be feeling pretty silly right now. They have a beer festival!!! For two weeks!!! Imagine.

9

Marc 08.23.11 at 7:08 pm

You’ll get a decent variety at most grocery stores in the states. But there will be a handful of places within easy reach where you’ll get an enormous supply – and if you care about getting unusual beers that’s what actually matters.

This is part of a general broadening of food choices in the US. Twenty years ago I wouldn’t have had any decent variety in coffee, beer, or cheese outside of a couple of stores in the largest cities in the country. (New York, Chicago, and LA have always had a few places catering to gourmets.) Now numerous choices are widespread – it’s most recent for cheese. You could probably add chocolate to the list too. Forty years ago ethnic restaurants other than Chinese, Mexican, and pizza joints would have been uncommon – and the ones you found would not be very good.

That’s one area, at least, where now is a lot better than the past.

10

dsquared 08.23.11 at 7:09 pm

In related news, bars with 100 types of beer are invariably shit. “We have dozens and dozens of beers to choose from” means “come and taste our two dozen stale, poorly kept beers, while looking at a rack of lots of bottles”. Even the Euston Tap, which makes as good a fist as possible of keeping 24 beers properly (the secret is to charge eyewatering prices apparently) is not exactly somewhere a sane man would spend an evening.

11

Chris Bertram 08.23.11 at 7:12 pm

Yes but dsquared, do other countries beers (I’m sounding like Mr Podsnap now) need “keeping” like a real ale does?

12

Nick Barnes 08.23.11 at 7:12 pm

in many places in America there are no bars within a 15 minute walk
This factor is surely sufficient to settle the question. The US is too thinly spread to be the best place for beer: for the most part, you can’t walk home from the pub. It’s not their fault, our poor cousins across the pond. They deserve our sympathy.

13

dsquared 08.23.11 at 7:13 pm

German beers definitely do. There’s a whole load of them that basically don’t travel.

14

Nick Barnes 08.23.11 at 7:15 pm

In related news, bars with 100 types of beer are invariably shit
Do you know Cask, on Tachbrook Street in Pimlico? I think they do a pretty good job.

15

Steve LaBonne 08.23.11 at 7:17 pm

In related news, bars with 100 types of beer are invariably shit. “We have dozens and dozens of beers to choose from” means “come and taste our two dozen stale, poorly kept beers, while looking at a rack of lots of bottles”.

Actually, bottle-conditioned ales (such as most Belgians) often improve with age much as wines do. So there should be no question of their being “stale”.

The US is too thinly spread to be the best place for beer: for the most part, you can’t walk home from the pub.

Now that’s a REAL problem. The idea of a bar that can only be reached by driving there and back is pretty insane on its face, but that’s the reality here outside the densest urban areas thanks to the piss-poor public transportation in most of the country.

16

Cranky Observer 08.23.11 at 7:18 pm

> I’d be very interested to know how that
> compares to your country.

I can only anecdotally report that here in boring Midwest flyover country, in a region held under the iron jackboot of the Dark Tower on Pestalozzi Street, our regional supermarket typically carries 10 times the number of different beers shown in your three photos, including a wide variety of US microbrews, and various Belgian, German, and English types. Real Australian is hard to find here except in specialty shops; same for non-mass-market Italian.

That may be an unfair comparison though because supermarkets in the US tend to run very large compared to their UK and EU cousins, and generally carry more brands and types of everything.

Cranky

17

ejh 08.23.11 at 7:22 pm

In related news, bars with 100 types of beer are invariably shit

Mmm, my visit to the pub next to Sheffield station last Wednesday would argue otherwise, though if you found a more flexible adjective than “invariably” I wouldn’t differ.

I always found Brains perfectly likeable, as it goes.

18

Patrice 08.23.11 at 7:25 pm

Out of respect, or following legal advice, “Belgian-style” has become the common term used by breweries who emulate authentic Belgian Trappist and Abbaye ales.
The phrase “Belgian Beer” is a registered trademark held by the Union of Belgian Brewers, one of the world’s oldest trade organizations.
Hence, calling any non-european brewed “Belgian”, is legally contrary to U.S. law.

19

Chris Bertram 08.23.11 at 7:28 pm

_our regional supermarket _

Ok, well that was the (small) neighbourhood one at the end of the street.

20

Steve LaBonne 08.23.11 at 7:29 pm

Hence, calling any non-european brewed “Belgian”, is legally contrary to U.S. law.

And I have yet to see a label that does that, so you can relax.

21

Will 08.23.11 at 7:39 pm

It’s a little strange to talk about how many bars there are within walking distance in “the” US. Conditions on the Coasts will obviously vary enormously from the middle of the country, but there are also big differences based on just which town or neighborhood you are in and where people’s ancestors came from. Some neighborhoods and towns in the Cincinnati area have lots of descendants of Germans, and there are all kinds of bars with great beer selection. Other neighborhoods have nothing. I live in a little town in New Jersey with 0 bars, but my hometown in Ohio has about twenty bars, all with at least a few excellent beers on tap, and some of the bars have an amazing selection. Still, it might be better to generalize about regions in the US rather than the country as a whole. You might say that the Northeast US does well in the category of bars within a 15 minute walk, while the plains states will do poorly.

22

Patrice 08.23.11 at 7:40 pm

The label isn’t always the issue.
There is is significant misinformation and misdirection in this regard.
There are quite a few aggressively promoted “Belgian” festivals where no authentic Belgian beers are served.
If you ever poured Belgian beer at an american festival , you’ve likely had people ask you in what part of Belgium Blue Moon or Shock Top are brewed.

Then there is this this stuff. :
http://lowellfilmcollaborative.org/2011/08/22/crop-artist-stan-herd-partners-with-shock-top-belgian-beer-for-a-series-of-earthworks/

23

Matt 08.23.11 at 7:40 pm

Availability of good beer in a supermarket in the US is too variable to comment on. You can’t buy beer at all in a supermarket in Pennsylvania, for example, but (if you want anything but a case) must go to a pizza restaurant or a “deli” (that is really a small beer store made to look like it sells food.) Some of those have selections better than that pictured above, though. In many parts of the US I’ve been to the beer selection is large but not that great- all the bad beer you could want. But, there are several supermarkets in, say, Manhattan that have excellent selections, as good or better than that pictured. I don’t know if any generalizations will be worth while, though.

Ommegang beer is excellent, and the people at the brewery are very nice, too. It’s worth a visit, though it’s pretty out of the way.

I was a big fan of the British ales I tried while visiting, and it is really hard to get things very much like that in the US. The average central London supermarket seemed worse than the average Philadelphia pizza place, though.

24

RICKM 08.23.11 at 7:41 pm

dsquared, the festival you deride is the largest craft beer festival in the country, and one of those loaded bottle-bars includes Monk’s, which is one of the most famous and highly regarded bars in the country. You’re derision is based on ignorance, it seems.

25

Sebastian(1) 08.23.11 at 7:46 pm

I think the “Availability in Bars” question is harder than you make it out to be.
Yes, there are more “beer deserts” in the US than in other places. But you don’t have to live there. On the other hand, I can get on my bike and get to 5 different bars who brew their own, high quality beer, in 15mins. Since microbrewers in the US, as opposed to many European brewers, usually brew between 6 and 8 different types, I can drink 30-40 different locally beers at brewpubs, all within 15mins from home (no car).
Most of them are quite good, too, some of them outstanding. I would challenge anyone to find something even close to this anywhere in Europe.

26

dsquared 08.23.11 at 7:46 pm

I really think I have to push back on the implicit “more variety = better” equation here. You don’t have to be Mr Adbusters to be suspicious of the implied model that all that a consumer needs is the closest possible approximation to a continuous range of products, so as to select his or her personal optimum (Hey, there are six thousand producers of Cava in Spain! Try them all, you’re bound to find one that you prefer to Bollinger champagne!!). Surely, after all, there has to be something wrong with a criterion that would establish that lovers of stout should avoid Dublin (no choice at all!) and head for Pensacola, Florida (where I went into a bar that had six different stouts on tap, all of which were average). Even if you count thirty different kinds of identical “craft” IPA as a variety (and I can’t emphasise enough Chris’s point that the British beers are actually different from one another), this is a screwed way of thinking. Me and the lads had occasion to make this point vocieferously to the proprietor of our work pub when he had the damn fool idea of taking our favourite off for the summer.

I think this pathology may be related to the American inability to understand the appeal of sports leagues in which the same teams win year after year. Thinking about it, the USA probably fields a greater variety of soccer teams than somewhere like Portugal.

27

dsquared 08.23.11 at 7:48 pm

dsquared, the festival you deride is the largest craft beer festival in the country, and one of those loaded bottle-bars includes Monk’s, which is one of the most famous and highly regarded bars in the country.

picture me now, twiddling my index fingers in little circles to make the internationally recognised gesture for “whoopty-do”. (this joke orignated by Andrew Northrup).

28

Ben Alpers 08.23.11 at 7:49 pm

What supermarkets are even allowed to sell varies from state to state in the US. Here in Oklahoma, supermarkets can only sell 3.2 beer. Liquor stores here often have an excellent selections of (real) beer. And, at least in the two metro areas of Tulsa and greater OKC, there are bars with terrific selections of beer on tap and in bottles (one of which happens to be about ten minute walk from my house).

I also wanted to pipe in on German beer, which is, as the post suggests dominated by an incredibly small set of styles, often brewed no more than competently: Bavarian-style lagers (light and dark), Hefeweizen (light and dark), and pils predominate. But there are still some regional gems, a few of which make it to the US: Schwartzbiers, Alts, Kölsches, even the occasional Rauchbier (from Bamberg, which is an absolute mecca for distinctive, locally available beers….vaux le voyage, as the French say). I lived for a year in Leipzig, which has a rather bizarre, but refreshing, local specialty beer called Gose, which is a little like a lambic and, as far as I can tell, never found outside the area (it’s even a little hard to find in Leipzig).

29

RICKM 08.23.11 at 7:49 pm

Sebastian, what state are you in? I would assume, like the broader beer scene in the US, the proximity to brewpubs varies greatly by region. I do know that some states, like NJ, have liquor laws that make it fairly difficult for brewpubs to flourish.

30

roac 08.23.11 at 7:49 pm

Just as a data point, I live about two blocks from this place (in Arlington, VA):

http://www.lostdogcafe.com/beer.htm

The food is not very good, unfortunately.

31

Rob in CT 08.23.11 at 7:51 pm

American brewing has vasty improved. I don’t care whether it’s better than some other country or not. I care that nowadays I can find a wide variety of excellent beer at the store.

32

dsquared 08.23.11 at 7:53 pm

Since microbrewers in the US, as opposed to many European brewers, usually brew between 6 and 8 different types

Ha! Advantage – Wacky Jack’s Ales! In your face, Staropramen! You must be feeling pretty silly right now, Paulaner!

This is the point I was making in 26.

Did you know, in Munich, they have what they foolishly call a “beer festival” every year, at which they only serve two kinds of beer? Pathetic. No wonder Philadelphia is full of German tourists every year, looking for the fabled “Monk’s”, which is apparently highly regarded. “Give us”, those poor suckers plead with weeping eyes “A bottle of Belgian-style beer, brewed in Oregon, which is old enough to remember the OJ Simpson trial. It might have improved in the bottle, like fine wine”.

I think I’ll open that Innis & Gunn now.

33

Phil 08.23.11 at 7:53 pm

Do you buy Chimay bleu in a bouteille brune, or should that have been ‘blue’?

even Dsquared isn’t going to stick up for Brains or Double Dragon

Double Dragon is wonderful. It’s not quite up to the bitter brewed by the late lamented Buckley’s – or the very much alive Conwy – and the bottled stuff doesn’t keep its condition too well, but the taste is something else. (Very literally something else if what you’re used to is pale and light, or for that matter pale and aggressively hoppy.)

I don’t think it’s particularly useful to compare the US with Britain, let alone Belgium; the whole approach is different. Here in Manchester, in the mid-80s, a guy called Brendan Dobbin ran the West Coast Brewery. The real ale brewers I’d known up to then tended to emphasise tradition and continuity: if they brewed an old ale or a porter, alongside their range of different bitters, it was generally because they’d always brewed old ale or porter, or (at the more ambitious fringe) because they’d dug out an old recipe from the company archive. Brendan started from scratch and took a completely different approach: he brewed whatever style he felt like brewing, from a Guinness-alike stout (called Guiltless) to a ‘Chinese pale ale’ with a strong resemblance to Tsingtao. (Then, a week or two later, he brewed something else.) It seems to me that one big difference (not the only one) between British ‘real ale’ and the American craft beer scene is that the Dobbin approach is absolutely normal over there; it’s a lot more widespread among British brewers now than it was 25 years ago, but I think the majority still keep one eye on traditional approaches.

34

Ben Alpers 08.23.11 at 7:54 pm

Did you know, in Munich, they have what they foolishly call a “beer festival” every year, at which they only serve two kinds of beer?

The problem with most places in Germany is that their former, local beer cultures have been entirely overwhelmed by a variation of Bavaria’s.

35

Philip 08.23.11 at 8:01 pm

dsquared: ‘(I can’t remember if it was me or Alex that noticed that every Northener in London can recall first going into a pub after arriving and going “but this is horrible!!”. You can’t call yourself a local until you like it).’

Not me, I can’t remember the first pint of real ale I had in London but I’m sure I liked it. Though when I started drinking I didn’t really like bitter and the real ale was only revival was just starting so I stuck mainly to generic lagers. So by the time I had a pint in London I would have just appreciated that it was something a bit different and I never really had an idea of what a typical northern beer should be like. Also I agree with my Granddad’s reported view on beer ‘beers are like women; there’s none bad but some are better than others.’

36

RICKM 08.23.11 at 8:01 pm

>“A bottle of Belgian-style beer, brewed in Oregon, which is old enough to remember the OJ Simpson trial

If you were talking about something that reflected reality, then you would have a point, but you aren’t, and you don’t.

37

dsquared 08.23.11 at 8:04 pm

that’s what I love about American craft beer bores, their sense of humour. You can tell they’re having fun, fun, fun down at the brew-pub, and that the only reason their lips are puckered up like cat’s arses is because of the horrific bitterness of the swill they drink.

38

piglet 08.23.11 at 8:15 pm

Note: availability in supermarkets not specialists shops known by devotees. Well it is here that the partisans of the United States have been most sure of their ground.

This is weird because in part of the country, you can’t even find beer in supermarkets. To talk beer affairs US-wide is almost as useless as doing so Europe-wide.

39

ejh 08.23.11 at 8:20 pm

Lovers of stout probably should avoid Dublin, as it happens. Much more interesting stouts are to be found in British beer festivals, and occasionally even pubs.

40

Sebastian(1) 08.23.11 at 8:21 pm

dsquared:
“I really think I have to push back on the implicit “more variety = better” equation here.”
I grew up in Germany. I find its beer culture utterly boring – growing up in the Rheinland I could usually get Kölsch, Pils, Dark and Light Weizen in any given bar, one of every kind. Most bars don’t have even two types of the same brewing style. And while that might be charming, traditional, drinking culture, etc. it does nothing for actual culinary standards.

But the fact that you consider the Oktoberfest of any relevance for beer quality indicates what you’re really talking about: Drinking Culture. The Oktoberfest, with it’s overpriced 1l beer glasses has nothing to do with the quality of beer. It’s about getting drunk together. And I would certainly agree that many places in Europe have a much superior culture of getting drunk together (and for that purpose, having your favorite beer, that you adhere to as you do to your favorite football club, certainly has a certain charme).

But for beer as a culinary rather than a cultural item, a certain degree of variety is indeed a marker of quality – not sufficient, but definitely necessary.
And about microbrewers brewing multiple beers – while European breweries are tied down by strong cultural drinkers – the Reissdorff brewery would get its windows smashed if they brewed an Alt – US microbrewers can be curious, open minded and experimentative. That means they can freely try out different brewing styles, they can brew a larger variety of beers in one location and they can, frankly, brew better beers.

41

Ingrid Robeyns 08.23.11 at 8:23 pm

Around 1982, when I was about 10, I went with my primary school on a schooltrip to visit the Hoegaerden Brewery (which was then still family owned). THAT’s how you instill brewpatriotism in your schoolkids!

I never drink beer. I think it doesn’t taste nice. If one can choose between wine or beer, why would one consider beer? I guess this disqualifies me for Belgian citizenship…

42

dsquared 08.23.11 at 8:29 pm

Much more interesting stouts are to be found in British beer festivals, and occasionally even pubs.

You can find more “interesting” sparkling wines than Krug in all sorts of places, but nonetheless you don’t find many people from Epernay taking the cellar tour of cava producers.

I will go one more on the absurd cultural poverty of those stupid Germans – they have a so-called “Music Festival” every year at which they don’t perform works by any composers other than Wagner! No experimentation at all! And talk about overpriced!

43

Walt 08.23.11 at 8:33 pm

The “beer festival” in Munich would be more accurately described as the “hot waitresses in peasant dresses making out with amusement park rides” festival. Beer serves roughly the same role there as it does at Mardi Gras.

44

Sebastian(1) 08.23.11 at 8:34 pm

dsquared isn’t just clueless about beer, he’s also clueless about classical music ;-)
Bayreuth proves the opposite of what he think it does:
“While Wolfgang Wagner continued to administer the festival, beginning in the 1970s, production was handled by a number of new directors in what Wolfgang called Werkstatt Bayreuth (Bayreuth Workshop). The idea was to turn the festival into an opportunity for directors to experiment with new methods for presenting the operas. (…) It also provided an opportunity for Bayreuth to renew itself with each production, rather than continue to present the same operas in the same way”

45

ejh 08.23.11 at 8:35 pm

You can find more “interesting” sparkling wines than Krug in all sorts of places, but nonetheless you don’t find many people from Epernay taking the cellar tour of cava producers.

No doubt, but it is also no doubt true that you never hear people saying “we must go down the Dog and Pheasant, they’ve got Guinness on”.

46

GU 08.23.11 at 8:37 pm

At least wrt availability of good beer in both supermarkets and bars within easy walking distance, Manhattan scores quite well. This is hardly indicative of most of the country though . . .

47

dsquared 08.23.11 at 8:41 pm

Yes, those terrible fools in Munich, what do they know about beer? All that enjoyment, and singing and (ugh!!) drunkenness! What does that have to do with beer? If they had any sense, they would be sitting down with a notebook, and seven 330ml bottles of the same sweet, over-hopped “IPA”, with seven different puns on the labels, saying to each other “gosh we know a lot about beer, we drink a different kind every night”. And no smiling, please. This is Art.

48

ben w 08.23.11 at 8:44 pm

There is no Belgian-style: there are various Trappist ales but they vary massively among themselves (compare Orval with Chimay bleu, for example); there are lagers; there are fruit beers; there are English-style beers; there are the lambics (which are quite unlike anything available anywhere else).

As was pointed out “Belgian-style” in the US seems to mean any of these things; there are breweries producing saisons, sour ales, fruit beers, etc., and while you might doubt that any of them actually measure up to the echt Belgian stuff, you can get stuff in any of many Beglian styles.

There was a corner store near where I lived in SF that had a beer selection to rival Chris’s pictures, and an exceptionally good bar (and there were others with less wide-ranging but quite respectable options as well). Sadly I am now far removed from such things.

49

RICKM 08.23.11 at 8:44 pm

All of which goes to show that the biggest beer event in the world is the Super Bowl. I mean all those happy drunk people celebrating! Truly a tribute to beer and nothing else!

50

RICKM 08.23.11 at 8:46 pm

I forgot to mention all the really fantastic weekly gatherings of beer aficionados on college campus’. I believe these events are called ‘frat parties’ and they truly celebrate the gift that is beer.

51

dsquared 08.23.11 at 8:47 pm

#45 But if you subsititute for the Dog & Pheasant “the country of Ireland”, yes they do, as anyone at the tourist board there will tell you. For what it’s worth, I’ve taken a five hour train ride once, basically to drink Robinsons Bitter – I’ve also hopped the ferry several times to drink Guinness in Dublin when I lived in North Wales. I increasingly am prepared to argue that the measure of a country should.not be what you can find on your doorstep, but how much trouble you are prepared to go to get that country’s beer.

52

Nine 08.23.11 at 8:52 pm

Does “Beverages & More” (and its ilk) fall into the “specialty store” category ? It certainly feels like a generic chain-superstore … and if so classified then it is probably the case that their selection blows away the european competition (in my limited experience of european suprestores).

53

ben w 08.23.11 at 8:55 pm

Bevmo does not actually sell much “more” than beverages; it isn’t the kind of store only a devotee would know about, but it’s not a “supermarket” as that is ordinarily understood.

54

dsquared 08.23.11 at 8:56 pm

Yes it would. The Waitrose that Chris took that picture in would have about six times that much shelf space devoted to breakfast cereal.

55

dan 08.23.11 at 8:56 pm

Waitrose is a pretty bad example of a typical British grocery store. You won’t find nearly the same selection at your local Tesco, Morrison’s or even a nicer Sainsburys. In contrast, chains such as Safeway and Kroger in the US typically have a fairly strong selection of local microbrews (and good macros depending on the state) beyond the bud/miller type options.

Non-beer related, but where the UK really has a leg up is in the cider department. A good scrumpy cider from Somerset or Devon is a very special beverage.

56

ejh 08.23.11 at 8:59 pm

But if you subsititute for the Dog & Pheasant “the country of Ireland”, yes they do, as anyone at the tourist board there will tell you

But not specifically for the love of Guinness, or stout in general, I think you’ll find. They go because they associate Ireland with having a lot to drink. (In the same sense, nobody ever went to Amsterdam because the drugs were especially better there than anywhere else, but it’s a good place to get hold of them. Or so I’m told.)

57

dsquared 08.23.11 at 9:01 pm

No come on “Guinness tastes better in Ireland” is practically the national slogan (or at least it was until replaced by “our financial services industry is the envy of all Europe)

58

mw 08.23.11 at 9:02 pm

I’m not sure about arguing about ‘best’, but it’s become an embarrassment of beer riches here in Ann Arbor–pretty much everything’s available on the shelf and there are lots of good bars and brewpubs withing walking/biking distances (of my house, anyway). I’ve enjoyed my occasional beer-drinking forays into Belgium and the U.K., but I don’t feel at all deprived where I am (something that couldn’t have been said by a beer lover, say, 25 years ago). I’d also say that there does seem to be more experimentation and…ferment going on in the U.S. beer scene, which I do find interesting.

59

ejh 08.23.11 at 9:02 pm

Which was scarecely more inaccurate, though more dangerous to the public health.

60

ejh 08.23.11 at 9:02 pm

Which was scarecely more inaccurate, though more dangerous to the public health.

61

ejh 08.23.11 at 9:02 pm

Whoah, double vision.

62

ben w 08.23.11 at 9:04 pm

Public service announcement for those responding to the estimable Mr Davies.

63

ejh 08.23.11 at 9:05 pm

Who says we’re not trolling him?

64

ben w 08.23.11 at 9:06 pm

Ah, the rarely plausible reverse meta-troll maneuver.

65

Walt 08.23.11 at 9:06 pm

I’m not saying that watching hot waitresses making out is not a higher calling for the connoisseur. I’ve spent more time in London in pubs than I have in the National Gallery, which I think is an objectively utility-maximizing position, but that doesn’t mean I can now claim to be an expert on art.

66

ejh 08.23.11 at 9:07 pm

Not that I am, obviously: I’d just point out that Guinness is beer for people who don’t like beer, in much the same sense that Jackie Brown was Tarantino for people who don’t like Tarantino.

And chilled Guinness is Guinness for people who don’t like Guinness.

67

dsquared 08.23.11 at 9:12 pm

If your theory is right that the fellows in Irish pubs putting away the Guiness don’t like beer, I have to say they’re not doing a very good job of avoiding it.

68

belle le triste 08.23.11 at 9:13 pm

The argument against the Euston Tap isn’t quality or range of beers, it’s that it’s a very poorly designed building. The Cask in Pimlico is a much better shape to spend an afternoon or an evening in.

69

ejh 08.23.11 at 9:15 pm

Nor the lager drinkers on any British High Street on any given Saturday night, but there you go.

70

MatGB 08.23.11 at 9:16 pm

Chris, FWIW,

Southern ales are flatter, northern ones are fizzier

That’s not really true (I’m from Devon, I’ve lived in London, I now live in Yorkshire with a real ale barmaid). The difference in draft is basically how it’s served. If you’re in a northern pub, you can always get it served ‘southern style’ by asking them to take the sparkler off the tap. If you’re in a southern pub, if you’re lucky, they’ll have a sparkler they can attach to the pump so you can get it served properly with a proper head. If you’re really lucky, the staff will recognise your fiancée’s accent and not even ask if it’s needed, as happens to her fairly regularly in the better London pubs.

RickM, you say it’s the largest beer festival in the country? Really? That’s the best you can do? My small town in west Yorkshire has more festivals than that each year, and they’ll have 50+ beers per pub on tap, let alone additional (inferior) bottled stuff.

Now, admittedly, living in West Yorkshire, where there’re more of what you guys would call “microbreweries” and we just call breweries, and many if not most will have multiple different styles, personally I really like Abbeydale from Sheffield, although I only really like to drink two of their beers.

DD, I’m not a huge fan of a massive range of beers of similar types, but do think a variety of types is good, Jennie’s pub currently has 7 beers on tap, they’re all pale and hoppy IPA/session beer types, not a decent stout, porter or mild on the bar. Suits me, but doesn’t suit those strange people that like their chocolate malts. Given that one of the best Porter/Stour style beers in the world is brewed three miles away, I think that’s negligence m’self, but…

71

Marc 08.23.11 at 9:16 pm

Watching DD yanking the chains of the colonials is certainly a hoot.

Mind you, the guy admits that his favorite beer is Bud. That’s sort of like a wine expert proudly announcing that Mad Dog is, in sober fact, the Wine of the Century. Although we all can agree that Boone’s Farm “gets the job done.”

72

ejh 08.23.11 at 9:17 pm

I’ve never been in the Euston Tap, as it happens – I walked past it yesterday morning and wondered how long it had been there. I used to drink in that bar on the corner of the station, is that still open?

73

mrearl 08.23.11 at 9:19 pm

The best beer is a free beer. The next best beer is a cold beer. After that it’s all subjective.

74

belle le triste 08.23.11 at 9:20 pm

The Doric? Used to be the Head of Steam — or do you mean actually in the station?

Euston Tap opened in current form maybe a year ago, iirc.

75

dsquared 08.23.11 at 9:22 pm

Yes the Doric Arch is still going and it’s pretty good.

I never said that Budweiser was my favourite beer, by the way. I said (as did the head brewer at Orval when interviewed by the New Yorker, but what does he know, he probably doesn’t make more than six styles of beer) that it’s a good beer. The closest I ever came was saying that it’s the ideal beer to drink with breakfast.

76

Oliver 08.23.11 at 9:22 pm

Thoughts on beer in the US.

There are many, many microbrews. Some are excellent, others less so. Many, many microbrews are strongly bittered ales. I imagine that is to distinguish them from mainstream American lagers, which seem to have no hops in them whatever. Personally, I do not like strong, bitter ales, much preferring light Pils style beers from the Czech Republic and Germany. Not many craft brewers in the US attempt that style, and fewer still (none, in my opinion) have mastered it.

In terms of imports, many are available throughout the US, but it is of dubious benefit. Pilsener Urquell is becoming ubiquitous, but the flavor and smell are incredibly variable. Beer is a perishable product, and time, light, and heat are its enemy. I have never had a Pilsener Urquell in the US that matched those I drank in Germany (I’ve never been to the Czech Republic). Though, it is still better than drinking either the mainstream American lagers, or the alleged Pils style offerings of most microbreweries.

I agree with the above comment about places with 100s of beers not being reliable. They are more interested in talking about beer than serving a good one. I long for a bar that serves 6 or so beers on draft, in a variety of styles, but that makes sure that their deliveries are prompt and their kegs are kept cool. Unfortunately, even that does not stop the importer and distributor from keeping beer in warehouses, on docks, and in trucks under poor conditions.

For British ales that require Nitrogen carbonation (e.g. Guinness), good luck. Plenty of places pour Guinness, but very few places in the US match even the tackiest pubs in Britain.

77

Dave 08.23.11 at 9:22 pm

A philosopher friend of mine was at a conference in Germany talking with the organiser. He was asked to which temperature one should heat ones beer to make authentic English Ale. He thought it was a recipe rather than an insult.

78

Dave 08.23.11 at 9:25 pm

P.S. I’ve found that the cider selection in Waitrose doesn’t change much around the country, west country or otherwise (which isn’t to deny that it is the best of any supermarket).

79

ejh 08.23.11 at 9:26 pm

Yeah, the Doric. It was closed last time I tried to go there, for whatever reason. Glad it’s still open.

80

belle le triste 08.23.11 at 9:27 pm

‘Turkey, Heresy, Hops, and Beer Came into England all in one year’

Which was the year and what was the heresy?

81

bianca steele 08.23.11 at 9:29 pm

I don’t like fizzy beers, which a lot of brewpubs around Boston, though not all, seem to specialize in. They also tried to make their cider, when English-style cider was fashionable for a while, too beer-like (dry and very fizzy). Don’t know anything about hops but what’s wrong with an IPA? Generally ales are better, I think, and not all that easy to find around here.

82

Sean 08.23.11 at 9:31 pm

It seems to me that this thread has lost the thread. The questions are (1) which beer is best (not which is most popular); (2) availability in bars; and (3) availability in supermarkets.

Question 1 is certainly not answered by what’s popular in Germany. Lots of popular things in Germany have been much worse for the world than over-hopped IPAs. And I’m not even violating Godwin’s law — just consider David Hasselhof.

It’s obviously a question of personal taste, but I would vote for England because of its cask conditioned ales. They are fresh and distinctive, with more complexity than most German offerings but still refreshing and delicious.

I think Belgium has lots of flavored, spiced, fruity crap that I don’t like together with a handful of selections that are pretty good. The US is up and coming, but in my view it tends to suffer from being too much like Belgium in creating lots and lots of unbalanced and gimmicky beers.

On question 2, there are only a few places in the US that could compete with most places in England. Portland, Oregon and surprisingly Grand Rapids, Michigan are good examples that I can vouch for.

On question 3, I think the offerings are pretty similar. Lots of piss on the shelves, but a decent selection also available in most places.

Who cars what most people like? Most people in my town drink Bud Light and watch NASCAR.

83

Lillput 08.23.11 at 9:31 pm

Gosh, you’ve set off quite the deabte, Chris.

I feel the need to point out that your local supermarket does serve a particular demographic – as befits the area it’s in (in the same postcode/zip code area as me for anyone thinking I’m being mean). Also, you’re right that from your doorstep (and from mine) we’re almost embarrassed by the number of half-decent pubs with good, if not stunningly interesting beer.
However, were you to head in a southerly direction you’d find it much harder to find a really good pub….and I don’t know but I bet the main supermarket there will have a much more modest “real ale” selection. My guess would be that bottled real ale, given its price tag might be more attractive to more affluent folk and therefore make its appearance in supermarkets there.

I’m with you that “better” isn’t a very helpful term. Me? I favour lightish, very hoppy ‘real ales’ – served without a tight-head sparkler for preference. But in order to allay my assertion that I don’t like Belgian beers I was taken on a beer-drinking weekend in Brussels…where my mind was completely changed.
The trick was that my guide (and regular drinking partner) knew what sorts of beers I usually enjoy; knows and remembers the styles and tastes of a dazzling variety of beers and could marry this knowledge in order to recommend beers for me – but not just beer that is similar to my usual types of choice but those that pushed at the edges of my taste, and eased me into whole new styles.
Mind you, I’m not sure I could ever get used to gueuze, thanks.
We’re all tempted to say that our favourite thing is the best (in beer, in football teams, chocolate bar taste and author) but what we mean is that it’s the best thing to our taste.

Can our taste change? Yes, definitely. Should it change? Not necessarily, and fan loyalty is nice but it’s not everything.

84

Lillput 08.23.11 at 9:33 pm

Whoops – also meant to say you can travel around the beer world in a couple of really good pubs in London:

The Cask and Kitchen in Pimlico
The Craft Beer Company in Clerkenwell

Blind tasting outing, anyone?

85

spyder 08.23.11 at 9:35 pm

I notice that no one mentioned the vertical integration of distribution that occurs in the US, more than in other countries in the world. For example Anheuser-Busch InBev is the largest brewing company in the world, and controls more than 60% of all beer distribution in the US (indeed Cindy McCain is CEO of one of the largest distributors in the US). Thusly, most of those crafted and micro brewed beverages, that make their way to retail outlets, are carried by A-B InBev companies. In my neck of the woods, it is Odom Corporation that covers the distribution of the vast majortiy of fine and poor beers, though they interestingly do not distribute any A-B InBev products (that is controlled by King Beverages).
http://www.odomcorp.com/store/category/beer-/page-all

86

ejh 08.23.11 at 9:37 pm

We’re all tempted to say that our favourite thing is the best (in beer, in football team

No

87

nick s 08.23.11 at 9:40 pm

Duvel isn’t a lager.

Hmm:

as the Duvel website makes clear, the brewery uses top-fermenting yeast all right, but at a fermentation temperature of up to 26C/79F, rather higher than British ale brewers would like, and then they lager it for 90 days at -2C. Which is not what anybody did with any ale, ever.

88

Stella 08.23.11 at 9:44 pm

Wisconsin, of course. Within four blocks of my place in Milwaukee there are at least a half dozen bars with decent selection, all featuring good local brews as well as the standard stuff. Good European selection right across the street. And supermarkets devote an aisle to beer.

89

nick s 08.23.11 at 9:51 pm

I’m never likely to adapt to Fuller’s or Young’s; my memory of Brains Dark was blurred by being part of a blurry night in Cardiff. I did discover my Moon Under Water in Edinburgh, with three kegs and two casks: Deuchars IPA and Tim Taylor’s Landlord. That’ll do me.

90

ben w 08.23.11 at 9:53 pm

One can lager ales.

91

lemmy caution 08.23.11 at 9:56 pm

“There was a corner store near where I lived in SF that had a beer selection to rival Chris’s pictures, and an exceptionally good bar (and there were others with less wide-ranging but quite respectable options as well). Sadly I am now far removed from such things.”

I used to live two blocks from the Toronado from 1991 to 2003. I never went there because beer is beer. When did they invent beer snobbery?

92

nick s 08.23.11 at 9:56 pm

One can lager ales.

One can follow the link which discusses ‘the arrogance of slapping a name, “ale”, on the products of brewers from Cologne, Dusseldorf, Belgium, Picardy and elsewhere that those brewers wouldn’t use themselves.’

93

ben w 08.23.11 at 10:14 pm

I used to live two blocks from the Toronado from 1991 to 2003. I never went there because beer is beer.

I don’t follow. They have beer there, and beer is beer, so you could have gotten beer there.

94

ejh 08.23.11 at 10:26 pm

When did they invent beer snobbery?

When they invented taste. And discernment. And culture.

95

Phil 08.23.11 at 10:28 pm

When did they invent beer snobbery?

Time once again to link to this denunciation of the excesses of the ‘craft beer’ crowd (but also this clarification and this plea for mercy).

Oh, and I’ve found that definition.

96

Patrice 08.23.11 at 10:42 pm

beer is beer?

wow

So we must also assume food is food.
and cars and cars.
etc. etc.

97

JulesLt 08.23.11 at 10:50 pm

When I lived within smelling distance of the Brains brewery, I believed the best beers were brewed on water from the Trent. Currently, I live in Yorkshire, and I’m spoilt for choice – within that 10-15 minute walking distance there are 3 bars serving a mix of micro-brewery real ales (3 of the draft beers being within 5 miles) and imported Belgian and German beers (including 3 varieties of Kölsch, as well as draft Weisßeir).

On the other hand, within 10-15 minutes, I could also find places that only sell Fosters / Tetleys / etc. I suspect the choice is more the product of a large urban population.

And I would be hard pressed to say where I’ve enjoyed drinking beer the most – Britain, Belgium, Germany and Czechosolvakia all have their merits, especially through a glass of beer. I can only recommend further study . . .

98

Keith 08.23.11 at 11:04 pm

The New Seasons Market here in Hillsboro, OR, less than a mile from my house, has one of the best beer selections for a grocery store that I’ve ever seen. Add the contents of all of those pictures above, plus a few others from our very diverse local breweries.

For variety, availability and quality, I will defend Oregon on the national scene. Whether it’s lager, stout, IPA or some weird ass concoction you’re looking for, Oregon has you covered in local fare AND you can also get whatever anyone else has.

99

Alex 08.23.11 at 11:08 pm

I met, and liked, Young’s Special long before I knew Daniel Davies.

Also, my dad was given a sparkler as a gift to carry around in his briefcase.

100

Keith 08.23.11 at 11:16 pm

Oliver @76:

For a good Pilsner made in the US try Scrimshaw, brewed by the Northcoast Brewing Co. The beer guy at my local store recommended it by saying that it’s what Budweiser wishes it were.

101

Patrick (not the same one as above) 08.23.11 at 11:23 pm

In the very early seventies, Strohs used to be brewed in Detroit, downriver from any number of automobile plants. (We’d hoist our glasses and say, “It’s the water!”) When I saw Buddy Guy in a club for the first time (I think it was the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor), Strohs was the best beer in the world. I don’t think anything has ever matched it.

Well, okay, Big Rock Traditional Ale, but that must be drunk outdoors in the Canadian Rockies.

102

left reach 08.23.11 at 11:25 pm

I just read a recent study by American & German researchers that wheat beers help runners fight off muscle inflammation & respiratory problems, and contribute to improved health— Gumballhead was described as “a refreshing, citrusy beer that’s one of the best wheat ales brewed in the U.S. —Special ingredients: American red wheat.” Three Floyds Gumballhead Beer, and Sam Adam’s Light caught my eye.

103

eddie 08.23.11 at 11:42 pm

The three best beers I have ever had were from Canada, Germany and Scotland, in that order, so I think the US vs Europe question is kinda off.
Top of the list was Molson Special Dry, as it was on import only in ’80s. The stuff they call that name now is pants.
Next up, Furstenburg. I’ve tried other bavarians and wider german stuff but this is still what I most like. That is the same high quality as it ever was, so tradition does sometimes work for good. I can’t stand weissbier.
And third there’s Orkney Dark Island. From a small but not a micro-brewer and made with all the skill and care that gets CAMRA awards.
I’ve always been of the opinion, from tasting many beers, that the ones that are most fizzy, and the ones they insist must be cold are the ones that need your tastebuds shocked into not noticing how bad they are. The favourites I mentioned here can all be drunk at room temperature as they taste good.
Lastly, your remark above about heavy really hurt. Much of anything is ordinary, but even some of the most mass produced stuff is verey good. I’d particularly recommend the MacEwans Export. A brown ale that’s at least as good as the one from Newcastle.

104

ben in el cajon 08.24.11 at 12:06 am

I think it’s cute when the English get all snobby about their beer, just as I get a warm feeling when they complain about some foreign manager messing up their “world class footballers.”

I like beer in San Diego, although it is very hoppy. My favorite is Stone Brewing’s Arrogant Bastard Ale. Their clever advertising is “You’re not worthy.”

Still, I look forward to trying proper English Ales in proper English pubs and touring Belgium as well.

105

pogonisby 08.24.11 at 12:08 am

My favourite beers are: Kwak, Okocim Mocne. Forgive my interrupting.

106

Matt McGrattan 08.24.11 at 12:09 am

Despite living in England for over a decade I still can’t drink most real ales. Watery flat pish to my tastebuds. The same applies to most Scottish 70/- ‘heavy’, too, although good 80/- and 90/- ales are lovely if you can get it. I expect there’s English ales I’d like just fine, but my taste testing hasn’t really found any.

On the other hand, I’ve almost never had a Czech beer I didn’t like. Although P.Urquell is over-rated.

107

P O'Neill 08.24.11 at 12:47 am

Availability in bars in USA is going to depend, inter alia, on the local laws. If the law requires that food be a significant portion of total sales of a bar, it’s probably going to cut into the beer selection.

Also, the Belgian tag can risk being interpreted as cranking up the ABV. What’s the point of 9 percent ABV? Have a gin and tonic instead.

108

engels 08.24.11 at 1:21 am

I never went there because beer is beer.

Are you implying that if beer wasn’t beer then you would have gone there?

109

Doctor Memory 08.24.11 at 1:26 am

In re availability in supermarkets, in the US regulation of alcohol sales is a state-by-state matter, and the regulations range from the blessedly hands-off (such as here in California, where any Safeway or Whole Foods will have a beer section easily the equal or better of any of the pictures above) to the stupid (Pennsylvania, where beer may only be sold in state stores, and the buy lists are the same in every store), to the insane (Utah, no comment).

I won’t bother taking a swing at “best”, but I feel like I can make an excellent case for “most underrated”, that being: China. No, not Tsing Tao (which is awful in both export and local varieties), but the hundreds of little breweries all around Shanghai and Nanjing (and I expect many other places) which all turn out quite respectable and tasty lagers that are never seen on the export market. Apparently there was a burgeoning population of expat German brewers hanging around China’s major port cities pre-Mao, and the trade passed on quite happily into the locals’ hands and somehow made it through the cultural revolution mostly unscathed.

110

Meredith 08.24.11 at 1:37 am

Sam Smith stout.
Best in Yorkshire, on tap, with the clammy Yorkshire air all round, along with the cadences of speech.
Delicious here in Massachusetts, in a bottle, at home, purchased at beer-wine shop a few blocks away. Used to be better before they refrigerated it.
All tasting partakes of place, people, clime.

111

Glen Tomkins 08.24.11 at 1:50 am

Belle le Triste,

I’m going to conjecture, based solely on my vast store of only vaguely relevant knowledge, and without consulting the Google on the least particular, that your riddled year has something to do with Henry VIII marrying Anne of Cleves.

Turkeys are New World, so 1492 is our earliest possible date. Yet beer has been around forever, and must certainly have got to Englland long before 1492 (1492 BCE, at that). I’m going to assume that the solution to that sub-riddle is that beer and hops go together for purposes of the main riddle , and a fermented grain beverage is not “really” beer without hops, according to the thinking behind the riddle.

The heresy thing presents the same difficulty as imagining beer only getting t0 England after 1492. You can’t have orthodoxy without heresy, and vice versa, and surely orthodoxy came to England much before 1492 (again, even before 1492 BCE). This has to be heresy as perceived only by some very narrow and particular idea of what’s orthodox and what’s heretical. Since this sounds like a rhyme taught to children, presumably English children, I would have to guess the take on heresy would be mainstream CofE, rather than, say, Catholic. Henry’s break with the Pope would not, then, be the heresy in question.

You can tie all of it together by imagining that Henry’s marriage to a German princess involved bringing in beer from Germany to cater to her entourage, plus some compromise on a doctrinal point important only to German religious politics of the time, but that later CofE orthodoxy thought heretical.

So, marriage to Anne of Cleves is what ties together turkey, hops, beer and heresy coming to England, QED. I’m not even remotely British, so if I bollixed this horribly, at least I can’t be accused of not paying attention in grade school.

112

David 08.24.11 at 2:29 am

Seattle.

113

djw 08.24.11 at 2:33 am

The US is too thinly spread to be the best place for beer: for the most part, you can’t walk home from the pub.

The sensible American chooses his domicile strategically to avoid this problem. I’m within a 1o minute stumble of a half dozen bars with an excellent beer selection. This isn’t by accident.

114

john b 08.24.11 at 3:11 am

You won’t find nearly the same selection at your local Tesco, Morrison’s or even a nicer Sainsburys.

This isn’t true, from my experience both of beer shopping in Tesco and Sainsbury’s, and of writing a fair amount about craft beers in the UK and the US. It’s important to draw the distinction between Tesco Express / Sainsbury’s Local and full-size Tesco / Sainsbury’s – the range in the former formats is poor, but they’re equivalent to 7/11 rather than to Kroger/Safeway.

Annoyingly, neither Tesco nor Sainsbury allows deep-links to their delivery website, but you can see the range there after a few clicks (and both companies’ delivery services are store-picked, so the range reflects what’s actually available in the shop). A mid-sized town centre store is the equal of Chris’s above; an out-of-town behemoth would be proportionately behemothic.

My knowledge of Morrison’s is limited, for obvious reasons (i.e. I’ve never lived in Yorkshire or Scotland, and therefore have generally had the choice of visiting a shop that wasn’t awful), but the mid-sized one in Leeds city centre has a larger selection of beers than Chris’s photographs above. Oddly, their alcohol section is an Australian-style annex with separate entry and tills – not sure whether that’s a Leeds city council thing or a Morrison’s corporate thing.

Speaking of Australia: the range in generic pubs here is way below what you’d find in the UK, and way below what you’d find in a brewpub/speciality pub in the US, but above what you’d find in a generic bar in the US (for obvious-generalisation-values of the US). Traditional Aussie-style lagers (Carlton, Tooheys and VB) are ubiquitous, but most places stock Super Dry and Pure Blonde which are closer to German/east European lagers in style, and Coopers pale ale.

There’s been a craft beer explosion in the last 10 years, following the US model more than the UK ones: small brewers producing 15 different IPAs is an exaggeration, but one which gives you the idea. Both for cultural and temperature reasons, pale ale is far more important than bitter (VB is, of course, lager), and the concept of a cask is unheard of. Most cities have a few microbreweries and a few specialty pubs with hundreds of bottled beers.

Supermarket bottle shops are well below Chris’s local in terms of range, even when they’re attached to a vast supermarket. Speciality liquor stores like Dan Murphy’s have about the same beer range as a large UK supermarket (although much, much more choice of wine). Getting hold of a specific craft or import brand, outside the top 10 or so, appears to be sheer luck based on whether anyone’s shipped a container of it recently.

115

Tony Lynch 08.24.11 at 4:01 am

Plato, Republic, 363c:

“Once [the gods] have transported them [the moral]… to Hades and got them reclining on couches for the party they’ve layed on for the just people, they next have them spending eternity weraring chaplets on their heads and drinking, on the assumption that the best possible reward for goodness is perpetual intoxication.”

116

David Moles 08.24.11 at 4:09 am

I’m not sure whether to be amused or alarmed at the way addressing this question apparently requires otherwise reasonable people to behave like complete trolls. It’s hard not to think this actually has s.f.a. to do with beer.

117

Glenn 08.24.11 at 4:25 am

I love this thread! We ALL love beer (as defined however…) so much that it’s worth fighting for. As for me, an American who spent alot of time in Europe and came back home (in the eighties) and stated home-brewing, beer is near and dear to my heart, yet I’m no expert.
I love Kolsch and Alt, and Pils…frankly, while I should be able to appreciate Belgians just for the variety, I’ll almost always pass them up for something else (and nearly loathe all fruit beers) and as a country of brewing (which, frankly is meaningless to me. I mean, why impose political or geographic boundaries on somehting far more important), I find it over-rated. Yet there is nothing better, IMHO than being in a nice, cozy british pub and being able to drink a pint of Bitter. Though I absolutely lament the chainification of British pubs. For me, it’s difficult to separate the drink from the environment, and I’d rather have Bud in a Englich country (oldy-worldy) pub, than a Beck’s, or Bass, or a Stella at nearly any par in the US.
But above all, I’m so grateful for the beer revolution (the Great Rebeerth!) over the past 20 years, particularly in the US (because it had the furthest to go), but also in the UK (I spent a year there in 90-91, and while I may be mistaken, it was damn hard to find anything except beers from the largest brewers, and most were very samey).

118

Aulus Gellius 08.24.11 at 4:39 am

Rather than take part in the actual discussion, I just want to pop up to defend Jackie Brown against ejh, and yes I damn well do like Tarantino.

(If I were in trollier mood, I’d try to make the Tarantino-fans-who-don’t-like-Jackie-Brown-are-racists case, but I’m not up to it tonight.)

119

sg 08.24.11 at 5:08 am

Just to weigh in from an Asian angle… Japan also has a craft beer indsutry, but in addition to that they also have a bespoke brewing system, which I’ve never heard of anywhere else (but I haven’t asked, so who knows). And here in Kichijoji, where I live, there are 3 supermarkets that sell craft beers from around the world; two Okinawan restaurants selling Hawaiian beer; two or three specialist shops that sell a selection from around the world; about 3 Irish pubs and 2 British pubs serving their own choices (though the Irish pubs tend to head for the whiskey angle more than the ale); and a couple of devoted beer bars. There’s also the famous Bloomoon Cafe that serves a couple of local and foreign beers, as well as a wide range of unique cocktails at prices that would make Londoners weep sadly into their cups.

There’s an excellent foreign-beer shop near the love hotels in Shinjuku as well, in case you’re ever looking to pair your shag with a decent ale.

And from the PoV of someone who lived in Britain … ale is one of the few things that Britain does really really well. And the above-mentioned supermarkets carry an excellent selection, as does every market worth its salt, every rural pub, and a great many of the small corner stores. The British High Street may be groaning under the weight of the same 4 stores in every town from Penzance to Newcastle, but such homogenization has definitely not reached the ale industry. Even the chain pubs do a decent range, considering what they are.

Actually, at the risk of being trollish, I’m going to suggest that a proper history of the British pub would show that it was the chain pubs that rescued real ale…

120

left reach 08.24.11 at 5:08 am

Doctor Memory comments here that availability of beers varies from states… “to the stupid (Pennsylvania, where beer may only be sold in state stores, and the buy lists are the same in every store)…not true:
I have to defend my lovely Pennsylvania!!
Beer is actually sold independently of state stores– not at state stores–and indeed there is diverse selection in many, many individually, privately run businesses that sell foreign and domestic beers by the cases or barrels, as well as restaurants and grocery stores that sell beer. There are great deals, wonderful selections, AND life is much better than you say!!!! There are no set lists for beer.
The state stores do sell wines and spirits, liquor. Yes, that system exists. There are lots of great deals to be had there. The places are unionized work places for public sector employees, which I support. And there are many independent wineries as well and related businesses selling wine.

121

vladimir 08.24.11 at 6:39 am

“When did they invent beer snobbery?”

The question is “where” not when. It’s England, of course. The English have an ‘arguing-about-beer’ culture. They enjoy debating beer, and it’s hilarious, but it’s not really about beer. How could it be?

122

BertCT 08.24.11 at 7:09 am

I’m a fan of a good bitters, which means I’m generally SOL if I’m not in the UK. If you ask for it in The States they’ll try to stick you with Fuller’s ESB (Equine Special Blend?) or sell you a bottle of Angostura. Even the micro brewhouses give bitters the short shrift. They make six different Mango-Watermelon-Acacia brews, but they can’t do a classic bitters?

Believe it or not, a great place to ask for a special beer is Whole Foods. If they’re all like my local outlet, the beermeister has a lot of latitude to try out new brews as s/he sees fit. I was able to get my guy to order some Wells Bombardier ( a bitters) which I used to drink in London. It’s not the same as draught, but it’s the best I’ve had in a bittle. He was VERY happy, because he couldn’t keep it on the shelf – at 5 bucks a bottle!

I also like most of the Wychwoods, especially Hobgoblin. They’re always a hit at Halloween parties. My third “essential” is actually Budweiser. NO! Not THAT Budweiser, but Budweiser Budvar, from the Czech Republic. There’s a long and tawdry history of fighting over the name, but it’s sold in North America as Czechvar. It’s a true Czech Pilsener that’s crisp and tasty, and a great Summer choice. Both of these are generally available, especially Czechvar, now that the cross-licensing agreement has A-B as their agent in The States.

I go to my small local guy for most of my beer (he’s even carries Hobgoblin 6-packs), but sometimes he doesn’t have the volume or space to order a case so I can have a couple bottles. So I’m still friendly with my guy at Whole Foods, who can risk ordering a “dog” without repercussions.

Mmmmmmm, beer!

123

fewmet 08.24.11 at 7:22 am

At the risk of being even handed, both the US and the UK have their advantages for the beer lover. The UK has reliably good beer everywhere, which is far more than can be said for the US (the yanks even have “dry” counties in some of the more godforsaken/god bothering regions and you can’t get worse than that!). The UK also has depth of tradition in their beer culture and the associated benefit of having the cosiest drinking venues.

However, if I were able to teleport to anywhere in the world for a night of drinking beer, it would be the Pacific North West, specifically the Eastside Tavern, Olympia, WA. There are bigger, fancier PNW watering holes in Seattle and Portland, but the Eastside’s 20 or so beer taps provide plenty of variety without the wanky atmosphere of places like The Taphouse in Seattle. There’s a fine selection of PNW microbrews and a good few beers from the rest of the world. Drinking in the PNW beats anywhere in the UK on price, which is quite an important advantage. It’s four dollars a pint at the Eastside. With exchange rates as they are, an Australian like me feels like he’s being paid to drink their excellent beer. Also, it’s a fun crowd – yanks are welcoming towards Australian strangers, whereas the pommes tend to be as icy as their beer is not and there’s always the danger of being glassed as the evening wears on. Beer is available everywhere in the State of Washington – supermarkets (whole aisles of ales, ridiculously cheap), cafes, even petrol stations. I’ve seen individual beers in an ice bin next to the cash register of a petrol station, just in case you fancied one for the road!

Dsquared makes the analogy between beer and wine to show the disjunct between variety and quality. I think the analogy works in another sense – wine is bound up with tradition in the Old World. The appellation system of France, along with hallowed traditions that guide the production process, produce classic, wonderful wines that are a little…unsurprising. New World wine makers have an exuberance and a willingness to experiment with unusual growing conditions and production techniques that leads to fresh and exciting styles of wine (along with a lot of undrinkable rubbish). I think a similar Old vs. New dynamic carries over into beer making.

124

josh 08.24.11 at 7:29 am

Based on experience of Boston and NYC (I can’t speak w/regards to Festus) — it depends where in the city you are, but there are certainly numerous bars here that have a better selection than anything I’ve found in Europe (in range, and often in quality). It’s even possible, with some effort, to find Kolsch and Rauchbier here (which, I agree with Ben Alpers, are marvelous).
On the other hand, I’ve found the supermarkets (or for those of us in Puritan New England, corner liquor stores) less than adequate. I recently spent a frustrating time wandering from store to store in a fruitless search for Indian lager — any Indian lager. It made me miss Tesco (and Oddbins).

125

ejh 08.24.11 at 7:45 am

I just want to pop up to defend Jackie Brown against ejh, and yes I damn well do like Tarantino

I like Jackie Brown too, but it’s no Pulp Fiction. Similarly, I’ve very often drunk Guinness in pubs where there’s not a decent beer on.

126

Tim Worstall 08.24.11 at 8:10 am

A question to the Americans here. Is all American beer still pasteurised? Or can you now get what we English would call “real ale” now?

That is, unpastuerised, the second fermentation taking place in the barrel?

127

maidhc 08.24.11 at 8:56 am

I live in California, where I think we enjoy a pretty good selection of beers. I must admit that the UK has the advantage in terms of being able to walk to the pub. The closest pub that I could walk to and enjoy a good selection of draft beers would be about a half hour walk from here. Of course it is only a few minutes by car. But that is due to historical settlement patterns more than anything else, I think. On the other hand, I can get a pretty good selection of beers to take home from all over the world at BevMo, Trader Joe’s or even Safeway.

I have travelled up and down the West Coast frequently over the past few decades, and the availability of good beer has never been a problem. California, Oregon and Washington all are well-stocked with quality micro-breweries.

In the past couple of years I have been obliged for family reasons to start driving cross-country, and I have been rather impressed with the changes in the middle part of the continent as far as beer is concerned, since I lived there some time ago.

It may be a chain, but Old Chicago (http://www.oldchicago.com/) has brought a wide beer selection into some pretty remote places.

And it seems that even in relatively small towns there may be that one bar with a good draft selection, or failing that at least a liquor store with some microbrews for sale. Last year we ended up one night in a motel at a truckstop in Nebraska–it didn’t even seem to be located in a town, just somewhere out on the interstate. I went in to the convenience store that was attached to the truckstop, and there was a choice of four or five different bottled microbrews. OK, that is not much compared to what is available some other places, but it is better than nothing.

The majority of Americans may still be drinking Coors and Budweiser, but the concept of good beer has pervaded the heartland to the extent that I think a visitor should be able to find something reasonable wherever you go.

128

Neville Morley 08.24.11 at 8:59 am

As regards availability, I’d be inclined – for entirely subjective and self-interested reasons – to award the prize to anywhere outside Hungary that stocks Dreher. Or, for those special times when only something incredibly sour and flavoured with woodruff syrup will do, anywhere outside Germany that stocks Kindl Weiss.

129

Jonth 08.24.11 at 10:56 am

@dsquared, re comment 54. I live near the same Waitrose, and I can tell you that the cereal actually section is about the same size as the beer section. Which, given how much more shelf space a bottle takes than a cereal box, is pretty damn impressive for a small local shop. It even stocks my own personal favourite, Bluebird bitter http://www.conistonbrewery.com/coniston-ales.htm

130

john b 08.24.11 at 12:39 pm

I’m going to suggest that a proper history of the British pub would show that it was the chain pubs that rescued real ale…

JD Wetherspoon definitely deserves points here. And yes, I know they don’t keep the beer as well as the Fox & Grumpy Landlord, but that isn’t really the issue.

131

JJ 08.24.11 at 2:16 pm

Only in Crooked Timber will the left-wing elitists flame each other over the quality and quantity of beer.

Egads. It’s time to drive to the local supermarket for another 12-pack of Stroh’s.

132

OCS 08.24.11 at 2:27 pm

I think it’s clear that you can get a great selection of great beers in the US now, if you’re willing to look for it. And as time goes on selection and quality are ever easier to find. But as far as pubs/bars go, I think the main difference is in the default situation. Walk into a random bar in the US and you’re likely to get Budweiser and Miller, and maybe something like Heineken thrown in for the fancy-pants customers. A random English pub (in my relatively meager experience, granted) is likely to have much better quality and selection.

Things may be better for the default on the carryout side. On my last trip to the states (I live in Canada now) I stopped in one of those gas station/convenience stores in some little town I didn’t even notice the name of, and right next to the Miller Light was Anchor Steam, which I love. Same at the Kroger in the small Ohio town I grew up in — Anchor Steam, Sam Adams, Pilsner Urquell. Not handcrafted beers, maybe, and not a huge selection. But the fact that I can routinely buy decent beer in the supermarket is a huge change from when I was growing up.

133

Mike 08.24.11 at 2:27 pm

On availability, the US also has, at least in my home state of OH (not, alas, in my current residence), drive-through liquor stores, some of which have a decent selection of good beers. For the uninitiated, these stores look more like drive-through car-washes than like drive-through restaurants. It makes the beer run quite convenient. As for how large an increase in drunk driving this convenience is worth, that is certainly up for debate.

I’ll concede that a good bitter may not exist outside of the occasional brewpub, and certainly is hard to find in bottled form, but I did have a good one three last night at a brewpub. It is part of their regular rotation, so it’s available something like fifty per cent of the times I go in there.

134

Velky Al 08.24.11 at 2:49 pm

As a Brit currently living in the US (Virginia, land of earthquakes and presidents) after a decade of sterling service propping up the bars of Prague, I find myself agreeing with much of the original article’s premise.

However, a couple of points.

Sure the mainstream Czech breweries can be somewhat limited in terms of “style”, but I am yet to find a beer more consistently refreshing, drinkable and moreish than a properly made Czech lager, such as those brewed by Kout na Sumave. The Czechs also have a nascent “craft” brewing scene (I hate that term with a passion, and many people over here seem to equate “craft brewing” with “making American style over-hopped pale ales maybe with Belgian yeast if truly radical”), with the likes of Kocour, Kanec, Primator and Pivovarsky Dum making a range of ales that would have been unimaginable in 1999 when I moved there.

Shopping in US supermarkets for beer is depressing as hell – at least in my experience. A raft of flavourless light lagers with perhaps a sop to those of us who actually LIKE beer, Samuel Adams is usually available, but Sierra Nevada not always. Given that Wal-Mart is the country’s largest retailer, it says much about the average Joe’s drinking habits here that many a Wal-Mart stock precisely bugger all in terms of drinkable beer. Thus the smaller retailers, your Kroger’s, Giant’s and Publix tend to have a better selection of small brewery wares.

Going to the pub in my small town is a case of a couple of pints before having to drive home – I could walk in theory, but pavements are something of a mystery item in many American small towns, not to mention that bus services, if available, stop at about 6pm. So everything in small town America is stacked against being able to have a convivial few hours drinking, without having to pity the designated driver.

Where is the best country to drink? For all my globetrotting, it has to be Britain. A great native brewing culture, despite the half baked ramblings of some fellow Scots in Fraserburgh, a fantastic pub scene and decent public transport to get you home.

135

BertCT 08.24.11 at 2:49 pm

Short list:
@Tim #126: A lot of the brewers in The States have chosen Cold Filtering over Pasteurisation.
@Jonth #129: Waitrose is great for specialty foods, especially prepared dishes, but their selection of everything else is sparse. The Sainsbury down the street from my local Waitrose always had a better selection of beers. And I once. tried a Bluebird when I couldn’t get a Bombardier. Once.
@josh #124: Beer is available in almost every supermarket in CT & RI, so your point about New England liquor laws is a bit off the mark (or is this an example of a classic ‘Masshole” comment? They think “New England” is about 50 miles tall and 150 miles wide). Many corner Package stores in Mass and Connecticut have a great range of beers to choose from. The ‘puritan” laws create a market that rewards and protects eclectic inventories. Amstel Light is an “exotic” at the Stop & Shop.

136

BertCT 08.24.11 at 2:57 pm

@josh #124: One more thought – On your next trip between Boston and NY, when you’re suffering through that vast wasteland between, stop at the Willimantic Brewing Company – http://www.willibrew.com/menu.htm – they’ve won numerous awards for their brews, and champion many other microbrews, both local and from around the country.

Oh, and as long as there is a Tesco, I’ll be eating ginger nuts (their cheap generic brand is the best!)

137

Sebastian(1) 08.24.11 at 3:16 pm

“But as far as pubs/bars go, I think the main difference is in the default situation. Walk into a random bar in the US and you’re likely to get Budweiser and Miller, and maybe something like Heineken thrown in for the fancy-pants customers. “

I dunno – maybe if that random bar is in Missouri, but all over the West Coast, most of the North East, the Northern Midwest States (IL, WI, MI) and obviously in Colorado that’s simply not the case (anymore, I figure). All bars I’ve been to had at least some local microbrew.

138

bianca steele 08.24.11 at 3:20 pm

There is in the US the occasional “British style” or “Irish style” pub-restaurant that has a good selection of foreign beers. For a while it was possible to find Boddington’s on the menu. They weren’t anything like so silly as to put “bitter” on the menu, it was too cold, and I wouldn’t be able to tell you whether it takes like what you can get in Manchester, but it was there.

139

Rob in CT 08.24.11 at 3:24 pm

Bert: For ESB, Farmington River Mahogany is one I like. Since you’re here in CT, you should be able to find that no problem. Maybe more to your taste than Fullers?

Willibrew is one of those places I’m glad is around and I occasionally go there, but their beer is often beyond me. It’s hit ‘n miss. I get growlers there sometimes.

140

Rob in CT 08.24.11 at 3:26 pm

Damnit. I clicked on the Willibrew link to see what they’ve got going now. Now I want beer. They’re still on a Saison kick I see (ugh), but some of the other ones sound interesting.

141

Tangurena 08.24.11 at 4:59 pm

As Doctor Memory pointed out, the availability of varieties of beers is a function of the state laws on alcohol. I’m reminded of when I used to live in Florida, the allowable sizes of beer bottles that were legal to sell (7 and 12 ounce at that time) were driven by the large US distributors. This meant that many microbrews could not be sold nor shipped to FL. In addition, imports in metric bottles were also forbidden.

As for my contribution to the “what beer is good” list, I like Denver Pale Ale. A local (for me) brew.

As for:

Question 1. Who brews the best beer?

I think Malcolm Gladwell’s talk on the rise in number of spaghetti sauces would say that such a question isn’t really a good question. There are a lot of good beers, and what beer I like, might not be a beer you like. If my brother visits, he’ll only drink Bud Lite.

142

Rob in CT 08.24.11 at 5:54 pm

Denver Pale Ale – Great Divide out of Denver, right? I loved their Rumble, which was a limited release. I hope they make it again.

143

Doctor Memory 08.24.11 at 7:49 pm

Oops. Left Reach @120 is partially correct: the state store system in PA is only for wine and spirits, although beer is not allowed to be sold in supermarkets there. Instead, it can be sold only by corner stores and dedicated beer distributorships (which can do retail sales). I stand by my description of the PA system as “stupid”: it may keep a handful of unionized state employees occupied, but the practical upshot is a massive subsidy delivered on a daily if not hourly basis into the pockets of the owners of all of the massive private liquor stores immediately across the borders into New Jersey and Ohio. (Also, the hours on the state stores are ridiculously circumscribed.)

My excuse for forgetting the fine details of PA’s stupidity is that it’s been about a decade since I lived there, and the ability to walk into my local Safeway here in CA and buy a six-pack (or a bottle of vodka) at 2am on a Sunday if I desire has clearly rotted my brain (and liver).

144

Sock Puppet of the Great Satan 08.24.11 at 8:59 pm

“Some people think that the United States now brews the best beer, but even they are forced to concede that should you wish to actually drink the stuff, you are better placed (for example) in England where a ten-minute stroll from your front door (in any major or minor city) will likely get you to a pub with a decent selection. “

Yes, but I’d bet most of the U.S. readers here consume beer at home or at friend’s houses rather than at bars. There just isn’t the same pub culture here as in the U.K. or Ireland.

Also, this graphic further strengthens arguments to why we should have let the South secede:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Craft_Breweries_Per_Capita_(US).png

145

Sock Puppet of the Great Satan 08.24.11 at 9:01 pm

“But as far as pubs/bars go, I think the main difference is in the default situation. Walk into a random bar in the US and you’re likely to get Budweiser and Miller, and maybe something like Heineken thrown in for the fancy-pants customers. “

I’d like to point out that, in my experience, Australia is also cr*p as far as beer selection goes outside of the brewpubs.

146

Natilo Paennim 08.24.11 at 10:03 pm

A couple of thoughts: Here in the US, you hardly ever see even the cheapest beer sold in a plastic bottle, which I gather is much more common in other countries. I was thinking about that, and wondered if that’s a function of the fact that most beer buyers are planning on driving off with their purchase here, as opposed to in denser, more transit-friendly countries, where the expectation is walking home or using public transport.
Other thought: We need to have more finely grained distinctions of “beer snob”. For instance, around here I see a lot of fellows, generally in their mid-20s to late-30s, who seem to have no social life except for going out with their friends and geeking out about relatively bland and insipid beer choices (their main criterion is of course hops, the best beers, in their opinion, being the ones where it tastes like you’re jogging along behind a combine and letting the silage hit you in the mouth). Those would be “beer dorks” in my book, rather than true beer snobs.
Final thought: Miller High Life is in every way superior to Budweiser. It’s the champagne of beers for chrissakes! Budweiser is brewed over rice! Yuck!

147

Natilo Paennim 08.24.11 at 10:09 pm

123: (the yanks even have “dry” counties in some of the more godforsaken/god bothering regions and you can’t get worse than that!)

This is a bit like going to the Orkney Islands and complaining that there’s no good pizza. It is entirely possible to travel widely in the US, as indeed, I have, and never find yourself in a “dry” county.

148

piglet 08.24.11 at 11:19 pm

The Oktoberfest is neither a beer festival nor are its waitresses unusually hot. Their main qualification is to be really tough and sturdy. It’s physically an extremely hard job. Not that that necessarily precludes hotness but being hot isn’t how you get the job.

I once read, that was long ago, that some Oktoberfest waitresses do nothing for the rest of the year. They earn enough money during those weeks, hard earned money for sure.

On the issue of hotness, though, there was a time when Aussie women baring their breasts in the beer tent were part of the attraction.

I was torn whether I should even weigh in on this superfluous beer patriotism thread but there I sit having gotten a Pilsner Urquell (need to show my colors… not) out of the fridge and can’t help reading. Outch. I think both dsquared and his detractors are missing the point about the Oktoberfest and the German beer culture in general. Especially in America, there is a huge divide between mass market and upscale gourmet beer drinkers. Part of the reason (or maybe it’s a consequence) is that decent beer is a lot more expensive than mass market beer.

That’s different in Germany. It’s more of a middle class beer society. Good beer is not seen as a luxury or delicatessen item. Last time I was there I paid EUR 2.20 for a half liter regional beer at a local restaurant (compare that to at least $5 for 0.33l in the US). It is true that that restaurant didn’t have a huge beer selection. On the contrary many restaurants have contracts with a single (usually local) brewery and only carry their product.

Wine would also be incredibly cheap by American standards. Frankenwein Riesling was EUR 3,00 for a 0.25l Schoppen. In the US you get nothing below $5 for about 0.1l. That wine is not mass produced Sutter Home or whatever. It is single vineyard Qualitaetswein. Again, that restaurant (in the category known in Germany as “gut buergerlich”) carried only wine from one producer.

Same at the Oktoberfest. Each beer tent is owned by one brewery and they will only serve beer from that brewery, and only beer brewed in Munich can be served at the Oktoberfest and it is beer brewed specifically for the Oktoberfest. But that beer has to be good. And it is good.

It’s a different approach. Many here may not like it but that’s ok. It’s part of the diversity within the great family of beer and wine lovers. Let’s just leave it there shall we?

149

andthenyoufall 08.24.11 at 11:48 pm

I count 140 kinds of beer in my American supermarket.

150

BertCT 08.25.11 at 12:19 am

The limitations on great beer in US bars is likely due more to the packaging choices of brewers than the bar or the patrons. Making and selling beer in kegs is a large scale, expensive operation that’s beyond the capabilities of a lot of the craft brewers. But a great selection isn’t foreign to anyone who grew up in Hartford.

We’ve had the redoubtable Spigot Cafe (pronounced “Spee-zho” by the locals) selling hundreds of different beers for over 30 years. They’ve still got a bank of convenience store glass cases where you walk up and start trying to choose where you want your beer from. You no longer lose your shoes to a sticky floor, the Friday Night Fights ended back in the 80’s, and very few people stand up and randomly shout “Freebird!!” for no apparent reason, but it’s still a nice place to go to enjoy a cold beer you’d never find at the Liquor Barn, never mind Shop-Rite.

@Rob in CT: I’ve had the Mahogany. It’s pretty good, hoppy and “chewy,” but still not a classic bitters. Maybe I’ll see if Plan B has one as I walk the dogs tonight (gotta love the folding doors on the bar!)

151

Barm 08.25.11 at 11:42 am

What on earth is the point of discussing “which country has the best beer”?

It’s not a war.

We should be glad there’s so much great beer being brewed around the world.

152

Chris Bertram 08.25.11 at 1:24 pm

_What on earth is the point of discussing “which country has the best beer”?_

It has as much point as the discussion about whether a bear would beat a shark in a fight (the shark, for my money) or whatever, with the added bonus (beyond the fun of argument for its own sake) that we all get to exchange useful information about types of beer and places to buy and drink the stuff.

153

Gareth Rees 08.25.11 at 1:39 pm

whether a bear would beat a shark in a fight

I think this is a much more interesting question than who makes the best beer, and I suggest that this sequence from the BBC’s Blue Planet documentary series, showing a polar bear attacking a pod of beluga whales, is evidence that the shark might not have things all its own way.

154

Robin 08.25.11 at 1:42 pm

Re: availability – any shop outside Bavaria that stocks a decent kellerbier gets my vote. I recently found a Kaiserdom kellerbier in a supermarket (would you believe) in the south of Spain, but that was the only time – I’ve never seen it available elswhere except where it comes from in northern Bavaria. There are some American breweries I believe who emulate the style but I’ve yet to explore that option.

All of which underscores the difficulty of reaching a judgement on “best” or even “preferred” beer without actually getting on a plane – there are too many that simply don’t travel.

As an Irishman I’ll defend our beer quickly; it isn’t all about Guinness or Beamish. Clotworthy Dobbin is a wonderful, wonderful beer as is everything else from the Whitewater brewery. The Carlow Brewing Company make a world class red ale.

155

SamChevre 08.25.11 at 2:07 pm

Piglet @ 148

In my observation, beer in bars is a little more expensive in Germany, but beer in supermarkets is a lot more expensive than in the US.

But where are you that a beer is $5 for a small? I can find plenty of good beer for $3-$4 a pint here. (Yes, the last beer I bought was $7 for a .25L, but that was St Bernardus Quadruple on draft.)

156

Velky Al 08.25.11 at 2:26 pm

Robin @154,

Carlow indeed do excellent brews, and one of my locals bars here in Virginia have replaced Guinness with O’Hara’s Stout – after a little prodding.

When I was in Ireland in 2008 my beer highlight was Galway Hooker – what a beautiful beer that is, and much deserving of wider distribution, preferably Stateside!!

157

piglet 08.25.11 at 2:33 pm

“But where are you that a beer is $5 for a small?”

I am not in the best place, that’s for sure. To be fair something like Boulevard costs about $4 in a bar but anything more exotic will be more expensive. Where I am, beer is not served in pints.

“beer in supermarkets is a lot more expensive than in the US”

you mean apart from Budweiser and Miller? That surprises me. But I have no good data points to compare.

158

SamChevre 08.25.11 at 3:28 pm

It’s been a few years since I was in Germany, but here in VA a 6-pack of Sierra Nevada/Legend/St George/Dominion is going to be $7-$9–so say $4 per liter.

It seems to me (and I could be mis-remembering) that beer in a supermarket in Germany was about 2.5 Euro for a half-liter.

159

Tom 08.25.11 at 4:13 pm

Twenty years ago, Tesco in the UK used to serve about 20-30 different lagers and bitters in its supermarkets. This number is now in the 500s, I believe. Obviously, you can’t find them all in one store, so it’s across the UK, but even so.

My sister lives in Belgium and I keep hearing great things about their beer and then being dissapointed when I get there. As someone above said, lots of fruity, gimmicky crap. I’ve had one or two that I’d consider buying again, but, in general their beers are over-rated.

My taste varies over the year. In the summer Czech lagers and the odd pale ale and then in autumn/winter heavier bitters and stouts for which the UK is second to none.

160

piglet 08.25.11 at 4:42 pm

“6-pack of Sierra Nevada/Legend/St George/Dominion is going to be $7-$9—so say $4 per liter. It seems to me (and I could be mis-remembering) that beer in a supermarket in Germany was about 2.5 Euro for a half-liter.”

2.5 Euro for a half-liter would be what you pay in the Kneipe. Surely bar owners get a margin of profit out of beer. Googling a bit, I found advertisements of 10 EUR for a case (10 l) of Franziskaner. Those may not be representative but 50 EUR for a case of beer – nobody would pay that. Can somebody with direct knowledge help us out here?

161

Sebastian(1) 08.25.11 at 5:16 pm

yep, piglet is right – a case of beer – i.e. 20 half liter bottles – in Germany is between 8 Euros (for the really cheap stuff) and 15 Euros – for expensive beers not on sale. Most beers are between 10 and 13 Euros, including pretty much all the brands exported to the US .
Even with the current exchange rate that’s much cheaper than what you can typically get in the US for any beer, let alone a decent one.

162

SamChevre 08.25.11 at 5:37 pm

Thanks Sebastian(1)–I was definitely wrong.

163

roac 08.25.11 at 6:01 pm

It would appear that beer is cheap in Germany because Germany taxes beer at a low rate. The following figures for EU countries are from 2009 (and the objectivity of the source, a British trade journal, is not above suspicion.)

Pence per pint, April 2009

Finland 61.74
Ireland 51.99
UK 45.89
Sweden 43.15
Denmark 19.42
Slovenia 17.95
Netherlands 17.08
Italy 14.76
Estonia 12.88
Austria 12.56
Cyprus 12.51
Hungary 11.12
Belgium 10.74
Slovakia 10.36
Poland 9.46
Portugal 9.05
Greece 8.54
France 6.91
Lithuania 6.44
Spain 5.71
Czech 5.55
Latvia 5.35
Luxembourg 4.98
Germany 4.94
Bulgaria 4.82
Malta 4.71
Romania 4.15

I was always told that a very high proportion of the cost of beer in the US — perhaps more than all the costs of manufacture, marketing and distribution — represents tax.

164

roac 08.25.11 at 6:10 pm

Here’s state-by-state data for the US, albeit from 2004, as presented by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (which not surprisingly thinks beer taxes should be much, much higher).

http://cspinet.org/booze/taxguide/040802BeerReport.pdf

165

SamChevre 08.25.11 at 6:16 pm

Roac’s figures look like the price a pub pays for beer, not the selling price.

166

roac 08.25.11 at 6:23 pm

Not the price of anything; the tazes collected by the State.

167

Jason C 08.25.11 at 6:40 pm

I think the whole England vs. the US is apples to oranges. Not to be rude, but the States are almost the size of all of Europe, so it’s not really a fair comparison. Yes, we have more beer deserts, but we have wonderful beer cities as well. (I live near Portland, Ore, which has a world class beer scene.) However, if you were to compare England to a state, there are a couple states that could hold their own or even beat England.

168

piglet 08.25.11 at 7:42 pm

“It would appear that beer is cheap in Germany because Germany taxes beer at a low rate.”

I believe you but I also think that the price differential between mass beer and specialty beer in the US is quite high.

169

roac 08.25.11 at 8:05 pm

Not surprising given economies of scale, and cheaper ingredients.

170

BertCT 08.25.11 at 9:49 pm

Taxes on microbreweries in the US is (a lot) lower than the big players. Anyone who makes fewer than 2 million barrels of beer pays a lot less on the first 60K barrels, and then slightly more – but still less than the majors – on the rest.

Ironically, the company credited with creating this two-tiered system, Boston Beer, aka Samuel Adams, is trying to change the regulations, because they’re now one of the big guys!! They’ve tried numerous times, and are trying again, to get the numbers changed to a level that effectively only affects them.

Yep, Sam Adams is crying in their beer because they’ve successfully become one of the large scale brewers they’ve always complained about. But instead of simply playing under the rules THEY created, they’re trying to change the rules.

I’ve had my last Sam Adams.

171

Phil 08.25.11 at 11:50 pm

Picking up on a couple of John’s comments: our local Morrison’s – the supermarket we walk to when we’re not doing a big shop – has an excellent beer aisle: lots of different (small to medium-sized) brewers, lots of styles, and cheap as you like. Most ales are currently selling at 4 (500 ml) bottles for £5.50. They’re also doing an own-brand “green hopped” beer, brewed for them by Titanic. It’s a big yellow hoppy bastard – a style of beer which has always been big around here and is currently quite fashionable – and costs £1.50.

As for Wetherspoon’s, all the Spoons pubs I know are CAMRA-friendly and have a wide & interesting range of beer; it’s generally very well kept, and on the few occasions I have taken beer back it’s been replaced without a murmur. I really don’t like them as pubs – I’m not convinced they are pubs – but as places to buy good, varied, affordable beer they’re unparallelled.

Our government is quite small-brewery-friendly, but distinctly hostile to stronger beers – not wine, not pre-mixed drinks, just strong beer. Personally I would hate to see the 10-12% Double IPAs and Imperial Stouts that dominate the RateBeer charts becoming the norm over here, and if tax prevents an ABV arms race that will be all to the good. The idea of punitive taxation on any form of beer is depressing, though, and I can’t help seeing it as the thin end of one of a number of neo-prohibitionist wedges.

172

Phil 08.25.11 at 11:58 pm

To pre-empt the obvious response, I don’t know what JDW’s houses are if they aren’t pubs. However, we think it makes sense to say that X is “a bar, not a pub”, working on a loose set of family resemblances (bars are more likely to have low lighting and plate-glass windows; pubs are more likely to have upholstered bench seating and dartboards…), and I’d argue that JDW’s are typically distinct from either of them (big open spaces, lots of screwed-down tables, corporate menus, emphasis on meals *and* on cheap beer…) They’re more like the ersatz pub-type experience you sometimes find in an airport or a shopping centre than they are like a typical pub.

173

Jon 08.26.11 at 12:23 am

Contra commenter #23, Pennsylvania now allows beer sales in certain large supermarkets that also have “cafes” selling food. My local Wegmans supermarket has a far better selection of beers, including dozens of Belgians of all styles, than are shown in the photos included in this post. There are some decent beer bars in my small city, but they aren’t quite as convenient or reliable as a standard English pub would be. My neighborhood bar really favors very hoppy IPAs and high-alcohol, malty ales. I’d be happier with more variety, but I can’t complain too much in the end.

174

BobbyV 08.26.11 at 1:12 am

The flavor differences of regional microbrews are not, as some have suggested, flaws or failures of the brew master’s art. Regional brews incorporate the unique essences associated with their local water and grains. Even the local climate contributes to a brew’s character. Having sampled a variety of microbrews in 15 states, I would pick a mediocre handcrafted brew over a Bud or Miller without hesitation. I was fortunate enough to have lived near Ann Arbor Michigan and enjoyed countless pints of Arbor Brewing Company’s cask-conditioned, hand-pulled, Sacred Cow IPA. I’d rate the Imperial Creme Brulee Java Stout from Kuhnhenn Brewing Company (Warren Michigan) as one of the country’s top stouts.

175

Robin 08.26.11 at 8:10 am

Velky Al @156
If I had mentioned just one more beer in my comment it would have been Galway Hooker!

176

CharleyCarp 08.27.11 at 12:09 am

Missoula Montana is a fine place to drink beer. The wife is out getting a growler of Fresh Bongwater at this very moment.

177

Eli Rabett 08.27.11 at 12:49 pm

The problem with beer is the problem with wine, to ship you have to be able to at least fill a container (like the ones that go on container ships) which means that Euro beers in the US and US beers in Europe can only come from the largest breweries. Specialty shops are an expensive exception.

No wonder economics is called the dismal science.

178

John 08.27.11 at 4:44 pm

I like to drink natty light from a funnel

179

David 08.28.11 at 4:56 am

Re Sam Adams. Contract brewers in any case, from the start.

180

David 08.28.11 at 4:58 am

Re Jason C: The entire west coast, for starters, can more than hold its own with England.

181

Alex 08.28.11 at 11:55 am

I have the impression that JDW’s business strategy changed quite dramatically in the mid-2000s. Up to that point, they bought a lot of pubs that were undeniably such and served good beer, cheap. As a result they basically covered the overheads for the whole real ale industry. Great. But I think that since about 2005 they shifted to trying to expand their base of property by creating outlets (rather than pubs) all over the place.

182

OldSole 08.29.11 at 2:13 pm

From 2007 to 2009, core product volume brewed at [Sam Adams] company-owned breweries increased from approximately 35% to over 95%. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Adams_(beer)#cite_ref-23

Comments on this entry are closed.