About US Beer

US: From Pilgrims to Pale Ale
Beer has occupied a central position in American culture from the start. This was true even before the craft-brewing revolution, which dramatically increased the beer choices available to consumers.
Beer predated the arrival of Europeans to the New World. Columbus noted on one of his expeditions to Central America that the inhabitants drank a fermented corn beverage, while the Aztecs of Mexico produced a beer-like fermented drink made from agave pulp and corn, the ancestor of modern pulque.
Of more direct relevance to the beer-drinking history of the Americas is the fact that the Pilgrims on the Mayflower were well provisioned with beer when they set off toward the New World. In fact, their landing choice of Plymouth Rock was dictated by an onboard crisis - the beer supply was running low, and they might be forced to drink just water.
Beer has always been a staple of American life, albeit with an ill-conceived pause during National Prohibition. One might argue that many things, including beer, suffered in the headlong dash for the ever more processed and stable foods that defined the post-World War II world of prosperous America. By the mid-1970s, if an ale or lager with flavor was your choice of beer, outside regional holdouts such as Anchor Steam Beer in San Francisco, the Yuengling ales and porters in Pennsylvania and the Augsburger line of lager beers from the Huber Brewery in Wisconsin, there was not much in the way of alternatives to an imported European brew.
This situation began to change in the late 1970s, when the tiny New Albion Brewing Company in Sonoma, California began brewing a line of English style ales, stouts and porters. Other pioneer craft breweries as Sierra Nevada Brewing in Chico, California and Pyramid Ales in Washington State soon followed.
What we now call craft breweries were originally referred to as boutique breweries, after the new generation of small, local “boutique” wineries that started opening in the 1960s. Their beers were promoted as “all malt” beers, made only from barley malt, hops, water and yeast, to distinguish them from the mass-produced national brands, most of which contained high percentages of barley malt substitutes called “adjuncts” (corn, corn syrup and wheat primarily), which provided fermentable material but resulted in blander brews.
The rapid growth of craft brewing spread from California and the Pacific Northwest, where interest in high-quality foodstuffs has always been closer to the cultural mainstream. The American beer renaissance originally focused around the production of ales. This can likely be explained by a number of factors. The first and succeeding generations of home brewers who "went commercial" were inspired by the ales of England, which had been relatively easy to reproduce at home. Home-brewed ales do not require the additional cooling and storage vessels needed for high-quality lager beer production. In a market well-supplied with pale lager, it was a much surer marketing prospect to introduce an amber-colored, hoppy ale rather than a pale-hued lager, even if brewed to exacting German-style purity laws.
In more recent years craft lager brewers have begun to catch up, with such breweries as the Capital Brewery in Wisconsin, Bayern Brewing in Montana and Trumer Brauerei Berkeley in California in the forefront. Nowadays, virtually every existing style of beer, along with a few new ones, are being produced in American craft breweries.

Craft Beers in Today’s Beer Market
On a national basis, craft-brewed beers are well on their way to becoming a national staple. According to 2012 figures compiled by the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colorado, craft-brewed beers grew 15%, totaling over 13 million barrels, and amounted to 6.5% of the total volume of beer sold in the United States. Sales totaled $10.2 billion out of a U.S. total beer market of $99 billion. In some regions, such as the Pacific Northwest, the craft beer market share is now over 20%. Some brewing industry analysts are now predicting that the craft beer share of the national beer market will grow to 20% by 2020. By the end of 2013 the total number of craft breweries (including brewpubs) in the United States was over 2,500.

In a world where beer distribution is a tough business that has broken the heart of many a start-up brewer, the brewpub can still offer the rewards of good profitability. Brewpubs, of course, do not have to distribute their beer beyond their premises. In this commercial setting, brewing can be immensely profitable in the right location, and virtually all major cities now boast a number of thriving brewpubs.
Typically, you can expect a standard range of amber ales, English-style brown ales, pale ales, stoutsand/or porters. Because of space restrictions, brewpubs generally tend to focus on brewing ales, rather than lagers.
All such beers may or may not be named after the brewer, his mood at the time of brewing, his dog, or his first-born child - the naming of beers being possibly the greatest exertion of creativity in a brewer’s working life. The savvy beer hunter should always keep an eye out for cask-conditioned, hand-pumped ales at brewpubs. A brewpub that has made the effort to set up this style of English beer-dispensing system, not as exotically rare as it once was in the United States, is demonstrating a serious approach to ale dispensing that should show itself in the beer that is being brewed.
Brewpub brewmasters typically have a lively special event and seasonal schedule that can traverse the entire spectrum of beer styles. Expect to find imperial stouts and barley wines in winter, kölsch and wheat ales in summer, a mandatory Oktoberfest in September, and possibly a maibock in springtime.
The only limitation is one’s imagination, which is generally not lacking in this vibrant and growing industry.
Top Picks for USA
Excelsior Brewing Co.
'Spresso Milk Chocolate Stout
Opaque dark brown black color. Rich, inviting aromas and flavors of cappuccino gelato and toffee with a silky, vibrant, finely carbonated, dry-yet-fruity medium-to-full body and a smooth, elegant, medium-long finish manifesting notes of artisanal mocha, nuts, and watercress. A fantastically flavorful and balanced coffee stout that gets it just right.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
LUCID Brewing
Clear golden yellow color. Aromas of crushed coriander, lemon cake, orange peel, and tangerine with a tart, finely carbonated, light-to-medium body and a very long salt water taffy, lemon peel, root vegetables, and black pepper finish. A wonderful benchmark of the style that is sure to please at the table.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
Stone Brewing Co.
- 2013 Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine Style Ale
Lustrous copper orange color with a manila mousse. Attractive aromas of apricot pastry, exotic peppercorns, pine, and grapefruit chutney with a supple, fruity full body and a long, chewy pine resin, grilled kumquat, nut brittle, vanilla, and rapini finish. A delicious, textbook example of a West Coast, hop-driven barleywine.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
Deschutes Brewery
The Abyss Brandy Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout
Dark brown black color. Interesting aromas of single village chocolate, graham cracker, licorice, and smoked jerky with a velvety, vibrant, finely carbonated, fruity fat body and a warming, intricate, long toffee, smoked peppercorn, dark roast coffee, and oak finish. A fantastical deep and rich imperial stout with great waves of flavor and texture to savor.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
Samuel Adams
Cinder Bock
Hazy sunburst color. Attractive, smoky, meaty aromas and flavors of smoked meats, sausages and nuts, caramelized dried fruits, and apple butter on raisin toast with a chewy, vibrant, finely carbonated, fruity medium-full body and a warming, very long chocolate custard and orange peels, sweet bbq rub, and white ash finish. A superb smoky beer with great chewy, fruity, and smoky malt abounding with finesse and fine balance.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
Upland Brewing
Sour Reserve
Minutely hazy gold color. Sour aromas and flavors of pickled vegetables and fruits, champagne vinaigrette on greens, honey buttered sourdough toast, and reduced lemon with a lightly tannic, tart, effervescent, sour full body and a tingling, distinctive, very long radish and jicama, nuts, and grassy earth finish. A superlative sour beer with great length, power, and finesse.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
Island Brewing Company
2015 Big Island Bourbon Barrel Aged Barleywine
Cloudy color. Aromas and flavors of melted chocolate, caramelized nuts and yams, sweet and peppery spices and mint, and gingerbread pudding with a chewy, vibrant, finely carbonated, fruity body and a warming, very long vanilla custard, caramel frosted fruit cake, whisky soaked nuts, and pepper finish. A big, broad-shouldered bourbon-barrel behemoth of a beer.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
Urban Chestnut Brewing Company
Pierre's Wit
Opaque light gold color. Toasty, fruity, spicy aromas and flavors of fresh herb baguette, dried fruits, and delicate spice with a velvety, vibrant, finely carbonated, dry-yet-fruity medium body and a graceful, subtle, medium-long honeyed toast, sweet lettuces, peach soufflé, and earth finish. A delightfully smooth, balanced and flavorful wit beer that is a pleasure to drink,
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
Lagunitas Brewing Company
Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale
Minutely hazy gold color. Herbal, hoppy citrusy aromas and flavors of grilled tropical fruit, herbs, and rye toast with a supple, vibrant, finely carbonated, dry-yet-fruity medium-to-full body and a smooth, complex, very long pepper, spice, and bitter greens finish. An absolutely delicious hoppy wheat ale.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
Rogue Ales
Old Crustacean Barleywine
Red oak color. Rich, sweet, complex aromas of toasted fruit cake, sweet and peppery spices, and praline with a chewy, vibrant, finely carbonated, fruity medium-full body and a warming, complex, very long grilled and caramelized grapefruit and kumquat, peppered rapini, and chocolate cherries and nuts finish. A superbly balanced marriage of rich chewy malt and forget-me-not hop bitterness.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab