Thanksgiving beers: the ones to be thankful for
26 November 2015, By Jonny Garret
When the American settlers sat down for their first Thanksgiving meal, they probably drank their fair share of beer. After all, it was a bumper harvest they were celebrating, and what better use is there for extra barley than brewing?
They wouldn’t have thought twice about having beer with their feast, and nearly 400 years later we’re finally starting to go full circle. Beer and food has never been more popular. There are restaurants and million-pound campaigns dedicated to it.
And that’s all down to some magical people brave enough to try something totally new in beer. To put more hops than seemed necessary, to eschew technology and use ancient brewing techniques, to make stronger, more flavourful beers.
So this is the Beer Merchants version of Thanksgiving, giving thanks to the heroes of the beer world who brought it back from the brink of boring lagers. These are four beers to be truly thankful for.
Given that they are now one of the biggest breweries in America, the story of Sierra Nevada is remarkable. It started in 1979, in the garage of Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi where they homebrewed. They used to beg hops off farms and built their first commercial brewhouse out of scrap metal and old dairy equipment.
Initially told by every supplier they went to that the beer was too bitter, people came around to the idea mostly thanks to some favourable press and the fact they sold beer to Berkeley’s Chez Panisse.
The brewery’s success helped inspire and open the door to literally thousands of breweries all over the world. It’s trade mark hop character and ever so slightly sweet malt backbone has formed the basis for most American IPAs – the beer than defines modern brewing. You could say that it was the original craft beer, but the next brewery might have something to say about that.
In the mid-1960s, Anchor brewing company was on the verge of going under. It had suffered all the crises that America and thrown at it – war, prohibition and depression – as well as burning down twice. But the real kick in the teeth was the new love of pale and light lagers, which tasted nothing like the fragrant, malty steam lager they produced.
Thankfully, one very rich man happened to like the beer. Frederick Louis “Fritz” Maytag III (he had to be rich with a name like that) bought 51% of the brewery for a few thousand dollars in 1965. But it wasn’t his money that saved it, it was his dedication. Realising flaws in the brewing process he learnt to brew from scratch, invested in better equipment and started producing a significantly better beer. Crisper, hoppier and cleaner. They doubled their output in 6 years, and decades later now produce 180,000 sold all over the world.
Just like Sierra Nevada, the success has inspired thousands to go into brewing, but none can match the story and heritage of this unique brewery. In fact, few even attempt to copy the style of Steam beer, which is made with lager yeast brewed at ale temperatures to create that trademark fruity yeast flavour.
This is not a beer that many would put on a list of beers to be thankful for, but delving into the story opens up all kinds of important details. Beer had been brewed in Stavanger, Norway, for decades. The local pilsner was nothing to write about, but it was well made and served fresh. Sadly, just after the turn of the century the brewery was bought out by Carlsberg and shut down. The angry townsfolk clubbed together and founded a new pilsner brewery, Lervig, in 2003.
While it served the local area with fresh pilsner again, making a business out of it was very difficult and as finances got worse it needed a change. That change was Mike Murphy. An American brewer who moved to Italy for love, he had brewed all over Europe, working with the likes of Birra Del Borgo and Mikkeller. He came in with his beard, hops and love of experimentation and within a year had brewed a beer that changed the brewery’s fortunes and introduced Norway to hoppy beers. Lucky Jack is a juicy, fruity American pale ale with a clean malt profile that makes it dry and quenching and knocks the socks of many US versions.
Now the country has perhaps the world’s best home brew scene (don’t believe me, check this out) and over 80 breweries producing exciting beers.
Whatever you think of the UK’s most outspoken brewery, it’s impossible to talk about the start of the British craft beer movement without talking about Punk IPA. They were by no means the first brewery on the scene, but in 2007 not many were bold enough to produce a beer as hoppy, bitter and strong as Punk IPA. It has a huge hop aroma and uses the relatively rare hop Nelson Sauvin for a more complicated profile. Despite being a pretty brash beer it has come to be one of the UK’s most famous craft beers, exported all over the world and offering you a good beer in even the worst of super markets. Like Sierra Nevada did in America, Brewdog has inspired and given confidence to homebrewers all over the UK looking to go professional and even if they excitable marketing gets on your nerves, we are lucky to have a brewery so set on revolutionizing not only beer but drinking culture.