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