The American Brewing Adventure
While the colonists made beer out of everything and anything that they could, (like pumpkins) they brewed in a decidedly British fashion. Porters, browns, and stouts flowed whenever the barley was available.
With the German immigration of the 1800s, the English traditions ceded to the new lager beers. With a growing market of fellow immigrants, the new brewers used new technologies to bring their lagers to new markets and drinkers. American lager brewers were the first to use refrigerated rail cars to move beer from the smaller markets of Milwaukee and St. Louis to big urban centers like Chicago.
American beer became lager beer, pilsners, and bocks with adjuncts added to reduce the haze caused by protein-laden American malting barley.
The initial use of corn and rice adjuncts was motivated by a desire to replicate the flavors of European malts, American barley being too harsh. These days brewers still use adjuncts for lowering protein levels, residual body, and costs. One major rice consumer though pays more for it than their barley.
The first modern microbrewers, finding no appropriately sized brewing equipment, cobbled together breweries with Yankee ingenuity. Many, like Sonoma's New Albion, repurposed old dairy equipment. Lacking lagering capabilities, the new guys pursued ales. Hazy memories of old pub sessions and European trips gave them a sense of direction; the lack of specifics gave their rebellious spirits the freedom to redefine American beer.
On the ingredient front, American barley has improved enormously. The majority of North American barley production focuses on enzyme-loaded malt. Great stuff for making gallons of high-adjunct beer, but lacking the depth found in European malts. Maltsters like Briess push development of more flavorful domestic malt.
While hop growers pursue clones of Continental noble hops or bigger loads of alpha acids, another distinctive thread of hopping has grown to define “American” beer. Centering on the ubiquitous Cascade hop that screams citrus, a class of “C” hops serves as the hub for American-style ale hopping; they include Centennial, Chinook, Columbus, and Crystal. Newer varieties expand these themes and push off in their own direction.
Until the recent change in prices, massive hop additions served as a cheap and easy way to cover up flaws. This is denigrated in some circles as crass, inelegant, and fitting only for hopheads.
What is a hophead?
In beatnik times, a hophead was a marijuana smoker, but with the advent of boldly hoppy American beers came the person who just can't get enough bite. The hophead seeks out the baddest beers around and laughs where others' faces pucker into oblivion.
The increased popularity of Belgian beer has reached American brew kettles. Since the turn of the millennium, brewers have researched the secrets of Belgium. Recently, they have moved into putting an American stamp on the styles.