I have been looking forward to write this post ever since I started this trip. And as I am getting ready to reflect upon the “American Beer Revolution” as I would call it, my wife is pouring me a glass of “Hi-5 IPA” from Athens, Georgia, as we are currently in nearby Atlanta, the last stage of our three months tour.
The beer industry in the USA has indeed been revolutionized over the last two decades and brought forward countless micro-breweries throughout the country which have changed the beer culture in America substantially. (It may feel like a big leap from Harvard to beer, but then again, I would expect that it goes hand in hand on campus not only occasionally!)
When I was in high school in Michigan, I was not allowed to drink alcohol as I was only 16, but I did nonetheless on occasions. Even then, my American friends clearly despised the big American breweries and brands such as Budweiser, Coors and Miller. They tried to get foreign beers when they could, mostly Canadian or some European classics like Beck’s from Germany, Stella Artois from Belgium, or Heineken from the Netherlands. Beer wasn’t easy to get though. As I said, we were minors at the time. I would play a trick with my German ID, which at that time indicated the ZIP code of my hometown Munich as “8000 München 71”. I would always argue that “8000 München” was my place of birth” and “71” my year of birth. It worked surprisingly well with most liquor store owners, except for one time, when they guy behind the counter said he had been to Munich and would call the police right away. We drove off pretty quickly with smoking tires.
During the following years, I returned to the USA on several occasions. More and more foreign beers had made their way across the Atlantic by then into grocery stores, liquor shops and bars. Especially in 2001/2002, when I was enrolled at Emory’s LL.M. program in Atlanta, a most wonderful place called the “Brick Store”, which became my second living during that time, had a huge variety of foreign and especially German beers on their beer list. The Bavarian style “Hefeweizen”, a blond unfiltered top-fermented beer with lots of yeast and a defined hoppy sweetness to it, was becoming a new favorite in America. Some smaller American breweries had already gained an important share of the market, such as “Samuel Adams” – Sam Adams for short – from Boston and “Anchor Steam” from San Francisco. Smaller micro-breweries were only appearing at the horizon.
Now, in 2017, the choice could not be wider and brewing innovation not more playful. Large supermarkets offer several isles of beers from micro-breweries from all over the country. They have illustrious names such as Alaskan Amber (Alaska), Bainbridge Brewing (Bainbridge Island), Buoy (Oregon), Uinta (Utah), Switchback (Vermont), Grey Lady and Bad Martha (both Massachusetts) and Narragansett (Rhode Island), only to mention a few. We have tasted mostly their so-called IPAs (Indian Pale Ales) awe well as their brown, their red and their summer ales. I could go on. I certainly had too many when I look at myself after this trip, but they are just too good to miss.
And it has lead to many a conversation with Americans about the art of brewing, especially as I come from the land of the “Reinheitsgebot”, the German Beer Purity Law, which is 500 years old and provides that beer – at least if you want to call it and commercialize it as “beer” – may only be brewed on the basis of water, barley and hops. That sets limits to creative brewing in Germany substantially. And while it may have served a legitimate purpose 500 years ago to assure that beer wasn’t some kind of watery broth (which one may very well attribute to the “classic” American beers mentioned above), I am considering to break with my German Beer Purity Law principles and to make the bold proposition to make way for a new brewing culture in Germany. But changing the German Beer Purity Law is probably more difficult than changing the German constitution…
But who knows. Maybe my friend Sheetal, whom I saw in New York at the beginning of our trip in June in an Irish Pub called “Ulysses” on Pearl Street in Downtown New York City, who is a multi-talented American lawyer currently providing his valuable services as COO and General Counsel to New York based Sixpoint Brewery and who has been a bridge builder across the Atlantic to Europe for many, many years, may contribute in this direction. A special delight him and I also like to share though is a good substantial Bavarian white sausage breakfast (“Weißwurstfrühstück”) which only works for us with a traditional Bavarian Hefeweizen. But maybe, as in so many other fields, tradition and innovation may work together in perfect harmony. – Cheers to that!