I couldn’t believe my eyes when I went to my local taproom in England and there were American craft beers available. Long the home to devoted drinkers of cask ales, the quintessential British pub is having its own American Revolution by embracing innovative craft beer from across the pond. With the British beginning to develop a taste for these beverages, it seems that U.S. brewers are coming back full circle and starting to make their mark in Europe.
In the past, asking for an American beer would get you laughed out of most pubs. However, these days even stodgy traditionalists who prefer cask ales over what they see as sacrilegious American kegs are now being forced to recognize the quality and freshness of the products the U.S. is producing. American brands are even taking up more shelf space in markets across the U.K. These scrappy upstarts from the States, in their mad pursuit of perfection, have rewritten the rules of brewing. And markets worldwide are responding. The U.K., for instance, is buying American craft beer — and a lot of it. More than 10 percent of U.S. craft brew exports are sent across the pond, and that number is growing.
One of the most popular styles imported from the U.S. is the IPA. While not a new addition to the U.K. beer scene, it’s returning home after a long walkabout across the globe. The style has become associated with Hodgson’s Brewery, which was located next to the East India Dock in the late 18th/early 19th centuries. While founder George Hodgson didn’t invent the IPA, his proximity to the India-bound ships meant plenty of that type of beer accompanied sailors on their long journey and the two have become inextricably linked.
Now things have come full circle and IPAs are back after introduced to the States by British immigrants such as beer maker Jack McAuliffe, who founded New Albion Brewing Company in California. The Scottish stouts and British-style ales he loved helped influence the late 20th century microbrewery movement in the U.S. The new American IPAs with their potent hops and high alcohol percentages at first seemed completely novel to U.K. drinkers used to a tamer version.
In 2016, Oregon’s Cascade Brewery began distributing in the U.K., joining other companies like Gigantic, Anchor and Left Hand Brewing. There are still mixed reactions from Brits when they taste Cascade’s bold, fruity flavors. Yet many seem ecstatic. Although longtime lovers of flat cask ale may turn up their noses at some of the more avant-garde offerings, even they are finding things to like, such as the deep malty taste of Sang Noir.
From university students to old weathered men, everybody is finding something to try and love. Cascade beers frequently appear on the rotating menu of a London brewery called Crate. One regular, Victoria, confided, “I used to dislike drinking beer, but the new fruiter flavors available have changed my mind.”
The shift is happening in part due to import innovators like distributor James Clay. In a press release, owner and managing director Ian Clay said: “We have been closely following developments in the American sour brewing scene for some time and ... [are] positive that they will colorfully contribute to the increasingly bright British beer picture.”
James Clay’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as the explosion in U.S. craft brewing has helped spark the industry in the U.K. More than 300 new breweries opened there in 2017. But this isn’t crowding out American options because an increased appreciation for new styles and flavors has created a larger market for all.
Now American IPAs are facing competition from modern U.K. beer makers, many of which have been heavily influenced by those in the U.S. Among those is Beavertown Brewery, founded by Logan Plant, (son of Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant).
“The concept [was] built on the foundations of smoky, low-and-slow barbecue served in house with beer that mashed together the memories of good old-fashioned real ale from my youth and the new inspirations from the big flavour hit IPAs and pales I’d drunk whilst touring the U.S.”
There’s been some backlash from traditionalists who decry these developments because they don’t ferment live in casks. However, the majority of beer lovers are embracing the change, saying they prefer the fruity flavors of IPAs over the heavy malts of real ales. It stands as a testament to American craft brewers that they can now gain a foothold in Europe, where some beer producers have been established for centuries. •