All the talk of “craft” brewing you hear these days has prompted some deep historical reflections in your correspondent, who has been of drinking age almost (but not quite) since Britain’s – and actually, the world’s – microbrewing revolution started in Selby, North Yorkshire, in 1972.
In the UK, the microbrewers’ common intent was to revive traditional cask-conditioned ale in the face of cold, fizzy, over-processed and underpowered keg versions. But in the US, where many of the pre-Prohibition brewers had been second or third generation German immigrants, it was a tradition of tasty and authentic lagers that had been overwhelmed by mass-produced imitations.
Two of the earliest US microbrewers were the Boston Beer Company, founded in 1984, and the Brooklyn Brewery, founded in 1987. Their stories are fascinating in their own right, but from our point of view what’s important is that their main products are both lagers based on recipes stretching back beyond Prohibition – attempts, in short, to recreate authentic American beers.
What they have in common is that they are much richer and more aromatic than your everyday British-brewed version of European pilsner. Samuel Adams Lager from the Boston Beer Company at 4.8% abv is dark for a lager; almost coppery, in fact, perhaps betraying the use of some darker malts. It has been brewed under licence by Shepherd Neame of Faversham, Kent, since 2012, but it seems to have lost none of its original character. The nose is powerfully spicy, with hints of grass and pineapple all but overwhelmed by the peppery tang of the Tettnang hop. The palate is rich and robust for a lager, with yet more peppery spice; the finish is fresh, minerally, and not at all bitter.
Brooklyn Lager at 5.2% advertises itself as a Vienna (i.e. slightly richer than a Pilsner). The aroma here is just as powerful, but more floral than spicy and with a sweet maltiness reminiscent of fruit cake. The palate is subtle and zesty and much lighter-bodied than Sam Adams; the finish is mild, sweetish, and well-rounded.
By Ted Bruning