Four thousand miles away from Manhattan, in a northern Italian village, Birrificio Troll owner Alberto Canavese was celebrating because his beers had just gone on sale in New York, New York. Only one of the particularly strong beers he shipped off, the 9 percent ABV Palanfrina brewed with chestnuts, was available in his own pub that day.
Call it the Americanization of world beer or simply globalization, but the international beer landscape is changing.
This is what they want in America,” he said, happily.
His customers in Vernante might not understand, either that Americans brew such assertive beers or that America is also the world’s best market for bad-ass beers from almost anywhere. Call it the Americanization of world beer or simply globalization, but the international beer landscape is changing. Not everybody agrees that’s good, but few dispute America is at the center.
The Beer Starts Here
In one of the last essays he wrote in 2007, the introduction to Beer: Eyewitness Companions, the late Michael Jackson argued that, “tomorrow’s classics will evolve from a new breed of American brews that are categorized by their admirers as ‘Extreme Beers.’ These are the most intense-tasting beers ever produced anywhere in the world.”
British beer writer Adrian Tierney-Jones agrees. “The twenty-first century is definitely the American century in brewing terms—and I think it’s a good thing,” he said. “Beer is an international language, a language that crosses borders and at the moment the language we are hearing involves the yeast Brettanomyces, lots of hops, strong alcohol, hoppy barley wines, farmhouse ales with a twist—what is wrong with that?”
Importer Daniel Shelton of Shelton Brothers has an answer for Tierney-Jones. “It’s really sad to say the future is American beer when we haven’t perfected [brewing] the stuff from Europe yet,” he said. Shelton can be blunt, has a reputation for shooting from the hip and as an importer wouldn’t be expected to champion domestically brewed beers. However, many of the breweries he represents benefit because Americans are lapping up their bold, often intense, beers. Shelton is sincere when he talks about what he sees as dangers both within the United States and beyond.
Quite simply, if beer drinkers focus on the most exciting styles, if they measure the quality of a beer based on its intensity, then what happens to beers with nuance and to yesterday’s classics?
Know Your History
Even though beer never should be called “the new wine,” a quick bit of grape history seems relevant. In 1976, upstart California wines outscored classic French wines in a contest now called “The Judgment of Paris.” The tasting not only validated the quality of California wine, but convinced vintners from Australia to South Africa to Argentina that great wine could be made beyond France.
American beermakers can point to no “Judgment of Paris,” but their influence—whether it comes from larger breweries producing pale lagers or smaller breweries making something more flavorful—is also felt from Australia to Scandinavia to Argentina. “People had no model for modern small brewery success. Americans gave them that,” Shelton said.