I recently received an email from a past participant of the World Beer Championships. He was excited about his well-deserved accolades and also very excited about coming to the U.S. market with his brand. His respect for the beer culture in the States was profound! A claim was even made that he feels the beer being produced in the United States is some of the best in the world. He receives a lot of “stink-eye” from his colleagues when making this claim, but once they taste an IPA or well-balanced pale ale, their minds quickly change.

You know what….I agree. I do feel that we are blessed with an amazing beer scene. With so many talented brewers around these days, the number of styles is constantly growing. Styles that are defying the laws of tradition and pushing the boundaries of what beer can be. Yes, there is something to say for both guide lines and traditional styles, but isn’t it exciting to be challenged by these creative mavericks and try something unique? I think it is. It’s also an important time to support our regional and local scene. Put your dollars into American craft beer. I’m not saying you should give up those imports all together, just try to make a local substitution from time to time. It’s better for the environment as well. Clean out that growler and head down to your brewpub for some fresh and original brew.

Speaking of great craft beer, the World Beer Championships recently held their annual North American and British Ales tasting. We started out with the Golden Ale category, a fine style to choose for the start of your session. Try a Deschutes Cascade Ale (89 points), light bodied and very refreshing. Pair with some mild cheeses, or a snack of garlic-fried garbanzos would be welcome as well. It’s always a good idea to get a base layer lining the system before you start in on a session.

In the Amber Ale category, the Roy-Pitz Brewing Co.’s Truly Honest Amber Ale (84 points), Deschutes Green Lakes Organic Ale (92 Points) and the Rogue Ales American Amber Ale (88 points) all stood out as excellent examples of the style. It sounds simple, but a grilled burger with some sharp cheddar and caramelized onions is a perfect match for me. A comfort combo if there ever was one.

As far as the American Pale Ales are concerned, the West Coast dominated. Eugene City Track Town Triple Jump Pale Ale (92 Points), Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale (92 Points), and Full Sail Pale Ale (91 Points) represented with aplomb. Pale ales work well with a myriad of foods. I really enjoy some sharp cheddar to snack on with a glass of pale ale, but if you are up to it, try some ceviche. The citrus in the marinade plays nicely with the hops in the pale ale and any spiciness is easily tamed. A refreshing summertime pairing for your friends.

Of course, some IPAs made it to the party. Goose Island IPA (92 Points) is exceptionally well balanced and a pleasure to drink. Stone India Pale Ale (91 Points) proved to be wonderfully complex and well-poised. Bastone Brewery Royal IPA (89 Points) showed us another fine example from a Midwest micro-brewery. With IPAs I like to spice it up a bit: some Thai, Indian curry, or some Cajun will usually do the trick. If you’re planning on cheese, blue-veined varieties are excellent. Pasta with pine nuts and Gorgonzola would also pair nicely.

Barley wines are always a great way to end a session. Warming, rich and potent, they make for an excellent contemplative quaff. A few notable entries include Upland Winter Warmer Barley Wine (88 Points), Rogue Ales 2008 Old Crustacean Barleywine Ale (93 Points), and Stone Brewing Co. Stone Guardian Barley Wine. A bleu cheese such as Stilton is the traditional pairing and a perfect way to end a meal. You could also try a barley wine with some roasted duck for a decadent experience, and as long as the hop character isn’t too assertive, try some vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce with a snifter of barley wine. Your taste buds will be thanking you.

Again, be sure to support American craft ales when spending your hard-earned dollars. Your local breweries also need your support now more than ever. It’s practically a no-brainer with so much talent out there these days. Thanks again to the participating breweries and our excellent panel of judges. Remember, in these tough times it’s really ale’s what cures ya! Cheers.