The two towers of the ale world, Britain and America, have legions of devoted fanatics. One camp would campaign that too many North American craft ales have become too brash, too assertively hoppy, leaving drinkers craving the subtle and traditional session ales inspired by the U.K., while the other camp lusts for even bigger “imperial” American-inspired ales. Who’s winning the war? Who cares? What matters are the spoils of war: the great beers created to outdo opponents and commemorate heroes in the real and imaginary fields of battle.
Each year, the World Beer Championships allow us to taste and review these “conquerors” inspired by both sides of the Atlantic. Let’s begin by feting ales brewed and inspired by the Old Tower. Scotland’s Jacobite Ale (98 points) from Traquair House was brewed to mark the anniversary of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. This archetypal Scotch ale is spiced with a touch of coriander, and is a winner even though the Jacobite cause was not. Both world-class champions of their respective styles, Fullers London Pride Pale Ale (96 points) and Original ESB (96 points as well) should be hunted down when searching for serenely triumphant beers from the other side of the moat. This session also included many American-brewed, but U.K.-inspired, beers that should be memorialized including Colorado’s Silverton Brewery’s Bear-Ass Brown (93 points), and North American-brewed British-style pale ales Rahr & Sons’ Stormcloud Pale Ale (92 points) and English Bay Pale Ale (92 points) from Canada’s Granville Island Brewing Co.
Of the American-brewed ales tasted during this session, it was a pleasant surprise to find just as many ales representing the Midwest as the West Coast. Goose Island’s draft-only Green Line Pale Ale (94 points), Great Lakes’ Burning River Pale Ale (91 points), Roy-Pitz’ Truly Honest Amber Ale (92 points) and an American-style black ale from Michigan brewpub Blue Tractor called Demonic Ale (91 points), all proudly represented the Midwest and won gold in this year’s World Beer Championships. Ales to marvel at from the West Coast include Full Sail’s Bump in the Night Cascadian Dark Ale (92 points), Moylan’s Tipperary Pale Ale (91 points), Valley Brewing Co.’s aptly-named imperial IPA Überhoppy (93 points) and Oregon’s Workhorse India Pale Ale (95 points).
Although the battle cries of American craft brewers are still “imperialistic” and barrel besotted, and their whispers are ringed around nebulous new styles like American-style black ale, perhaps next year, with the embers of this year’s battle smoldering, the fire of a new beer obsession or style will begin to grow brighter, a fresh campaign will be waged, and maybe one tower will rule us all, if only for a moment, if we are truly fortunate. Until then, once more unto the bar, dear friends, once more!