America. Or more precisely the USA. Possibly the most wrongly maligned beer country in the mind of the general populace and one of the most sought after beer scenes by aficionados. The land where prohibition took place, and one of the largest craft beer scenes in the world. 50 states, each at least the size of Britain and with at least as much cultural variance between them as between Britain’s member countries. How do you even start talking about that?

Well first I’m going to pour a pint. Not because I want a pint. Ok, not just because I want a pint, but also it’s the first interesting difference. The USA pint is smaller. 568ml for UK compared to 473ml for USA.

Which explains why you lot in the USA are all lightweights who think you can drink more than you really can.

I jest.

Mostly.

But the oddities don’t end there. In the UK, you have the choice of a pint, half, rarely a third, or very rarely two thirds pint. But for the most part pint and half are standard. In the USA I found places who refused to do anything smaller than a pint, in others massive take out growler pours, and in most sample trays with glasses of varying size. Usually listed in fluid ounces, just to mess with me. No don’t try to claim you do it even when foreigners aren’t there, I know you invented that stuff just to mess with me.

The sample trays are a cool way of trying a range of beers without getting too heavily drunk, with sometimes up to ten different samples for a pub. Having ten pints would be a bit much, ten samplers though? Could be heavy depending on the abv, but doable. Sometimes this stopped the bar staff offering a quick sip before before a pint, on the logic that you could just buy a sampler. The tight bastards. Usually though they were still happy to do a quick pour to try anything you wanted, and have the sample tray on offer as well was cool. You are getting similar ideas in the UK, with beer festivals often allowing third measures, but it’s not getting huge amount of traction outside of that.

So what hit me first from this was the openness to enjoying flavours. Rather than having full pints which would numb the senses quite quickly, you could easily try a range of beer and compare the tastes while still mostly sober and with a working set of taste-buds. Even better in most pubs you got a good range of styles to try from with a sampler set. Which leads me to my second consideration. Style choices and availability.

I very rarely saw your standard Bitter in the US. The English Pale Ale, an interpretation of the English bottled bitter style, had a bit more showing but no much so. Similarly Mild’s didn’t turn up more than couple of times. The IPA unsurprisingly had a massive amount of visibility, but more surprisingly so did Brown Ales. A very different interpretation to the English style though. I will put this difference in styles available down to real ale vs craft keg styles personally.

There was virtually nothing in the USA would be considered real ale, well not on tap anyway. While I am not one of those who shouts that everything should be real ale I will admit that bitters, mild’s, etc really suit the real ale cask style. The UK brown ale is very much a thing that works well in cask which explains the difference in the USA version which has been tailored for keg.

Porters and stouts had an impressive showing, but its the amount of hefeweizen (even if most were annoyingly not cloudy) and Belgium wit style that was most impressive. As a fan of the styles I got quite a few very tasty beers to enjoy. By the way, stop putting lemon and lime segments in your wheat beers, contrary to what seems to be popular belief this is not a common practise in most of their originating countries and for my mind it really hurts the beer.

Also worth noting on the range of beer styles was that generally there was little duplication of styles on a line of taps unless they had a huge number of taps. Again this is very nice in giving a range of styles to a prospective drinker.

The whole bourbon and whisky situation was a bit different to what I expected. For one the size of the measures. The standard measure seemed, to my untrained eye, to be pretty much controlled anarchy as the bottle was upended into the glass leaving an impressively large pour. After a conversation with bar staff however I found there was a method to their madness. A four second pour through a controlling spout allowed for a reasonably controlled pour without fecking about with metal shot measures. When you compare that to the spit in a glass 25 ml measures that is the standard measure in the UK you can see why most people in the UK are lightweights who think they can drink more than they really can.

I joke.

Mostly.

Despite being around Nashville/Ashville area, the bourbon selection in most bars didn’t seem hugely wide in the same way that I see a few pubs in the UK doing with scotch. In fact their bourbon selection was usually matched by their Single Malt selection. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right bars, I was concentrating more on beer hunting after all. Still, there were some nice showings from Angels Envy, a variant makers Mark and the like showing up, but I’m guessing if I really wanted to get into my bourbon I would have to had planned the trip more around it.

That actually reminds me of something that stood out with the beer scene. Just how prevalent it had become. I was in New York going on ten years ago now and to find a decent beer was a herculean effort. About five years back did a run around the East Coast that wasn’t particularly beer orientated but I could still find a few good beers with a bit of hunting. This year, we went around the South, hit a random steak restaurant for food to get over the flight and they had about eight craft beer taps. A beech side coffee house and breakfast joint even had seasonal Samuel Adams beers and a few of the more common craft beers in bottle. If you searched just a little then pubs showcasing the local beers, or better yet local and national beers, just jumped out at you. Many Brewpubs I found by accident just wandering. The craft beer scene really has exploded in recent years it seems.

With it came the interesting side affect of average beers. Before beers tended towards crap, or awesome, and living in the UK we only tended to see the best and worst when they were imported. Wandering the USA I found many stonking beers, a few crap ones, but also the middle range that I had never really seen much of before. Beers like the one’s from the Yazoo, or Abita brewery. Both had some good beers, but for the most part were pretty middle of the range (Abita Amber especially seemed meh, though they hit a low with their wit, and then redeemed themselves with Turbodog). It’s a pretty much inevitable result of the sheer number of breweries that have turned up that some will just be, well, average.

What seemed very closely tied to the craft scene was a good respect for beer, and it’s place in a night out. Most brewpubs I went to were as much restaurant as pub, in a way that reminded me of my Belgium trip. Also, it may have just been the states we were in, but live music was very prevalent and added to a nice atmosphere. In fact I would say in the latter half of the trip there were very few bars that didn’t have had live music, or were at least next to a bar that did. Other bars ranged from a massive bottle selection and set of taps in what was basically a cosy converted house with great company and good beer, to warehouse like lines of taps and a printed beer menu. Now it wasn’t all high culture food and music. We saw enough of the usual alcoholic obscenities. Vodka jellies, awful mixed concoctions and test tube shots and the like. For the most part though if you wanted to enjoy the alcohol for flavour rather than getting drunk it wasn’t hard to find what you wanted. Though I will admit getting drunk did end up as a side effect on the trip more than once though, especially in New Orleans.

Overall the USA is living up to it’s reputation. The casual beer scene seem to be improving every day, with good beer getting easier to find every time I visit. The experimentation is alive and well, with no end in sight. The base quality of non bud/coors beer is impressively high with very few actively bad beers during the trip, and more coming in at good or great rather than just ok. The top end still shines with some truly great beers out there. From what I hear New Zealand and Italy are competing hard for the craft beer crown, and I will have to visit them to compare one day, but right now in the USA the craft beer seems to be breaking into the mainstream and good luck to them with it.