I’m writing this whilst visiting Portland in Oregon, USA, having flown over from Boston and Philadelphia. I was last in the States ten years ago. Bars were dominated by Miller Lite and Budweiser; it was difficult to find any beer with flavour unless visiting one of a small number of new breweries that were just starting to take root.
I may as well be in a parallel beer universe now.
Almost any town of any size in New England and on the West Coast has a small brewery or three. And their beers are in every bar, in a multitude of (mainly) delicious styles and flavours. Five or six is a minimum and up to fifteen or twenty isn’t unusual.
Bars often have a list they hand out of their current offerings, helpfully giving a brief description, strength, bitterness in IBUs (International Bittering Units) and the price. Strength can be as low as 4.5% ABV but is typically around 6% and higher. I tried a rich and delicious 12.3% Oatmeal Stout in Boston – thankfully in a 5 oz measure! Cloudy beers are common, intentionally. But that in no way detracts from the enjoyment of interesting colours, full aromas and complex flavours. Highly hopped New England style IPAs are abundant, for sure. But not exclusively, with malty Reds, English Pale Ales, Stouts, Porters and American Pale Ales readily on offer.
There’s a very enthusiastic following and great interest from people of all ages, particularly Millennials, with disposable income. Bar staff are very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their beers. It’s not cheap by British comparison – $6 for a US pint (16 oz), so equivalent to about £5 a pint in the UK.
Why is this of interest, you may be thinking?
What starts in the States often migrates to the UK. And Craft Beer has already arrived. It’s got the same interesting variety. It’s different. It’s modern. It has the same appeal. It’s easy to keep and dispense. And it comes at a premium price, same as in the States.
UK breweries with their finger on the pulse are responding with their own versions. And it’s influencing the flavours and styles of cask ales too – and that’s the opportunity not present in the States. The big boys are buying up small breweries to stay in the game on both sides of the Atlantic – (watch out for more ubiquitous Doom Bars).
It’s a disrupter, and it’s in the UK to stay. Those that adapt will surely survive and prosper. Whether they be brewers, pubs, bars or real ale campaigners.