Saturday 29 June 1996
Once, all pubs made their own beer, and the revival of this practice, in the Seventies, was a British idea. Sad to say, the proliferation of British brewpubs - the Firkin chain and currently more than 100 others - has not brought us many really unusual beers. Perhaps because they represent a return to tradition, many British brewpubs offer only the old staples: a bitter, a strong ale, maybe a porter if you are lucky.
Across the US, brewpubs are currently opening at the astonishing rate of one a day. So are very small breweries without pubs attached. The words "brewpub" and "micro-brewery" have passed into the language, and are bandied about by the aware and trendy.
The new, small breweries of the US have been much more ambitious than ours. When his bosses in London would not allow him to make interesting beers, young British brewer Nick Funnell went to Philadelphia to work at the Dock Street pub, on Logan Square. He has since moved on, but while there he was able to develop an ever-changing menu of beers, and the pub never has fewer than a dozen of its own creations on tap.
These range from a Bohemian-style Pilsener to a Bavarian interpretation of that style (each using the hops of the country); a lightly chocolaty, Mexican-style, dark lager to a heavier, maltier, Germanic example; a juniper-and-rye beer to two wheat beers (one German-style, the other with Belgian spicings of Curacao and coriander); a mild ale in the English manner, to an "Irish red" ale, to an India Pale Ale. Along with the brews come beer-friendly dishes such as Maryland crab cakes and steak quesadillas.
In its interior, the Dock Street brewpub blends elements of a cocktail bar and Thirties cinema, with the stainless steel of the brewhouse shining proudly behind glass. Highly visible brewhouses, sometimes with their tanks ranged like the pipes of a church organ, are frequently a feature of American brewpubs. So are architectural flourishes, often post-modernist.
I would never want such extravaganzas to replace the British pub, but they would make an enjoyable supplement.
On the West Coast, brewer Dan Gordon and chef Dean Biersch raised a million dollars to fund their first brewpub five years ago. There are now five or six Gordon Biersch brewpubs, from San Francisco to Honolulu, and the founders recently sold a controlling stake for $20m. Each has its own style, but all have a minimalist streak of Bauhaus, especially in their stylised ironwork sheaves of barley.
Dishes such as Belgian endive and Gorgonzola cheese in a balsamic vinaigrette go well with the beers, though I still can't quite get used to the sight of slender young women washing down their diet-conscious salads with half- litres of Gordon Biersch's malty, Munich-style amber-red and dark brown lagers.
Will we ever have quite such stylish brewpubs? I doubt it, but at least we can raise one of the American small beers for Independence Day. A growing number of these are stocked by speciality beer shops, and high street retailers such as Oddbins.
St Stans A brewpub and micro-brewery in the town of Modesto, in St Stanislaus County, California. Among its products are a malty Amber Altbier, in broadly the Dusseldorf style; the slightly roast Red Sky Ale: and a treaclier Dark Altbier.
Devil Mountain Gold Golden and Railroad Ales. These very fruity brews were originally made in a brewpub at an old railway station near Devil Mountain in California. This gave rise to a larger brewery in the Californian town of Benicia (where Jack London wrote and Gentleman Jim Corbett fought). Now, they are being made in a yet larger brewery in Cincinnati.
Pete's Wicked A range of brews developed by a home-brewer, Pete Slosberg, again in California. These were first made in a tiny brewery in Palo Alto, California, but have also moved to a bigger brewery in the Midwest. Pete's Wicked Lager has a flowery, hop character. Pete's Wicked Ale is smooth and darkish. The Red has a very good malt character. Also try the Summer Brew, with its light touch of lemon flavouring.
Samuel Adams The best known small beers in the US. Created at a tiny brewery in Boston, then reproduced at several larger breweries throughout the country. Samuel Adams Boston Lager is splendidly aromatic and hoppy. Samuel Adams Honey Porter is smooth and toasty. Try the latter with chocolate brownies for a treat on the 4th of July.
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