I’ve been fortunate to travel a lot within the US for work and pleasure. I have visited the 48 contiguous states – many of which on long summer roadtrips as a child and many more as an adult on work trips or vacations. (My new goal is to have a local beer in all 50 states, but more on that later…. maybe). One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve been of drinking age is how much of an impact a region’s history has on the beer you can find there.
Things are changing now that everyone has become hop addicts, but it wasn’t that long ago that you could separate the US into three vertical sections – on the east coast you have the colonies and with them a history of English style ales. Malt and sessionable ales are the focus. After the American Revolutionary War, settlers started heading west with the Germans being the largest group to take up residence in the Midwest. They brought lagers and wheat beers. These hang around today, exemplified by Anheuser Busch in St. Louis and Boulevard in Kansas City and a slew of not-really-hoppy, not-really-malty lagers. The west coast was the fringe of society for us and the last to be settled (of the lower 48). That fringe culture helped them lead the hops charge with everyone one-upping each others’ IPAs.
That landscape is changing as everyone seems to be going hop crazy right now, but there still stands that spectrum of malty to balanced to hoppy as you move east to west (with all due respect to some excellent exceptions).
Last week I was surprised to find a subset of that stratification on the east coast. I spent the week in Raleigh, North Carolina where I had plenty of choices for local beer research. NC is one of the states I haven’t been to since I was a kid so I had no idea what to expect. There appeared to be a ton of small, packaging brewers in the area. On the first night there I swung down to the hotel bar for a drink and saw they offered a few local beers. The guy next to me ordered an IPA from Railhouse Brewery and said it didn’t taste right so I ordered one. I was surprised to discover that it was a decent English IPA. The “off” flavor was that it wasn’t an in-your-face American IPA. Throughout the week I found that English style IPAs were the norm and not the exception. I also discovered multiple Scottish styles. Raleigh Brewing Company’s Blatherskite and Highland’s Gaelic Ale were two of my favorites, both what one would call Scottish 80 Schillings.
Maybe I was preconditioned for seeking out English and Scottish influences as I’ve been submerging myself in the history of Scotch-Irish settlers in the US as part of my genealogy research, but the influence is unmistakable. The Scots arrived here over 200 years ago and we’re still seeing their impact in our craft beer choices. How cool is that? Here’s to hoping that the influence never goes away and that we remember to maintain some of our regional history with the best tools we have on hand – beer!