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Coca-Cola, the automobile, baseball—all important U.S. contributions to the world that were based on models from other countries. We think it’s about time to add beer to that list, and it is definitely a good week to celebrate American craft beer. What better validation could there be than the fact that American brewers’ innovative recipes and methods are shaping the kinds of beer that are being made all over the world?
Collaborative beers, like the Schneider & Brooklyner Hopfen-Weisse pictured above, are a formal way that U.S. brewers are influencing beer beyond our shores. More and more brewers from other countries are attending the Craft Brewers Conference and entering their brews in the Wold Beer Cup each year as well. But anyone with some knowledge about the brewing community knows that brewers love to learn from each other and that a lot of this collaboration is happening informally and frequently.
Last month The Lagerheads spoke with Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver about the influence America is currently having on beer cultures in other countries. In preparation for Oliver’s seminar on the “New Beers of Scandinavia” at the National Geographic Society this Tuesday (sorry folks—it’s sold out), we are posting a series of blogs from our conversation with him.
LH: We learn about beers primarily by drinking them, and we learn about trends by noticing what beers are showing up in our favorite bars or stores. I’m curious what things you have learned as you travel, or noticed in particular about the beer scenes in other countries.
GO: If there is one thing you notice worldwide, it’s the amazing influence of American craft bewing on brewing in the rest of the world. It used to be that it was essentially a one-way street: the American goes to Europe, learns things, and brings them back. Now it’s much more of a two-way street with the rest of the world looking to the United States as the leader in creative brewing. Not just brewing old styles well, which I think we have started to be able to do and obviously the Europeans do wonderfully, but when it comes to creating a really exciting scene around beer that has not just quality but also creativity, the United States is the place. And that’s really the biggest change. If you go to Italy, or Brazil, to Denmark, to the rest of Scandinavia, even to Japan, you are going to see a very strong American influence. I think American brewers should be proud of that. We have created, essentially from scratch, a craft beer culture out of almost nothing. The U.S. has gone from probably the most conservative beer culture and least interesting beer culture on the planet to the most interesting one in just about 20 years.
LH: It’s been exciting. Belgium seems to be held up on the pedestal as a place where creative brewing is happening, at least from what we can tell by the styles that many American brewers have been making. But just in recent years it seems to be shifting with the really innovative things that brewers over here have been doing and the emulation you see in other countries.
GO: I think the American brewers first looked to England as their model for the things they wanted to do. Then they paid some attention to Germany. Belgim has really been interestingly the last. Having judged the Great American Beer Fest for 20 years now, I can easily remember when there were no Belgian categories at all. There were none. And then there was 1 or 2, and then there were 3 or 4. It was over the last 7 or 8 years that Belgian influence has really come full force into American brewing. When we first started brewing Belgian Witbier at Brooklyn Brewery, people were like, “What‘s that?” It was a style of beer that you had to tell everybody what you were talking about. That’s not nearly the case anymore. Certainly the beers were here. Chimay of course, and beers like that, Duvel, have been here for a long time. But it has taken awhile for these to become pretty much household names. If you bring out a beer that is influenced by Belgium, people now understand where that’s coming from. That is something that has really broadened our beer culture. And I think that one reason why the American beer culture is so exciting is because we don’t have a single background interest or influence rather. We take our influence from England and Belgium and Germany and other places and synthesize that through what we want to do. Denmark was the second place where I saw an American type of creativity come busting out, together with a real interest in not only what was new, but what was very old and Scandinavian. So that makes the Scandinavian brewing in many ways one of the more interesting beer scences in the world.
If you happen to be going to the Mikkeller dinner at Birch & Barley tonight or have tickets to the NGS seminar Tuesday you will get to do some hands-on learning about Scandinavian beer. If not, don’t fret. Our next post will have more information on Scandinavian brewers and what makes the beer scene there so special.