I’ve been reading a lot about style recently, in particular in relation to Michael Jackson. I’m interested in how they developed, where they came from, who drinks them and how they evolve and change. Thinking about this I was reminded of a post written by Brian Hunt, from Moonlight Brewing Co., on Mario Rubio’s Hoppress blog. Brian wonders what things might have been like if barley was native to the US and not the Middle East. He asks what pilsners would be without Pilsen, what IPA would be without Britain, how different lambics might be now. Instead he supposes that these beers might have originated in the US in what is a wonderful the-US-is-the-centre-of-the-universe type idea, but it’s still an interesting thought:
The World Book of Beer would’ve been written about the delicate beers of Denver, the hoppy ales of Seattle, Steam beers of San Francisco, roasted beers of New York, herbed beers of Ann Arbor, wheat beers of Kansas, Spruce beers of Alaska, sour cherry beers of the Columbia River Valley, Rye beers of Fargo, and on and on.
On the back of this Jon Abernathy posted about indigenous US beer styles – California Common, Pumpkin Ale, Wild Ales, Light Lager, American-prefixed Everythings (an Americanization of established styles by adding loads of American hops) and Imperial Everythings.
Many styles are - at least in their origin - inextricably linked to place, the beers the people there wanted to drink and to the ingredients readily available where they came from: Burton ales and Pilsners are famous because of the local water, lambics get their unique flavour from the airborne yeasts in the Pajottenland region, American IPAs get their huge fruity bitterness by being stuffed with American hops. This then flicks the switch in my mind to the beers styles which are uniquely British - pale ale, mild, bitter, porter, stout and barley wine, among others. Why did these styles develop and last in Britain? What do these styles say about Brits? Every American brewery needs a great IPA to stand out as their flagship beer but what’s the British equivalent that they need in their range? Best bitter, pale ale?
The globalisation of beers and styles, plus the ready availability of different ingredients, means that any beer can now be brewed anywhere. The origin of a style is telling of the time and area it first came from, while the developments it goes through show the current drinking fashions (look at India Pale Ale 200 years ago, then look at it 100 years ago, 50 years ago, then when it was adopted by the US, when North West hops were added freely, then it went Imperial, then Belgium found them, then back in the US it went Black...). It’s easy to look around now and see that we have British lagers, Belgian IPAs, Italian wild beers and American saisons, styles which have evolved and changed to suit different tastes and influences. It’s also good to look back sometimes too, to understand where they came from as there’s often a great story at its core. The origin of a beer style, whether it’s 2,000 years old or just two, is a fascinating insight into people (brewers and drinkers) and place at different times in history. How important is place to a style, old or new? How telling is the fashion when it comes to style? What styles will be next to get the US treatment or even the British touch? London lambic? Sheffield saison? American mild?
Image from CraftBeer.com. This post asks more questions than it answers and that's the point - I think style is a really interesting subject and it's something I'm trying to understand better and wrap my brain around. This is more a train of thought post than anything else.