Thursday, October 4, 2012

Made in America?

I was struck this weekend, while Oktoberfest-ing up in Canada, that our friends to the north refer to me and my kind as "Americans." Now, I suppose there's nothing wrong with that, and I was in no way, shape or form offended—I do, in fact, live in the United States of America. It just sounds odd to my ears. I, personally would refer to myself as being from the U.S. or simply "the States", before I'd ever say I was American. However, hearing the phrase from another perspective, it occurred to me that, "... I'm from the U.S." is a statement of nationality, while "... I'm an American" seems more of a statement of attitude.

Last night, this observation creeped back into my cerebral cortex. While I drinking two beers—Yeungling Porter and Lakefront's Fixed Gear American Red Ale—I began thinking about "American" from a beery point of view. I found it interesting that while both beers are brewed in the U.S., Lakefront chose to add the descriptor "American" to its beer's name; and while the Yeungling label does say "America's oldest brewery", it doesn't refer to itself as an American Porter. Now, you might be saying to yourself, "That's obvious—the 'American Red Ale' is 'American' because it's hoppy."

That, in fact, is the crux of my inquiry—At what point did "American" come to mean hoppy?

The Yeungling is no less American than the Lakefront brew. I know it was made in Pennsylvania, and I assume it was made with American sourced ingredients—but for whatever reason breweries seem to have co-opted "American" to represent hoppiness, and hoppiness alone. I find this, like my conundrum in Canada, to be odd. You wouldn't go to a restaurant in London and order spaghetti and meatballs, and be afraid that the spaghetti and meatballs you normally get in Los Angeles is something different. Your also not going to go out of your way to ask your server if the spaghetti and meatballs are "Italian", and the menu isn't going to say "Italian" spaghetti and meatballs, either. So, why is it that we need to differentiate hoppy beers with the "American" prefix?

Sure, I've heard the adage that British beers are about the malt, Belgian beers are about the yeast and American beers are about the hop, but that's pretty pigeon-holey, isn't it? Think about how much craft beer is being produced in the U.S, and how many breweries are making beer that spans the spectrum of style and category. Here is an example of that: Brown Ale is made in nearly every brew pub and craft brewery in this country. Like IPA it is considered to be, by most American beer drinkers, and makers, a   "classic" British beer style. The thing is, there isn't a whole lot of Brown Ale—or IPA for that matter—being made in the UK. There is, however, a shit ton of it being made in the U.S. So, is Brown Ale American or British, or maybe—and hear me out on this—it's just Brown Ale?

Then again, and to bring it all back to my opening statement, maybe the beery "American" isn't just about the hop—maybe it's about attitude. I joked in our pub game presentation at Beau's Beer School, that being an "American" made me overly competitive, and I was willing to win at all cost. That might not be too far off when it comes to beer. Maybe the subtle and inky Yuengling Porter is just a beer made in the U.S., while the Lakefront Fixed Gear, with it's hopped up zing, has more of an "American" attitude?

At least we're not perpetuating any stereotypes. Now if you would excuse me, I have to go get my cowboy hat and assault rifle.

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