In recent blog posts, I've written about the vibrant craft beer scene in Oregon and Chicago. I'm also lucky to live in the Bay Area in California, home not also to great wine but so many excellent craft breweries it's hard to keep track of them. The success and growth of craft beer was made clear at the Beer Camp event in San Francisco, where 150 breweries hosted 3,500 people over the course of a sunny Saturday afternoon. I can't imagine a wine event attracting so many - and so many young - people. And that wasn't the only venue, as the event was replicated in seven other cities across the USA.
Beer Camp was organised by Sierra Nevada, one of the original and biggest craft brewers. I remember the first time I tried their flagship Pale Ale back in the UK when I found it too hoppy and alcoholic. Now it seems mild in comparison to the big, hoppy, high alcohol beers that many craft breweries specialise in. That signals the transformation in the US beer scene, the beers getting bigger and better and the choice of breweries getting wider.
The standing of Sierra Nevada in the craft beer world is demonstrated by the eagerness of breweries, both small and huge, to participate in the nationwide Beer Camp, and by the direct collaboration between Sierra Nevada and twelve other breweries to make one-off beers together. These collaborations were with six US breweries such as Boneyard, who I think are making the best hoppy-dominant beers at the moment, and six international breweries, including Mikkeller of Denmark.
The Sierra Nevada-Mikkeller collaboration was perhaps the most interesting beer of the event. It was an IPA made with Thai Iced Tea. That might not sound too appealing, but tea or tea leaves naturally complement the green bitterness of hops. Back in the UK, Manchester's Marble Brewery make an equally balanced and interesting Earl Grey IPA.
Consumers of craft beer are insatiable in their desire for new styles of beer and each brewery has to work hard to stay ahead of the game. That must be difficult for any new brewery starting up, but for everyone else this is an incredibly exciting time to be drinking beer.