Posted: Jun 18, 2018
Americans have long rejected Britain’s booze as too warm and flat – but a new wave of brewers are seeking to change that
Americans perceive several reasons to shun British beer. It’s warm. It’s flat. It’s bitter. Or, worse, it’s mild. Thanks but no thanks.
Instead they drink ice-cold Budweiser-type lagers or potent craft brews and leave the Brits to their eccentric potions.
Now a Minnesota-born brewer with a punk vibe and passion for English ale hopes to change all that, starting with “sublime pints” in Los Angeles.
“British beers have been flying under the radar here. They’re maligned and they basically apologise for being what they are,” said Andy Black. “We’re not apologising. We’re proud of what we do and want to be in your face about it.”
Black, 30, is the head brewer at Yorkshire Square, in Torrance, south of LA, which is riding a small, growing movement embracing traditional British-style beer in California.
He makes cask-conditioned bitters, milds, pales, goldens and porters which tend to be more balanced and lower in alcohol than US craft beers or imported Belgian and German brews.
Yorkshire Square has garnered buzz since launching a year ago and will on Saturday debut at LA Beer Week, an industry showcase otherwise monopolized by strong, hoppy India Pale Ales (IPAs).
A pint of ale at the Yorkshire Square Brewery in Torrance, California.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest A pint of ale at the Yorkshire Square Brewery. Photograph: Dan Tuffs for the Guardian
Black considers IPA dominance the “hamburgfication” of beer. “I have a strong anti-authoritarian streak and like challenging existing notions.”
Other British-inspired brewers will also attend, reflecting evolving consumer palettes, said Frances Lopez, executive director of the LA County Brewers Guild, which sponsors the beer week. “We didn’t see a lot of British-style beers on the west coast so it’s been nice to see people gravitating towards nuance and craft beer.”
The festival will come on the heels of Britain’s national beer day on Friday, the anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta in 1215, a charter which among other things promised consistency for boozers: “Let there be throughout our kingdom a single measure for wine and a single measure for ale.”
British beer, especially bitter, has long struggled in the US. Less cold and fizzy than domestic beers, it is deemed relatively warm and flat.
The name bitter – a type of pale ale which is not in fact very bitter – alienated drinkers who favoured smooth, light lagers. A 1990s ad campaign for Keystone Light mocked “bitter beer face” with images of gurning trolls.
Then came the explosion in strong craft beers with experimental blends and ingredients, including gummy bears, and British beer was deemed not too strong but too insipid.
“It’s a very misunderstood style, which is why it’s taken so long for people to give it a shot,” Lopez said.
In addition to Yorkshire Square, LA’s beer week will also feature local British-style offerings from MacLeod Ale and an extra strong bitter (ESB) from Three Weavers Brewing Company. Several British-style breweries have sprouted across the west coast in recent years, including Machine House in Seattle and Freewheel in Redwood City, near San Francisco.
“British beer? I think it’s on the way,” said Megan Krigbaum, a contributing editor to Punch, a New York-based online drinks magazine.
“Bitter” and “mild” – another misnomer – reflect self-sabotaging English downplay, Krigbaum wrote in an essay last year. But a trend towards so-called “session beers” – lighter fare allowing multiple scoops in social settings – is emboldening Americans to try British pints, she said.
Even so, Yorkshire Square refers to “bitter” only on the premises, where staff can explain it to customers. It is branded “pub ale” when sold outside. “People are very literal,” said Black.
The tattooed, pierced Minnesotan is an unlikely real ale champion. He studied anthropology and worked at a not-for-profit organisation before deciding to turn a home brew hobby into a career, starting with internships at breweries in Yorkshire and Sunderland in the UK.
Now with a 10-strong team, Black brews 550 barrels of British-style beer per year a few miles from the Pacific Ocean. The average alcohol by volume (ABV) is 4.3%, just over half of that of a typical IPA.
Yorkshire Square was the brainchild of Gary Croft, an expatriate from Leeds who worked in pharmaceuticals before deciding to recreate British brews and pub culture. “I thought it was something Americans were missing out on,” he said.
Customers lauded the results. “You can have a handful and still hold a conversation,” said Ryan Trousadale, 32, seated in a sunlit terrace and raising a “1948”, a dark mild based on postwar English brewing records.
“Wonderful, low-octane social lubricant,” said Rob Tyrrell, 65, a retired aerospace worker. A welcome contrast, he said, with rocket-fuelled IPAs. “With the hoppy stuff, you better enjoy the first one because your buds are done.”
Jane Peyton, a beer sommelier and instigator of Britain’s national beer day, said via email that some US brewers were importing British hops to make British-style session beers.
Enthusiasm was spreading to imported beers, she added, with some Americans exalting brands with humble reputations in Britain. “I have lost count of the times that my clients have rhapsodised about Newcastle Brown Ale.”
By Rory Carroll
June 15, 2018
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