Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
I think you’ll all agree that there has never been a better time to be a beer drinker living in the UK. Never before have we had so much excellent choice from so many breweries there is literally something for everyone. The best thing is that this multitude of ales has got our tongues wagging, beer fans be it casual or hardcore are talking about beer (and not just arguing about the dispense method!) including people like me who like to write these things down for their own selfish amusement.
From my early twenties onwards I always enjoyed ‘real ale’ whatever that may mean these days but it wasn’t until I visited the USA for the first time in the summer of 2010 that my eyes were opened to the world of craft beer. It helps that the part of America I visited was Colorado, which just happens to have more microbreweries per capita than any other state in the US… Before I visited Colorado I thought I knew about beer, I was wrong. Colorado held my beery ideals aloft before smashing them on the ground like a Rocky Mountain snow globe. You see, it wasn’t just the beer that blew my mind it was the attitude of the drinkers, the scene, the enthusiasm about beer and when I got back to the UK the beers I used to drink regularly just didn’t do it for me any more. Thanks to the SUPREME POWER OF THE INTERNET I managed to find outlets such as mybrewerytap.com and British brewers such as Thornbridge, Brewdog etc to satisfy my newly acquired vampiric craving for hops.
When I’ve blogged a bit more about the beers I like (and perhaps some that I don’t) I plan to write an in depth piece about that historic trip to the town of Fort Collins (It’s like some kind of ale MECCA) and all of its liquid wonderment but that’s another story for another time.
You couldn't buy these in the UK even if you wanted to.
You’ve probably gathered by now that I am a bit of a hophead, I love craft beers from the USA and I think we owe a lot to the mighty craft beer scene from across the pond. I think that without it we wouldn’t be experiencing this beer renaissance that we can see happening before our very eyes but the sad fact is that beer imported from the States is expensive. It’s not just expensive for the drinker, it’s expensive for the Brewer… For example take Denver’s Great Divide Brewing, which I was lucky enough to visit last year… the brewery is TINY, in fact I was staring at the tanks in disbelief because I knew that bottles and kegs of the stuff were available in the UK (if you were happy to splash some cash on any then you’ll know that it’s worth it) when it was plainly clear that they were barely able to supply the demands of their own state let alone the rest of the country.
Odell, another Colorado brewery, perhaps my favourite of the ones I’ve tried, currently only distributes to ten states and yet they decided that the best road for expansion from that point was to ship to the UK. I’m happy they decided this because it means that I can buy their beer and drink it at home and I accept that I have to pay a premium for it because it is a premium imported product however, it would probably have made a great deal more financial sense to introduce their brews to an eleventh state.
Canny English brewers have got wise to our insatiable need for hops, more and more UK brewers are dry hopping the living hell out of high ABV beers for our enjoyment (my taste buds are dancing as I type this) and the beers shipped from our friends in the US finally have some genuine competition. Plus if you’re anything like me you’d rather pour your hard earned cash back into the UK, right? These are tough times and we should be supporting home grown produce, especially when it’s so damn good!
So with the rise of US style beers brewed in the UK on the up then it seems plain to me that these North American brews which we have learned to love will start to gradually disappear from our shelves as these breweries look to expand their market share on their own shores. To be honest I can’t say I blame them, I manage an independent retailer and it’s bloody tough out there at the moment and in order to survive these financially testing times everyone’s got to maximise their earning potential and if that means reducing exports then so be it.
I’ll admit it, it saddens me somewhat that some of these great beers may cease to become readily available but many of these breweries just aren’t very big and I cannot see them sustaining overseas trade. When I first got into craft beer one of the first breweries I put on a pedestal of glory was the sublime Dogfish Head and I’d give my right arm (metaphorically, I need it for drinking, playing the guitar and… stuff) if their 60 and 90 minute IPA’s were on the shelf of my local offie (or mail order beer website) which they were when I first discovered them but sadly no longer. Despite this I can now pick up a Brewdog Hardcore IPA in Tesco… TESCO FOR GOODNESS SAKE and this is something that US brewers cannot aspire to achieve at the moment.
It's fantastic that beers from the likes of Brewdog (just one of many examples) readily available and some of them are arguably better than their American counterparts and you know what, I think our brewers might just concentrate on expanding their UK marketplace rather than overseas.
Incidentally if there are any black market beer dealers that can hook me up with a regular supply of Dogfish, Oskar Blues, New Belgium and Bear Republic beers (or anything else that you think will blow my mind) then please get in touch.