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On Beer and Brewing

I personally only know American beer by reputation; I dimly recall that Budweiser beer was briefly in vogue among the beer snobs I hung out with in the late '80s, in the same way that American beer snobs pretend to like Heineken. I don't remember if I actually tried it. In a previous post, I mentioned a Texan beer that I found acceptable, but that's about it for my experiences with beer from the US of A.
That reputation that I know American beer by is almost uniformly bad, even among the most red-blooded, star-spangled patriotic Americans. The improbably-named Kihm Winship has a large archive of writing about beer and brewing, written over a 30-year period, that tells me why this reputation is justified and how America came to the point where the descendents of German, English, Irish and Scandinavian immigrants saturated the market with swill. That's a good thing, because it means I still won't have to drink the stuff to consider myself knowledgeable about it.
Winship's more recent beer writing (the two historical articles about the devolution of American beer are from 1975 and 1988) focuses on mostly local microbreweries in the Syracuse areas and new, different types of beer hitting the market. There is light at the end of the tunnel, it seems.

Comments (10)

What an odd thing to have an opinion about, something you don't know about. (Or rather, that was my first thought, then I realized I have lots of opinions about lots of things I don't know about, for ex. everything I see and hear on the news.)

There are plenty of things people form an opinion about on the basis of trusting the opinions of other, knowledgeable people. Paleontology, for example. Rather than reconstruct a tyrannosaurus on the basis of the available fossil evidence ourselves, we take it as given that those who have done the job have done it well and that T.Rex looked like it does in the pictures.
Likewise, I trust people who have drunk American beer a lot and say, almost unanimously, that it stinks and that beers from other countries are tastier.

smilodon:

I'll agree its all swill here. When I was in college we drank Rolling Rock, which wasn't quite as bad as bud but still not good either...however after five you didn't care so....

It's true that mass-produced American beer is swill. But since the '80s, microbrews have gotten more and more popular, and some microbreweries have gotten to a point where they're not so "micro" anymore. It's not so hard to find good domestic beer in America anymore.

Well that was the impression I got from looking at the archive I linked to.

Squiddhartha:

I won't touch the mass-market "beer", but I live in Colorado, which is one of the hotbeds of microbreweries and homebrewing. I can confirm that there are plenty of folks making the Good Stuff.

One of my old roommates did some homebrewing, and he had one batch that came out a little stronger than intended. He named it "Accidental Overdose Malt Liquor." It was very popular.

In the 1970's, the U.S. was a Sahara for beer drinkers. But in the wake of the homebrewing and microbrewing revolutions, it's a good time to be here and to be alive; excellent beers of character are available at hundreds of brewpubs and microbreweries; in fact, Michael Jackson, author of The World Guide to Beer, has said that the U.S. has the most exciting brewing culture in the world right now. Cheers!

As for the improbable name, it was a gift of my mother, who liked the family name, "Kihm," of her sorority sister's boyfriend, and borrowed it. His family was from Alsace-Lorraine. Winship, of course, is English. The result is that I am partial to German white wines and British cask-conditioned ales.

Hey Kihm! Glad to see you here. I really liked the beer writing on your site and will go back there sometime to read more of your stuff on other subjects.
The two long histories were very educational, showing the role of technology, cultural history and economics in the devolution of American beer until they were written. Those things just fascinates me. And it was great to read, in one of the other articles, the explanation of how a good Witbier could turn up in Austin, Texas! Pierre Celis deserves a statue in bronze for his efforts on both sides of the Atlantic.
Between your first and second comments, I was going to apologise for the bit about your name - I know what it's like to have a name that people in other countries find strange!

I'm not much of a beer writer myself, but I hope you looked at and enjoyed the post about Barbara's beer: http://rocr.xepher.net/weblog/archives/000198.html

Reinder, I really enjoyed the piece about Barbara's chocolate beer; thanks for directing me to it. No apologies necessary -- "improbably named" is one of the most interesting things I've ever been called. And it's an honor to be mentioned on such a great blog. Long may you write, post and prosper. Best, Kihm

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