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Amuse Bouche: America’s most influential beers

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By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist

In the last issue, I touched on what I believe are some of America’s most important beers. Not only were some of them pioneers in what they brewed, but many were also innovators in how their nectar was packaged, accessed and transported.

Americans are great innovators, but we are also very skilled at imitating and duplicating some of the old world’s most classic brews.

Here is my list of some of the most influential American beers from a flavor or craft perspective.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I could write an entire piece on this brewery alone, and probably should. Not only did they introduce America to what would become the standard version of a classic English Ale, but the yeast strain used to ferment this pale ale is widely known among brewers and beer enthusiasts by its mere catalog number: 1056.

Three Floyds Alpha King. Some credit Lagunitas IPA as being the first hop bomb, but I disagree. Before there was Midas Crush, Celebration, or Fresh Squeezed there was Three Floyds Alpha King out of Hammond, IN. When fellow beer judges, brew club members and I weekend road tripped to Chi-Town for beer festivals in the 1990s, it was the unanimous selection that we all wanted to bring back with us most. 

Deschutes Black Butte Porter. For decades, Deschutes Black Butte Porter was perhaps the only porter I thought was better than my beloved Summit Porter from St Paul, MN. Among a sea of American porters and stouts, the Black Butte Porter from Deschutes remains the standard by which I judge all American porters.

Rogue Dead Guy Ale. Blending the alcohol of a German spring Maibock with the hops and yeast of an American IPA, this beer set in motion hundreds if not thousands of hybrid styles across the country. You could call it the beer version of fusion cuisine.

Corona. Go ahead and laugh, but influential doesn’t always mean in a good way. Aside from the classic practice of blue-collar German’s squeezing a lemon wedge into their wheat beer—originally at breakfast time, before work mind you—what other beer has so ingrained in us the practice of accompanying a brew with citrus? Corona has done so to the point of spilling over into any beer south of the border even. When I do consume a Corona, I am known for asking for it “nfl”; I’ll let you figure out that acronym. 

Bell’s Brown Ale. First brewed in 1985, Bell’s Best Brown was unquestionably as influential of a craft beer icon in the Midwest as Sierra Nevada was on the west coast. A quality brown ale which has stood the test of time for over three decades now.

Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy. Not a beer or style I have ever cared for, and in fact dreaded when I was a judge, but the practice of adding a little citrus to an already light lager is something so common today. And yet, Europeans are puzzled by why it took us so many years to figure out what they already knew.

Widmer Hefeweizen. The first American brewery to unfilter their wheat beer in the style of classic German hefeweizen. Widmer has influenced hundreds of unfiltered wheat beers across the land since its inception.

Honorable mention.

Brooklyn Lager. As top fermenting ales were flooding the first beer renaissance market, Brooklyn Lager was the craft answer to Budweiser and Miller. An aside, Garret Oliver, the first black American craft brewer, is still regarded as one of the nation’s brewing pioneers.

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale. One of the first seasonal ales to have a cult following of fans that pestered shop owners for insight as to its release date. Yes, admittedly I was one of those fans.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the executive chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.           

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