I've been thinking of writing on this topic for a couple of weeks now. I think the past few books I've read put it in the back of my mind. From Ambitious Brew, to Beer and Food and even Fermenting Revolution, all of them, in some manner speak on Beer Culture, and it got me thinking about comparing today's Culture to yesteryear's. There are those that would argue that the peak of Beer Culture has passed, come and gone sometime in the late 1800's where everyone went down to their local pub or saloon to grab a pint of local brew. However, as is the purpose of this post, I disagree. I think NOW is the best time to be a lover of beer and to participate in beer culture. Maybe its because having grown up in Texas the local beers were Lone Star and Shiner (nothing against the Spoetzl Brewery) but the fact that most Americans are within 10 miles of a brewery (thanks to Fermenting Revolution for the stat) has to mean something. Today's beer drinkers have more GOOD choices than ever. From great local brewers (like Houston's Saint Arnold's) to Craft Brewers that ship nationally like Sam Adams, Dogfish Head and others the consumer has a plethora of amazing beer choices.
There are those that would argue that although the aforementioned is true there has been a loss of unique beer styles like Scottish Hawthorne Beer. While I will admit that point I would counter that we have seen an increase in new beer styles. The Brewer's Association recognizes well over a hundred different styles of beer, some which didn't even exist 20 years ago. Original beers such as Double IPA, and Double Red Ale are uniquely American and uniquely now. While our culture does not prioritize the use of older methods using traditional Belgian brewing techniques and wild yeasts, American Brewers are coming back strong utilizing these techniques. Brewers such as Allagash or Ommegang make some of the best Belgian style beers in the WORLD. Brewers at Dogfish Head are using fruit and herbs to create unique and complex beers that are closer to some wines in flavor profiles than traditional malt beverages. More and more beers are coming out that are oak aged, some from old bourbon barrels, others from used wine barrels. There has never been a time before that we have had a chance to taste so many amazing beers and to have so many amazing Beer experiences.
I don't believe that anyone can deny that the average person has less of an excuse now to drink bad beer. With so many choices, even at the local grocery store there is no reason to drink swill. This is one of the good things that has come with being able to easily ship things across country, everyone has the chance to taste great beer.
In the argument over Beer Culture and when it was at its peak, there is one thing I will concede. We are lacking in local Pub Culture, a place where one can go and (to quote an old TV Show) everyone knows your name and pours your favorite beer. Outside of a few places such as New York, Boston, even San Francisco good neighborhood pubs are a thing of the past. I hope that that trend turns around.