American beer culture is multi-faceted. We don’t have a true pub mindset like they do in Britain, and I would love that to be stronger in the United States. Instead we have the brewpub model, which is a brewery and a restaurant – it’s 50/50.
"You have a lot of small-scale breweries and a diversity of customers – not everybody is looking for the same thing."
We’re not a restaurant with a brewery tagged on for show, and we’re just not a brewery that sells a couple of kitchen items to keep people full while they’re drinking. It’s a neighbourhood place where people can feel comfortable coming in with families or friends, or by themselves. In America, the beers are localized. So in a city like Austin, where we’re based, you have a lot of small-scale breweries and a diversity of customers – not everybody is looking for the same thing.
At Pinthouse Pizza we focus on making “hop-forward” beers, which is beer with a heavy hop flavour and aroma. But somewhere like Live Oak make very traditional lagers, Pilsners and German beers. Also British and Americans ales just taste very different. An American Pale Ale has a lot more intense citrus notes in it – there’s some pungency and pine characters in the newer ones, too. They also tend to be slightly drier and bitter.
"I think it’s been a rebellion against the mainstream beers and when people started making their own beer they thought, “Why make a 4% beer when I can make one that’s 6%?”
An English IPA is maltier and a little more balanced on the hop side. With the English hops, they can have floral, more earthy characteristics. One of the big difference in American and British beer culture is the alcohol content. Our ales are strong and our IPAs can be between 6% and 7.5% – and they do go higher. There’s something about alcohol strength over here.
- On Tap, a documentary about the rising popularity of craft beer and its impact on the American beer market
I think it’s been a rebellion against the mainstream beers and when people started making their own beer they thought, “Why make a 4% beer when I can make one that’s 6%?” Also, as a brewer it’s easier and more fun to develop flavour in a high alcohol. If you’re trying to put flavour into a beer that’s only 3% or 4%, it can be very challenging because the beer is a lot thinner. You can lose some balance. The 6.5% to 7% mark is the sweet spot where a brewer can get really nice flavours and the beer feels really balanced.