Neil the Beer Man give you the benefits of his experience of American beers. He drinks Bud Light so you don't have to, and Green Flash 'cos he can.
American beers have an appalling reputation internationally based largely on the fact that 80% of them are, in fact, nonsense on stilts. However, that accusation can be levelled at a number of countries' beers -- often a nation’s most popular or most famous beer is nothing like their best offering.
I have to confess that I did try Bud Light during my stay in America. Somewhat reluctantly, I had a taster glass of the stuff at my hotel. Robert the Rather Excellent Barman commented that this was the first time he had ever poured a tasting glass of Bud Light. It had a faint, distant nose of apple, a watery thin body, hints of apple juice and virtually no bitterness at the end. It was the very epitome of insipid.
Robert agreed with my tasting notes and explained that was precisely why he liked Bud Light so much. “It is like drinking water with alcohol in it – in a good way!” he exclaimed. The best beer he had available, from a pretty poor line up, was the Red Hook Long Hammer IPA. This beer at least had some juicy citrus notes and a firm bitter finish. Going from the Bud to the IPA was like the difference between night and day, hop illusions against hop flavour, real beer versus fizzy pop. That said, the Hammer was still more easy-drinking than intensely flavoured.
For intense flavours, the place to go is Green Flash Brewery. The catchy name refers to a rare natural phenomenon which can happen to the sun at sunrise and sunset near the ocean. Many people never see a green flash.
The brewery, founded by Mike and Lisa Hinkley, has been operating for just over six years and the simple, industrial-looking brewery is located in Vista, California.
It is just incredible what they coax out of their brewing tanks. As an unreconstructed hophead it is probably my favourite brewery in America. Mike told me that “hoppy beers are what we are known for and we are very happy with that!”
I started with the Anniversary Double IPA which was a special brew. I wrote that “it was as if a car load of hops had done a drive-by shooting on my palate.” Steve Plowman from Hallertau actually lost the power of speech when he tried it. It is so hoppy. It is so brilliant.
One of Green Flash’s signature beers is the West Coast IPA which weighs in at 7% and boasts a staggering 95 units of bitterness. I noted that it was “juicy, grapefruit, malty, full, big hops, late burst of intense bitterness and very, very tasty.”
Next was Le Freak, a 9% Belgian style strong ale with American dry hopping. Sadly, it was as confused as it sounds and my sole comment was “odd.” Personally, I like both styles but they just don’t work well together.
Perhaps the most extraordinary brew was the 2006 vintage of their Barleywine. It is a rare hoppy barleywine which boasted a phenomenal 10.9% alcohol and 85 units of bitterness. I thought it had a “surprisingly light body, sweet caramel, plenty of hops on the nose and at the end. Real bitterness. Very unusual but works well.”
Several people commented that the beers were so hoppy it feels like they are cleaning your teeth. Green Flash certainly uses a distinctive and generous combination of Nugget (herbal) and Simcoe (passionfruit) hops. There is something about a really hoppy beer which can make you smile like a fool – I coined the phrase “hop zombie.”
I thought I had coined another gem with my clever note that “Green Flash was the hoppiest place on earth.” My only concern at the time was being sued by the good people at Disney. Then it turns out that a great bar called O’Brien’s has been using that tag line for years. I’d probably seen it on a t-shirt the day before. The search continues…
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