The craft beer revolution that we know and love here in SA has a lot to thank the good old USA for. In fact, the US has in many ways spear-headed the craft beer movement and inspired and influenced many of the great brews we find lining the League of Beers shelves today. Here’s a quick run-down on the American craft beer revolution and US beer today.

Where the American craft beer revolution began

The craft beer revolution started in California in the late 1960s and early 1970s and it has burgeoned into an industry that has singlehandedly redefined what was originally thought of as ‘beer’. Yes, ‘beer’ used to equal mass-produced cans, fizz and flavourless pale lager. It used to be very difficult to tell one beer from another as big brands dominated the market.

The story goes that in the mid-1960s a small brewery in San Francisco called the Steam Beer Brewing Company was rescued from closure by the legendary Fritz Maytag and re-introduced its 100% malt beer called the Anchor Steam. This was the first traditional beer since Prohibition and it was the first beer that started the craft beer journey. From the 1970s until the 1990s, small microbrewies popped up all over the US such as Sierra Nevada, led by Ken Grossman. They started experimenting with flavour, small batches, creating stories and slowly but surely changing people’s minds about what makes a good brew.

Home-brewing was also legalised during this time which has been seen as one of the key steps in exposing people to the wonderful variety and possibility of beer. It wasn’t easy convincing the masses to walk on the other side but taste won out in the end. Today the American craft beer scene is thriving, the number of new breweries opened in 2012 reaches into the hundreds. The biggest breweries are based in California with nearly double that of any other state in the USA. The highest concentration of breweries are in Colorado and Oregan with New York, Texas and Washington hot on their heels in terms of total breweries per state; the location of breweries closely coincides with the local appetite for these crafty delicacies. The US produces the most and widest varieties of craft beer in the world; ranging from India Pale Ale (IPA) to American Brown Ale.

What are the defining characteristics of American craft beer?

It’s difficult to be categoric about this as the American craft beer scene is so vast and there are simply so many flavours but often you can expect big, bold and punchy flavours and lots of hops. There are some great labels and stories too.

The popular North American beer style leans towards American Pale Ale: a deep golden, coppery, fruity, floral and citrus-like hop. American pale ales have medium body to low and medium maltiness. Low, caramel character is allowed with a moderate to strong fruity aroma and lest we forget its famous cousin, the IPA which ups the anti on all of these descriptors in terms of intensity of flavours. Local craft aficionados are buying up American beers from the League of Beers and cellaring them (yes, you can) to drink on special occasions or savour at home with the right meal and friends.

American craft beer and League of Beers

As you know, League of Beers is devoted to sourcing difficult-to-find craft beers. Our craft beer buffs make regular trips to the USA where they sample an array of American craft beer and make these unique brews available to Saffas like you. It’s a punishing job but someone has to do it. As we understand it, League of Beers is the only place where you can buy American craft beer online in South Africa, with free delivery to boot.

If you’re keen to try a variety of American craft beers, our US Mixed Case is for you. It comes with a set of tasting notes that you can work through, training your palate to discern the flavours and aromas in each unique bottle of beer. Otherwise, check these Americans out:

It is also worth trying versions of American Styles from SA and around the world like the following:

What are you waiting for? The land of the brave is waiting for you.

Originally written for and published on League of