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A tale of two countries

1. The U.S. (Pennsylvania)

This time last week, I was in a commuter jet, flying through some of the worst turbulence I have experienced, en route from Washington, D.C., to the town of State College, Pennsylvania. Now, my unshakeable enthusiasm for the best of American brews is causing me a turbulent day or two in London. When I arrived in State College, I fancied a drink. At Zeno's, a cellar bar at the intersection of the main streets, I had a cask-conditioned pint of an ale that packed a silo of malt and launched a storm of hop oils. The experience was addictive. I had to be manhandled away from a Faustian pact with the HopDevil so that I could sample some brews that were newer to me. This tenacious pint issues from the Victory Brewing Company, of Downingtown, Pa.

It has a gravity of 16 Plato (1064); an emphasis on Vienna malt; first wort hopping; hefty doses of Centennials and Cascades, as blossoms, with a final addition in the hop-back; and 6.7 per cent alcohol by volume. The bitterness was once measured as 62, but there is doubt as to whether it is that high.

A couple of days into my visit, HopDevil had been judged "Best of Show" at the fourth annual State College Microbrewers' Exposition. I was not a judge -- I was too busy presenting seminars (three in one afternoon, all packed houses, I am happy to report). These took the form of tutored tastings, in which Victory's flavoursome, malty, beautifully balanced, Festbier was featured among eight brews from around the world. While in State College, I conducted a beer dinner at The Deli. This time, Victory contributed its deeply fruity Whirlwind Wit among a selection of Belgian styles. My whirlwind of brewery visits took me from "Pennsylvania Dutch" country to the Alleghenies. More reports later.

2. The U.K. (England)


The young lady is lying on a bed of barley. Her charms are hidden by hop vines. This poster, in its thousands, is being distributed in Britain by the Campaign for Real Ale. The campaign is financed out of a fighting fund among members. Its intended message is that "real ale" is "stylish and fashionable." The visual idea is distantly reminiscent of a poster revived in 1986 by the Hibernia (previously Walters) brewery, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The original poster had been used by Walters in the 1930s.

A redeye back to London and the annual meeting of Beer Writers' Guilds from around the world, at the White Horse, Parson's Green. Representing the North American Guild was Steve Hamburg, from Chicago; he's a devotee of British bitter. Other writers or brewers present were from

Scandinavia and Finland, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and the Czech Republic.

The chairman of the British Guild, Roger Protz, gave a speech reviewing the local scene, especially the takeover bid that threatens Marston's, the world's only Burton Union brewery. I was then asked to speak on the world at large, and I used some of my weekend's impressions to illustrate the whole-hearted approach of the best American brewers. Our host, Mark Dorber, picked up the theme. Later, Dorber and I were joined by beer-loving wine-writer Oz Clarke, another enthusiast for American craft brews.

When I arrived home, late into the evening, I had a voice-mail asking me to go the BBC at 7.45 next morning for its main Breakfast Television program. I was to appear in discussion with a Press spokesman for the Campaign for Real Ale, and we would be talking about a new advertising campaign aimed at recruiting younger members.

The ads feature an unclothed young woman and man, with wreaths of hops covering their erogenous zones. I wonder whether the target audience will find these sexist, or condescending. I also worry whether a consumerist organisation can afford, even at the periphery, to enter an advertising war. I was, though, hesitant to criticise Camra for taking what seemed a bold step. My reluctance became palpable when I realised that Camra's spokesman, Louise Ashworth, was new both to the job and to television.

Having worked as a producer, as well as a presenter and guest, over several decades, I presumed to give her some advice- - especially, to be aware that, just as she was getting into her stride, the item would be over.

She did well. Pity about me. The four-minute discussion, with we two guests and the usual male and female duo as presenters, quickly moved away from the ads. "What can the British ale brewers do to fight back against international brands?" asked presenter Jeremy Bowen. "Be like the Americans: proud of their products and shouting it from the rooftops," I replied. [Even veterans of live tv get a rush of blood to the head in those hasty minutes. I am summarising my memories; there is no transcript]. "It isn't always easy to find a good pint in Britain," Bowen observed. "For a truly hoppy one, I go to America," I announced, realising a second later that I had just offended all my buddies in British breweries. Just to compound the insult, I added that British brewers had their heads in the sand. I had hoped to provoke a lively discussion but, just as I was getting into my stride, the item was over.

The brewers with their heads in the sand do not attend the Great British Beer, which opened that afternoon. Those who did attend spent a great deal of time trying to bash my head -- and body -- through the floor.

The Great British: cakes and ale

When the results of the judging at the festival were announced, I was interested to see that the deserving Champion Beer of Britain was Jeffrey Hudson Bitter, from the Oakham Brewery, in the East Midlands of England.

Jeffrey Hudson was a dwarf who was asked to climb inside a cake. The idea was that he would jump out of the cake at a dinner for King Charles II. Hudson robustly declined to be baked, survived for many years, and died in the town of Oakham.

The beer named after him was runner-up to the Champion three years ago. My comments on this site at the time: "A more American-tasting beer, with a huge hop aroma and bitterness, against a firm, lean malt background."

Jeffrey Hudson Bitter is brewed from Maris Otter barley, floor-malted to a low color by Fawcett's, of Castleford, Yorkshire. It is hopped with Challengers (from England) for bitterness and Mount Hood (from Oregon) for aroma. Its gravity and alcohol are a mere 1038 and 3.8 per cent by volume.

This year, Oakham also won the speciality beer category with its thirst-cutting White Dwarf Wheat Beer, made with a British hop variety called Pioneer. This is one of new, less tall, family of hop vines. They are sometimes known as dwarf hops, though the term "hedgerow" is now preferred.

The brewery was founded in 1993 in Oakham, county seat of rural Rutland. In 1998, it outgrew its premises and moved 30 miles to the city of Peterborough. It is a sizable micro, supplying draft accounts around the country, but with what it terms The Brewery Tap. This is effectively a brewpub -- very American in style.

Published: AUG 1, 2001
In: Beer Hunter Online

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