A Brit in America #1 – Beer

Living Stateside, I’ve discovered that for many people I am the sole representative for all of Britain, and thus the target of any random questions they might have. Most often that is: “what’s the biggest cultural difference you’ve seen here?” I’ve never felt I had a single good answer to this question, so I thought I’d start chronicling some of the differences I’ve noticed here.

Perhaps owing to who I am as a person, the most obvious place to start seemed to be beer. This isn’t going to be a traditional rant against, or jokes at the expense of, American beer. There are plenty of beers made in America that I like, from Blue Moon, to craft beers, etc., etc. There are beers I wouldn’t touch, like Budweiser, but we have equivalents in the UK, like Carlsberg.

But American beer and British beer are fundamentally different creatures. Notably, American beer is always drunk cold, and the flavours, consistency, etc. are designed towards that. I once queried a friend about drinking cold mead, as I was used to it being a drink that was served warm, and their response was “it’s the south, we drink everything cold here.” Which, sitting in 95F (35C) heat, made a lot of sense.

The real problem in America is when they try to provide British beer. From what I can tell, they just fundamentally don’t understand the difference. There are a few different problems:

The first is one that can’t really be blamed on America: some beers don’t travel well. I had some Hobgoblin that I picked up as an import, and it just tasted off for some reason. (That being said, I actually had some good luck with a Samuel Smith sampler I had at Christmas).

Next is the serving method. English themed pubs are common here. Some do it better than others. I went to one establishment called Winston’s which had procured a Union Jack and a telephone booth, but the similarities to an English pub stopped there: the main beer on draft was Miller, and all the food was standard deep fried southern fare. Olde English Pub, in Albany, NY was a little more successful: the atmosphere was spot on, the music was good, they served one of the best attempts I’ve seen  at fish and chips, and they had a picture of Margret Thatcher over the urinal (not sure that’s relevant, but seemed worth mentioning for some reason). They had Old Speckled Hen on tap, a beer I’m a fan of, so I was pleasantly surprised. But they served it icy cold. Hen is an ale, and drinking it cold was just weird and wrong to me, no matter what the temperature outside: it affects the flavour a surprisingly large amount.

The worst problem I’ve encountered is when America tries to produce a British beer itself. The first time I drank Guinness Stateside was in Tennessee. I used to swear by it when I was in university, so I was excited to have it once more. The best way I’ve found to describe what I was served was that it must have been the product of someone who had only seen a pint of Guinness describing what Guinness was to someone who wasn’t much of a fan of beer. It looked the part, but that’s the extent of the similarities. The taste was entirely different. The issue I really take with it, is that it isn’t a bad beer (particularly as an American beer), but it’s a really bad Guinness. If you slapped a different label on it, I’d probably drink it quite happily. But as it is, I steer clear.

So summary: English beer—good, American beer—good, but let’s just stay in our lanes.


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