In the grand scheme of things, I really haven’t been a beer geek for very long, but I remember back when I first got geeky about beer, the places people dreamed of going to visit on beer holidays were exclusively in Europe.
You went to England for the sessionable, malty ales, Belgium for the abbey beers and the sours, and Germany for the exquisite lagers, hefeweizen, Kölsch, and alt. That is still mostly true. I just returned from a trip to Brussels and it wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to Cantillon. There are plenty of beer mecca sites in Europe, but now there are some sites in the United States that qualify as well.
This last summer, I had some friends visit from Australia. There are so many great breweries on the west coast of the United States, you really need to prioritize your stops. As we discussed where to go, it was clear that some of these places have attained beer mecca status. Russian River Brewing Company. Beer Mecca. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Beer Mecca. And there are plenty more. These places are so good, that beer geeks from around the world make the trip to the United States to visit them. It may seem like blasphemy to some, but I would say that there might be more great breweries on the west coast of the United States than there are in the entirety of Europe. Wow! When did that happen?
I remember a trip I took to Scotland in 2002 for a software conference. One of the conference events was a tour of the Caledonian Brewery, which was a real treat for me. At the end of the tour, one of the brewery employees was hanging out and the discussion turned to where everyone was from. Of course, he held the belief that beer in the United States was somewhat less well brewed than horse piss. Like many folks back then, they hadn’t had a chance to try the new craft beer that was really turning heads by that time.
To some extent, that is still the thinking around the world. Anyone that isn’t really geeky about beer and hasn’t traveled much, still holds this antiquated opinion of American beer. Those that have traveled to the United States and those that are geeky about craft beer do seem to realize how great the beer scene is today and they make a special effort to visit.
As I said, I’m not sure how that happened so quickly. I guess the folks that have been brewing and promoting craft beer perfection for the past 40 years would disagree that it was quick, but the pace of innovation and quality does seem to have accelerated over the past decade. And perhaps a large part of that has been due to the growth of the beer geek community in the United States. Those passionate folks, traveling to all of the beer meccas of the world, came back and began to demand more of their local craft beer. In some cases, they didn’t get what they wanted, so they decided the only way to do it was to create their own great brewery. And it is clear that at least a few of them became beer meccas of their own.