American vs. British Beer in 1996

GABF 1996 logo.

In the autumn of 1996 Britain sent a delegation of beer experts to judge at the Great American Beer Festival: Roger Protz, veteran beer writer; Alastair Hook, pioneering UK lager brewer; and Sean Franklin, generally reckoned to be the first British brewer to make a feature of American Cascade hops.

All three con­tributed to an arti­cle in tech­ni­cal trade mag­a­zine The Grist for November/December that year. Protz com­plained that the cold Amer­i­can beer gave him gut-ache while Hook reflect­ed on the logis­tics and cul­ture sur­round­ing the event. But Franklin’s com­ments, which focus on the dif­fer­ence between British and Amer­i­can beers in those days before ‘craft beer’ was the phrase on everyone’s lips, are the most inter­est­ing.

He judged the Märzen, robust porter, Eng­lish bit­ter and bar­ley wine cat­e­gories, not India Pale Ale as you might assume from read­ing this:

In ret­ro­spect I saw four com­mon denom­i­na­tors. First because the Amer­i­can small brew­ers are much more into bot­tling than we are, the beers, in the main, looked very good. Sec­ond­ly, as you’d expect, there was a lot of Amer­i­can hop char­ac­ter in the beers, plen­ty of grape­fruit, flow­ery cit­rusy aro­mas – Chi­nook, Cas­cade and Cen­ten­ni­al. Lots of very char­ac­ter­ful, drink­able beers. Third­ly, some of the Amer­i­can beers have more ‘weight’ to them than UK beers. Cer­tain­ly to give a bal­anced beer at the US serv­ing tem­per­a­ture the beers need to be big­ger in ‘weight’ and char­ac­ter than our own. Fourth, and most impor­tant, most US micro­brew­eries now see beer as a ‘qual­i­ty’ prod­uct. They have pro­ject­ed  fash­ion­able edge onto their prod­ucts. The qual­i­ty match­es the mar­ket­ing.

Cold, weighty, char­ac­ter­ful, per­fumed… It’s easy to under­stand how that turned the heads of British beer drinkers, and brew­ers. And even if the details have changed and new styles have emerged it still feels like a fair sum­ma­ry of the dif­fer­ences between Amer­i­can beer in gen­er­al and the more tra­di­tion­al British approach.

Franklin’s Second Rule of Beer Tasting

The truth is that in beer there are the same components… that make fruits, flowers and spices and all the rest smell as they do. So before you pick up the glass, start believing that beers can taste of anything. From TCP to elderflower through citrus tastes of orange and grapefruit to toffee to cardboard – anything. Once you open your mind to this possibility you’re on the right track.”

Pio­neer­ing British brew­er Sean Franklin in ‘Tast­ing Beer’, Brewer’s Con­tact, Sep­tem­ber 2006.