Extreme Brewing

In the early 1980s the aspiration of many American brewers was to create beers that mirrored the classic European styles.

As the craft brew movement grew and evolved, American brewers began to experiment and deviate from these traditional styles.

If we fast-forward 20 years, American breweries have become some of the most innovative in the world and the brewing pioneers of the extreme beer movement have helped transform the art of brewing. Today full flavoured, high-alcohol, complex and unique creations are a major part of the American craft brew landscape. There is a growing segment of the beer drinking community as well as single malt whisky and wine connoisseurs that have been converted to the complexity and depth of extreme craft brewing.

The United States of America is in the midst of its own brewing renaissance. While Belgium, Germany, England and the Czech Republic have brewing traditions that date back for centuries, extreme brewing in the US has only begun to flourish in the past decade. Styles such as double IPA and barrel-aged beers have been accepted by the craft beer industry, which has helped to fuel its steady growth. Now many extreme beers have their own style category. Recently the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado recognised this shift in brewing by designating new extreme and experimental beer categories for judging.

Extreme beer does have its critics who argue that these beers are too excessive. The doubling of the malt bill, adding once unheard of amounts of hops and ratcheting up the alcohol content of traditional beer styles, is a clear deviation from “traditional craft brewing.” However, American craft brewers and beer enthusiasts are embracing this innovation.

It is clear that craft beer drinkers can appreciate and differentiate a masterfully brewed kolsh, pale ale and pilsner, as well as a complex imperial stout, barrel-aged bourbon barley wine and double IPA. There is ample evidence to suggest that both extreme brewing and more traditional craft brewing are not only co-existing, but are prospering.

Strong beers have always been brewed for the holidays and many experimental beers were once keg only endeavors. But the US craft beer movement is changing the industry as more extreme beers are being bottled for year round consumption.

American breweries are pushing the envelope with beers of high alcoholic strength and arguably even higher quality. Some of these brewing pioneers have enjoyed great success and are expanding by building larger breweries. Stone Brewing Co. from San Marcos, California and Dogfish Head Brewing Co. in Lewes, Delaware are but two examples.

Other breweries such as Avery Brewing Co. in Boulder, Colorado; Alesmith Brewing Co. in San Diego, California; Rogue Brewing Co. in Newport, Oregon; Weyerbacher Brewing Co. in Easton Pennsylvania; Southern Tier Brewing Co. in western New York State; Three Floyds Brewing Co. in Munster, Indiana; Hair of the Dog Brewing Co. in Portland, Oregon; Jolly Pumpkin Brewing Co. in Dexter Michigan and Allagash Brewing Co. in Portland, Maine, are further examples of breweries that continue to prosper in large part because of their commitment to extreme brewing.

Article continues in Beers of the World magazine issue 10

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