North America or the US of A is huge. And beer is the number 1 tipple of choice for most Americans. Sounds daunting, doesn’t it?
So, how do you even begin to navigate how to drink beer in the US? With gargantuan commercial international brewery sales and an ever exploding craft brewery scene, where do you begin?
Well, let’s dive in and try to come up with an approach to drinking beer in the US. Hopefully, we can shed some light to assist in sorting out lagers from pale ales, stout from porters and brown ales from cream ales.
Firstly let’s tackle just how beer got so big…
Brief History Of American Beer
American breweries have produced some iconic beers and everyone has heard of Budweiser and Coors. Beer making has had a few major challenges since it started in the early 17 century in Dutch settlements. But beer brewing did not expand throughout this time as people preferred other alcoholic beverages at the time. By the mid-19 century, breweries grew following an influx of German immigration as most German immigrants made lagers, which were stable enough to travel if kept chilled.
Then along came pasteurisation which played a part in the expansion of beer. Anheuser-Busch used these technologies to make Budweiser the first beer available nationwide. The Prohibition of 1920-1933 devastated beer making, taking out about 40% of breweries. Later, the Great Depression and both world wars further impacted negatively on the industry.
The beer brewing industry expanded steadily since then, with some major heavyweights dominating the market since then. By 1978, independent brewers were looking to produce beer with different flavours from lagers. Around 1990, the number of craft brewers in the country almost tripled. In the last decade, the craft segment has exploded. The Brewers Association reports that in 2019 craft sales conquered 13.6% of the U.S. beer market share in volume and over 25% in retail dollar sales. 62.5% of the market is still dominated by mainstream beer giants Anheuser-Busch InBev and Molson Coors.
Even after decades of beer making, American beers remain leaders in the hearts and minds of American consumers. They make up 76% of the 25 most popular brews in the country and rank in the top 50 beers worldwide.
What Are The Major Beer Brands In The USA?
Of the 63% of Americans who drink alcohol, a whopping 42% prefer beer over any other alcoholic drink.
- Parent company: AB InBev
- US Dollar sales: $7,070,113,300
- Market share: 17.19%
- Parent company: AB InBev
- US Dollar sales: $2,890,441,100
- Parent company: Constellation Brands
- US Dollar sales: $2,660,214,900
- Market share: 7.03%
- Parent company: Constellation Brands (The Corona brand is handled by AB InBev elsewhere)
- US Dollar sales: $2,615,186,100
- Market share: 6.36%
- Parent company: Molson Coors
- US Dollar sales: $2,598,248,550
- Market share: 6.32%
With this kind of sales, one may be forgiven for wondering about Americans’ waistlines and BMIs. But it looks like they do watch their calories as the most popular beer in the US is Bud Lite.
America’s most popular beer is Bud Lite by some billions. Its sales are a jaw-dropping $2,031,000,000. Targeted and savvy marketing together with a pervasive association with sports and athletics has placed Bud Light on a home run and has been for years.
What Are The Different Styles Of American Beer?
Beer styles in the US include lagers, ales, amber ale, cream ale, and California common. More recent craft styles include American Pale Ale, American IPA, India Pale Lager, Black IPA, and the American “Double” or “Imperial” IPA.
Beer in the US is manufactured by more than 8,000 breweries, which range in size from industry giants to brewpubs and microbreweries.
With the exploding craft and microbrewery scene, one can always take in one of the great beer festivals to get to know your American IPA from your cream ales.
What Are The Major American Beer Festivals?
- The Great American Beer Festival is a three-day annual event organised by Brewers Association at Denver, Colorado. The Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is the largest ticketed beer festival in the US. On the go since 1982 and representing brewers from all US states, more than 7900 beers are in the mix for tasting and review.
- Oregon Brewers Festival is the longest-running beer festival in the US. Admission is free, but to sample you need tokens. Over 70,000 beer enthusiasts flock to this festival.
- The Nashville Oktoberfest is a free event with various craft beer vendors selling their products, including delicious food to sample beers with.
- Philly Beer Week is a series of beer events held over a 10-day period in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley area.
- Grovetoberfest is Florida’s largest beer festival. It attracts over 8,000 visitors to showcase more than 250 craft beers. The event focuses mainly on craft beer and its culinary relevance. It takes place each October.
- AmeriCAN Canned Craft Beer Festival is an annual event held in Scottsdale, Arizona. About 250 breweries, both local brewers and from other US states, participate in this festival.
But from the looks of awarded craft beers, one should head to Oregon or look for the following brands.
What Are The Best Microbrew Or Craft Beers In THE USA?
According to the GABF listed above, Oregon breweries took home 22 awards in the 2020 competition. These included Old Town Brewing, Three Creeks Brewing, Coldfire Brewing, pFriem Family Brewers, Alesong Brewing & Blending, and Von Ebert Brewing.
Let’s turn to pairing your favourite new US beer with food.
What Are The Best American Beers To Pair With American Food?
The types of American beer vary greatly in their colour, alcohol content, taste, and mouthfeel, so if you want to make a good pairing, you must first understand the different styles of beer.
Here is a handy list to help with basic food pairing:
- Light lagers: Spicy food, burgers, salad
- Wheat beers: Spicy food and fruity desserts
- India pale ales (IPAs): Steak, barbecue, and Mexican food
- Amber ales: Pizza, fried food, smoked pork
- Dark lagers: Pizza, burgers, hearty stews
- Brown ales: Sausage, sushi, fish
- Porters: Seafood, coffee-flavoured desserts, game meats
- Stouts: Chocolate desserts, shellfish, Mexican food.
And what about those quintessentially American foods like hamburgers and hot dogs?
For hamburgers, try Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale and Deschutes Brewery’s Fresh Squeezed.
With spring coming up and baseball season about to kick in, that means hot dogs are everywhere. Try Ommegang Abbey Ale, Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale and Bull & Bush Man Beer IPA.
What Are The Best Microbrew Or Craft Beers In The USA?
According to Microbrewery, the following microbrew and craft beers are considered top-notch:
- Voodoo Ranger IPA: Ingredients range from Mosaic hops to Amarillo hops and fruits. Voodoo Ranger tastes of grass, pine, and citrus.
- KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout): The ale is the first dark-brown-coloured beer to grace the list of Americans’ best beers, signalling its unique traits and ingredients. This 12 percent ABV imperial stout smells of coffee, wood, and bourbon.
- CBS (Canadian Breakfast Stout): This creamy, well-balanced stout is one ale to store up for special occasions.
- Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: This ale is strong on the hops’ aroma and flavour and remains a damn fine beer.
- Breakfast Stout: This stout is rated 100 on Beer Advocate.
So which cities in the US are great for beer drinkers? To find out, SmartAsset compared 366 cities across the following metrics: total number of breweries, breweries per 100,000 residents, the average number of beers per brewery, bars per 100,000 residents and the average price of a pint.
- Pittsburgh, PA: With 28 total breweries, Pittsburgh ranks 15th for this all-important metric and 27th for breweries per 100,000 residents (9.4). The Steel City also has the 23rd-most bars for every 100,000 residents with 29.1. A pint of beer in Pittsburgh will cost you $4 on average, tied for 100th-cheapest. Meanwhile, breweries in Pittsburgh feature an average of 68.5 beers, which ranks 81st overall.
- Bend, OR: Known as a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and beer lovers alike, Bend, Oregon, has 24.5 breweries for every 100,000 residents, the third-most across our study. This small city of nearly 102,000 residents also ranks 20th for its total number of breweries (25), which includes the popular Deschutes Brewery.
- Milwaukee, WI: Milwaukee’s beer scene extends well beyond the Miller Brewing Company. The city features the 10th-most total breweries (32) in our study and has the 13th-most bars per 100,000 residents (35.3). The average cost of a pint of beer in Milwaukee is just $4, tied for the 100th-cheapest with several other cities.
- Cincinnati, OH: Cincinnati is a top destination for beer lovers, ranking 11th overall for the total number of breweries (31) and 22nd for breweries per 100,000 residents (10.2). Breweries in this Queen City also feature an average of 128.4 beers, the 17th-most across our study. However, the average price of a pint rose from $4 to $5, which tied for 204th-cheapest on our list.
- Asheville, NC: Situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Asheville has come to be known for its beer culture thanks in part to its 25 breweries (the 20th-most). The city ranks second overall for the number of breweries per 100,000 residents (26.9) and 29th for the average number of beers per brewery (105.8).
With more than 8,000 breweries operating in the US, beer is no longer just plain old beer. These days beer lovers are spoilt for choice and no longer have to settle for the forgettable and uninteresting beers of yesterday.
Beer is as American as hamburgers and hot dogs.