American craft beers with food
An amazing lunch at Alyn Williams, The Westbury

This was one of the most remarkable taste experiences I have had. A range of American craft beers was matched with a menu specially prepared by Alyn Williams, served in his restaurant in The Westbury hotel in London.

These beers were truly amazing, and simply tasting these would have been a great experience, but the skilled pairing of these thrilling beers with food showed what potential there is for high-end beers in the fine dining context.

The craft beers were selected and introduced by Andreas Fält, who works for the (US) Brewers Association as an ambassador for US craft beers in Europe.

US craft beer is in an exciting phase. 55 000 US barrels (a US barrel is 190 litres; a UK barrel is 163) were exported last year, and increase of almost 50%, with the UK a major market. We began with a taste of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, the beer that started the explosion in US craft beer in 1980. Today, Sierra Nevada tastes quite tame: it’s nice, well balanced and has attractive hoppy flavours, but compared with the current crop of US IPAs, it comes across as shy and reserved. But this beer was seen as extreme in 1980. How times change.

Alyn Williams

In 1980 there were only eight craft breweries in the USA; by the mid 1990s there were about 600. Now there are more than 2000, with 900 in the planning stages. Of these, about 1100 are brew pubs. 800 are package breweries, and 65 can export.

‘Craft’ beer has been defined. To be a craft brewery you need to be independent and make fewer than 6 000 000 US barrels. You can’t be owned more than 25% by a non-craft brewery.

The roots of the movement? In the 1970s president Jimmy Carter took away the ban on home brewing and many people came out of the closet. From there it has taken off. 7.2% of beer sales in the USA last year were of craft beers, and total production was 160 million US barrels.

Andreas Fält

The creativity of the US craft brewers has started to have an influence on the European brewers. ‘Without the Americans, we wouldn’t have any proper IPAs today,’ says Andreas.

A new move is for craft brewers to use cans, which are normally associated with cheap beer. 170 breweries in the USA are now doing cans only. The cans are lighter and protect against oxygen and ultraviolet light. They are 98% more recyclable than glass, and easier for transport. 

Sierra Nevada/Russian River Brux
8.3% alcohol
A collaboration between Sierra Navada and the Russian River Brewing Company, this is refermented in the bottle with Brettanomyces bruxellensis. Wonderfully aromatic, spicy and a bit animal on the nose. Sweetly herby with some cheesy notes. Rich, warm, spicy palate with lovely freshness and some tangy characters. Just brilliant. 9/10

Alyn Williams matched this with the sweet and sour flavours of charred pear, Mersea wild oyster and some Somerset cider jelly. He added some sour Gueuze beer to the sweet cider to give it an edge. The combination worked nicely.

Stones Imperial Russian Stout, 2012 release, San Diego
10.5% alcohol. ‘Thick, rich and sinful’ is how this is described on the bottle, and it is meant for ageing. Amazing chocolate, coffee, spice and anise nose. The palate shows thick, rich flavours of chocolate, spice and liquorice, with some bitterness. Amazing. 9/10

This was matched with foie gras (confit, frozen, then shaved) with warming flavours of caper and raisin matched with cauliflower, together with caraway brioche. The beer almost overpoweringly rich, but there is some synergy.

Odell Brewing Company Footprint, Colorado
9.5% alcohol. Odell used ingredients from all 10 states they are distributed in for this beer. These are wheat, oats, barley, oak, honey, green chile, corn, rice, prickly pear and hops. It’s highly aromatic with floral passionfruit notes. Beautifully floral and exotic. The palate is rich and hoppy with lively flavours and some bitter and sweet notes in perfect tension. Fresh; not at all cloying, with notes of orange, grapefruit and citrus. 9.5/10

This was matched with aromatic brined cod cooked for a long time, coated with miso and served with fresh peas in a pod. Brilliant dish, but the footprint was a little too much for it.

Ska Brewing Company Decadent Imperial IPA, South Colorado
10% alcohol. Rich orange/gold colour. Very sweet, richly aromatic nose with honey, spice, passionfruit and peach, with some savoury sweet soy notes. Malty and rich but also savoury and meaty notes. Very smooth and sweet showing lovely complexity and some subtle bitter pine notes. 9/10

This was matched with 24 h cooked pork belly (suckling pig), fennel prepared in three different ways, an orange curd made with olive oil, and truffle. The idea was that the complex, sweet flavours of Decadent needed something fatty, and also with a wide range of tastes to counter the diverse flavours of the beer. The orange curd worked really well with the beer. 

Labyrinth ‘Crooked Line’ Black Ale, Utah
13.2% alcohol. Brewed with liquorice sticks and aged in rye bourbon barrels. It combines the roasted malts of a dark ale with the hop profile of an IPA. This is a truly remarkable, deeply coloured beer, showing sweet, pure malt, chocolate, liquorice and coffee aromas. The palate is rich and viscous with amazing depth of flavour: liquorice, toffee, dark chocolate. Astonishing concentration. 9.5/10

This was served with a meadow sweet panna cotta, together with blood nectarine and fresh almonds. Meadowsweet is slightly medicinal, but is wonderful in custards and with fresh berries. The nectarines were roasted, peeled and the skins were candied.

Boulevard Brewing Company Sixth Glass Quadrupel Ale, Kansas City
10.5% alcohol. Inspired by the Abbey beers from Belgium, this is warm, rich-textured, bold and smooth with nice fresh spiciness. Creamy and rich with lovely lush, sweet flavours, but also a bit of lively saltiness. Very Belgian in style. 9/10

Paired with walnut whip, garnished with a bit of ‘Mayfair bling’ gold foil. The match with the walnut flavours is brilliant. 

Allagash Brewing Company Coolship Resurgam
6.6% alcohol. A spontaneously fermented lambic style of beer, this is incredible. Amazing, lively, tangy citrussy nose with powerful apple and citrus notes, as well as some dairy hints. Really fresh and tangy with complex, sour, slightly funky flavours. Wonderful. 9.5/10

See also:

My blog posts on beer

Beers tasted 08/12  


Back to top