I know I’ve written about this a bunch of times before, but every time I go abroad I am absolutely floored to discover just how much American craft brewers have been influencing the craft scenes—both established and burgeoning—around the world. And each time I’m in Europe, the extent to which that impact is felt always seems far greater than it was on my prior visit.
Just in the past two months, I returned to a trio of Western European markets known for their own venerable beer traditions. It was those same traditions that previously influenced craft brewers in the U.S. I’m talking about Belgium, Germany and the U.K.
In a column last year, I rhapsodized about the craft beer renaissance in London that very much mirrored the early days of the U.S. boom. I won’t spend too much time on that particular market, except to say that the American craft influence—what I like to call the “brewmerang effect,” wherein beer countries that had inspired small U.S. brewers are now home to a new generation of brewers inspired by the Yanks—seemed far more pronounced than my previous visit, just seven months prior.
Belgium was a true revelation. It had only been two years since my last visit, but the number of breweries making U.S.-inspired hop-forward beers seems to have increased exponentially in that time. They’re also producing styles like imperial stouts and porters and ramping up their whiskey barrel aging activities—including in cooperage that once housed that most American of spirits, bourbon.
American craft brewers have gotten quite adept at producing their own riff on classic Belgian styles. The Belgians are now returning the favor. Of course, it’s not just out of admiration. There’s a real commercial reason. Since about 60 percent of the output from independent Belgian breweries is exported, Belgian brewers now need to compete with the 2,600 or so brewers in a country that was only too recently treated as a punchline on the world brewing stage. That is far from being the case now. And, when it comes to the Belgian styles that American beer consumers have come to love via stateside craft producers, the Belgians might just be asserting themselves a little bit and reminding the world where those varieties were born.
Surely the same dynamic couldn’t be playing out in that other Western European bastion of centuries-old brewing heritage, the lager-centric home of the Reinheitsgebot, Germany. All I needed to do was step foot in the new Berlin gastropub Das Meisterstück to discover how wrong I was. The portrait of Brooklyn Brewery brew master Garrett Oliver on the wall of Das Meisterstück was a pretty good hint as to the types of delights available on tap and in bottles in the Berliner bar/restaurant. We’re not talking just pils and weissbier here. Imperial brown ales, IPAs, stouts, farmhouse ales and other decidedly non-German styles were on the menu—most of which were not imports, but were from new Deutschland breweries.
Europeans no longer find American beer a joke; in fact, U.S. brewers are having the last laugh.