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Industry Report: The Global Impact of American Craft Beer

by Gregory Daurer on January 4, 2019, 01:55 pm MST

After decades of drawing inspiration from European traditions, America's craft brewers now find themselves influencers on a global scale.

Across the globe, brewers and beer drinkers are increasingly appreciating American beer styles.

Internationally, brewers have learned from their American counterparts on several fronts, finding inspiration especially in American-style pale ales and IPAs. Just like brewers domestically, many international brewers are smitten with citrusy American hops, readily incorporating them into their own creations.

Even in tradition-bound Germany with its long-standing beer purity law, the German craft beer market has been affected by the influence of American craft beer, leading to greater diversity.

For some brewers, America offers a training ground before bringing craft beer to previously underserved parts of the globe.

And -- whether directly inspired by American beers or not -- foreign brewers appreciate having the chance to sell us their beer, and to be -- as one brewery owner put it -- a part of the conversation within the most vibrant beer scene on the planet. Some want to be a part of that conversation so much that they are opening overseas outposts, even in Denver.

Bigger and crazier

For this armchair beer traveler, the above came into sharper relief at The Festival 2018, which took place over two days last October in Denver. Curated by the beer-importing Shelton Brothers, the festival presented beers from across the globe poured by the breweries themselves: Under one roof, there were offerings from Estonia, Belgium, Australia, Jordan, Mexico, Denmark, Sweden, and Germany, as well as the U.S.

"It's only been a recent thing where, I think, the U.S. has been influencing Europe," says Joel Shelton, who specializes in importing German, Czech, and Spanish beers for the brothers' company. "It's always been the other way around. Certainly, the most obvious things would be the American hop flavor and the sort of zesty, kind of punchy flavor. [That] was never really a thing in Europe; Europe was always about balance and a little subtlety. Maybe it's a cultural thing as well: We tend to do things bigger and a little crazier than Europeans -- but I think it plays out in the beer as well."

To be sure, craziness is one of our admired hallmarks overseas. Ask Bruno Carilli, founder of Italy's Toccalmatto, how U.S. styles have impacted Italian brewers, and he responds, "A lot. For instance, the varieties [of beer styles], the craziness, and, of course, the usage of hops."

Back home, Carilli's brewery produces a beer called King Hop American Pale Ale, and another named Surfing Hop Imperial IPA, which is described on the brewery's website as a "Belgian Imperial IPA . . . with American hops selected for their orange, tangerine, and citrus notes used in crazy quantities."

Starting from ground zero in terms of craft beer culture in the mid-'90s, "The Italians looked to the United States for ideas and inspiration," explains Paul Vismara, who co-authored the book, Italy: Beer Country. "There's [now] more breweries per capita in Italy than in the United States." Vismara is also the creative director at Liberati brewery and restaurant in Denver, which opened in late 2018, bringing oenobeers brewed with grapes and grain to the United States. Call it Italians returning a flavor, er, favor.

Has the Estonian brewery Põhjala found inspiration from America? "Totally!" exclaims Peeter Keek, the brewery's sales director. For instance, its beer Uus Maailm ("The New World") is dubbed a "San Diego Session IPA," and naturally Keek says it's "a nod to the brewers in San Diego." But, at the festival, Keek was pouring -- perhaps fittingly for an Estonian brewery -- a potent, nicely-attenuated, barrel-aged Imperial Baltic Porter. Why not Uus Maailm, instead? "It would be like bringing sand to the fucking beach!" responded Keek about importing the brewery's American-style IPAs to America.

Yvan De Baets is an eminent brewer of saisons at Belgium's Brasserie de la Senne. At least two brewers within CompanyWeek profiles have cited Brasserie de la Senne as a favorite and an inspiration, so it's somewhat surprising to hear De Baets say that even he's drawn inspiration from America: "I have learned many things, and that includes brewing methods, hopping techniques, even some barrel-aging techniques. There is so much creativity in the U.S., and a bunch of people that are very serious in what they do."

And it's not just the back-of-the-house brewing that's been a takeaway for De Baets, it's also catering to guests: "How to be cool for customers, organize events," says De Baets, who has taken cues from Americans on the importance of a brewery's taproom.

"Yvan De Baets is the master," Chad Yakobson of Denver's Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project previously told CompanyWeek. "He is the leading historian of saisons." Yet Yakobson is looked up to on another continent, as well: A collaboration between Crooked Stave and Denmark's Amager Bryghus, served by Amager at The Festival 2018, paid homage to Yakobson with a farmhouse pale ale called Chad, King of the Wild Yeasts. It not only featured three yeasts from Crooked Stave, it included the addition of the American hops Simcoe, Citra, Mosaic, and Amarillo.

Back in Denmark, Amager makes an India Pale Ale, which, according to the Google translation of its website, "is completely inspired by the new interpretations found on the American West Coast." Another Amager IPA contains the "blessed scent of fresh American hops." A third is noted as "a true American West Coast IPA, where no hops are saved."

Some breweries go so far as traveling to Washington's Yakima Valley to select their hops. Jamie Delap, the owner of Fyne Ales, says his Scottish brewery is "very rooted in the British scene" with an "overlay all the ideas from the American scene." At the Shelton Brothers' festival, Delap poured one of the tastiest yet mildest beers of the festival -- a 3.8 percent ABV ale incorporating a yeast derived from another Scottish brewery and Citra hops.

"We were one of the first British breweries to get Citra," says Delap. Fyne Ales works with hop merchant Charles Faram, and Delap writes in an email, "They sell American hops to around 2,000 customers outside the U.S. We would estimate that around 20 to 30 U.K. brewers make the journey to Yakima each year across all the different supply routes into the U.K. for U.S. hops."

Andy Nowlan of the U.K.'s Siren Craft Brew says, "We brew a lot of American styles. We love the way they taste. The whole inspiration came to us from the United States. We respect the British brewing tradition, we grew up on that. But we want to try different stuff."

For Siren, that includes serving American-style pale ales, flavored with American hops, from within traditional British casks; "So, we're still putting our own spin on it," says Nowlan.

Siren also produces a Berliner Weisse hopped with Citra and Mosaic hops from America. Given its availability at grocery stores, Nowlan says, "It could be many people's first sour beer in the U.K."

Brewing full circle

Despite the cost to Magic Rock Brewing, the U.K. brewery exports its beers via Shelton Brothers into the United States, like other brewers at the festival. An example: its High Wire, described on the brewery's website as "our tribute to the Pale Ales of the West Coast of America, beers unapologetically hop forward in character."

Taproom manager James Leslie says about exporting Magic Rock's beers, "It's the price that makes things difficult. It's the air freight and shipping. It's very expensive. As long as people are willing to pay that kind of cost on the other end, then, yes, all day long [to exporting to America]."

Given all that trouble, why export a beer like High Wire when there are already hoppy beers here? Leslie responds, "To showcase what we're doing. To show you that we can brew beers of that style, clean and fresh, and hopefully just as good as you guys can do it over here. So that you respect us, I guess, in that way, that we can do that."

Jean-Pierre van Roy of famed Belgian brewery Cantillon explains why he's keen on exporting his traditional lambic beers to America: "It's important for us because the American customer is a great connoisseur."

Delap of Fyne Ales adds, "America is the most exciting craft beer scene in the world, and, so, if you want to be part of the global craft beer conversation, you've kind of got to be here in America. So, it's just about having a little bit of a voice at the table. If you're serious about being great at craft beer, you need to be playing in the American market."

It's not just the U.K. that has been influenced by the American craft beer scene; Germany has taken cues as well. "The American craft beer movement influences the German craft beer movement, and this influences, indirectly, the industrial brewers," says Tilo Jänichen, the owner of Ritterguts Gose, a brand which has been in existence since 1824. "Now [the industrial German brewers are producing] not just a boring pilsner, but a keller beer, too."

Interviewed for a CompanyWeek profile, Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing Company described his travels on the continent with his wife Natalie: "We saw all over Germany breweries making what they call 'craft beer.' . . . Obviously, IPAs are big -- and they're doing it our way." Cilurzo adds, "I've seen it in Australia; I have friends that brew in New Zealand, in South America. Everyone's wanting to use American hops to make American IPA."

Some of those very hops have taken root abroad -- including in the Middle East. At The Festival 2018, Yazan Karadsheh of Carakale Brewing Company poured his Jordanian Wet Harvest IPA, which incorporates Centennial and Cascade hops. "I got all the rhizomes from the States and grew them out in Jordan for a few years," he says.

Karadsheh didn't just acquire his hop rhizomes from the U.S., he developed his interest in brewing here, too. "I got the bug in Boulder, Colorado," he says, "learning from the OGs" of the Colorado brewing scene, including folks at Avery and Twisted Pine, while working at a homebrew store. It was none other than Charlie Papazian of the Brewers Association who suggested to Karadsheh that he attend the noted brewing program at UC Davis.

Karadsheh, 34, now runs Jordan's first craft brewery, making a gose using salt from the Dead Sea, as well as an IPA with pink grapefruit from the Jordan Valley ("the lowest place on Earth"), and Chinook and Mosaic hops. "We introduce people to the Middle East through craft beer," he says.

Denver is over 11,000 miles away from Amman, Jordan, but Colorado is close to Karadsheh's heart when it comes to brewing. "It's humbling pouring beer in Colorado for the first time," he says about serving his ales at the festival. "It's like a full circle."

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