Getting a Taste for Better Beer
The pub was buzzing, half due to excitement and half due to drunkenness. At the front of the line were the regulars, people who had gotten the news first: the Anthill Pub was bringing in a cask of new beer. A hush overtook the room as the metal keg was pulled from the back storage area and tapped. The first pint was poured, hand pumped from a special tap and handed off, then another, and another. As the line emptied, the live band began to play. From my spot at the bar, I nodded at the bartender and ordered a pint. The next day, there was a new addition to the chalkboard beer list. “Cask: Stone Smoked Vanilla Porter.”
Such scenes are becoming more and more common throughout the country. The United States, long thought to be the land where beer had no flavor, has been going through a brewing renaissance over the last 20 years. Rejecting the flavor and style of the bland big three American-Style Pale Lagers, (Coors, Miller and Budweiser), American craft breweries have been churning out more and more interesting beers in all different styles.
Their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed; American brew masters have been winning more awards worldwide. Driven in part by the willingness of pubs like the Anthill to showcase the new beers, it’s now possible to take part in something that didn’t really exist all too long ago: an “American” beer tasting.
California breweries have been at the forefront of the United States beer revival for quite some time and are a great place to start. These breweries run the entire length of the 101 and brew all kinds of beer. Those looking for a primer don’t have to search any farther than campus for a lesson. The Anthill has been quietly turning UC Irvine into beer aficionados without anyone realizing. Their beer list is as close as you can get to a who’s who list in California brewing.
While any beer off the chalkboard is sure to be interesting, California staples include Arrogant Bastard, an aggressively hoppy ale with a surprisingly crisp finish, and Stone Pale Ale, smooth to the palate with a slightly fruity finish, both from Stone Brewing Company, twice voted the “the #1 Best Brewery Ever” by Beer Advocate and the most well-known craft brewery in California.
Many other California breweries are represented, however, such as San Diego Brewery Alesmith’s Nautical Nut Brown, a brown ale with hints of hazelnut and Pliny the Elder, a high alcohol volume India pale ale that’s perfectly fresh and that has won the Sonoma county-based Russian River Brewery three gold medals. These beers all have their own distinct flavors and aromas that one can only experience by drinking them.
If you’re new to craft beer and need your hand held just slightly, there’s nowhere better to learn a little than our home pub. The bartenders on campus are knowledgeable almost to a fault and are quick with their recommendations.
Once you’ve got a little more experience, Hi-Times, the largest wine cellar on the west coast, is located only 15 minutes away in Costa Mesa. They carry many of the beers found at the pub as well as over 1,000 other bottles, both domestic and imported. This gives you a chance to compare old-style European beers to their slightly tweaked American cousins.
American beer is more than just the watery mess promoted by the large macro breweries. Rather, it should be a source of pride. Like American food and American culture, American beer covers all styles, from Pilsners, to lagers to ales. Beyond the beer pong brews, the United States offers a ridiculous amount of beer, not just from California but also from the entire country.
There are many varied styles to choose from; whether the base style is an Oktoberfest beer, a lager or something different entirely, it is bound to have an American cousin. Beer tasting then is not just a way to get drunk slowly but also a way to celebrate our culture and our history.