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July 19, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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American Beer: Fornicating Adjacent to Water?


Watery, tasteless and uncreative beer is, unfortunately, usually very available and very affordable here in New Zealand. Actually, that is also the case in most countries around the world. But probably the nation most well-known for its insipid beer is America.

Budweiser and Miller are very popular beer brands in the United States, associated with sports teams, sports events, and often drunk by the cooler characters in movies, books and television shows. These brands have also been turning up in New Zealand, on and off, during the past year or two.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but these beers are almost indistinguishable in flavour from one another, and from the pale lagers brewed by the mainstream breweries here in New Zealand. The big American breweries have such a reputation for the style they inspired a Monty Python joke about sex and a canoe.

But watery beers also inspired the craft brewing renaissance in the United States. Positive they could make better tasting beer than the big brewing corporations, home brewers started brewing beer with creativity and flavour, and opened their own craft breweries to sell beer in their local regions.

One of the largest craft breweries in the US of A is Rogue Ales, producing almost 4 million litres per year. This rivals the volume produced by some of the mega-breweries in New Zealand—the main difference being that Rogue has managed to achieve this output without compromising on quality. A wonderful example of this is St Rogue Dry Hopped Red Ale (5.2%). It combines six different malts to achieve a deep red colour, and a complex and unique malt flavour. Dry hopping gives this beer a big citrusy hop character, which plays well with the malts.

Rogue recently started an offshoot brewery under a different label in a city famous for athletics: Eugene. Aptly, this brewery is named ‘Tracktown’ and was built on the site of the very first brewery in Eugene. Their flagship beer is Eugene Tracktown 200m IPA (6.4%), a classic example of a Northwestern style IPA. A tropical fruit and pine aroma gives this beer away as a hop bomb, which is backed up by an overt passionfruit hop flavour. All this is then overcome by a big hoppy bitterness which lingers forever, begging for another sweet sip.

Flying Dog is one of the few US craft breweries which rivals Rogue’s scale. Flying Dog draw their inspiration from the works of Hunter S. Thompson (of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas fame). The beer which draws on the Hunter S. spirit most obviously is Gonzo Imperial Porter (7.8%). The brewery’s motto is ‘Good Beer, No Shit’ and no shit, this is good beer. Don’t let its tar-like appearance fool you, this beer is hoppy. Licorice and chocolate flavours resonate from the intense roast malt, which works well with the big citrusy American hops that come with it. Much like the works of Hunter S. Thompson, I’d wager that you’ve never experienced anything like this before.

Unusually, in some cases American craft beer is more accessible here in Wellington than it is in many areas of the United States. Make the most of it. While America is undoubtedly the country of origin for some of the world’s worst beers, it’s also the home to many of the best.

P.S. Emerson’s Dunkelweiss is now very much available at Regional Wines and Spirits and all good beer bars—I apologise to those who went looking for the chocolate banana split beer a few weeks back, and were unable to find it. Cheers.

If you have any questions or comments about this week’s beers, you can email us at or

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