Back 1990s I paid my first visit to America, driving from North to South along the West Coast, cramming in as much as I could of the vast, outdoor scenery and the dingy, sweaty night spots. It was a trip packed with new experiences, not least for two culinary revelations that serve to highlight just how long ago it was. The first was coffee. Back at home I was very much in the minority for preferring coffee to tea, no matter what the occasion, but it was nigh on impossible to get anything other than a teaspoon of Nescafé stirred into hot water. The only variation came with the addition of milk. In America, decent coffee was everywhere. Busy breakfast diners kept giving me free refills of the stuff; some cafés were almost entirely dedicated to serving coffee, with crazy new names such a ‘latte’ and ‘Americano’ chalked up on lengthy hot drinks menus; and even battered old service stations in one horse towns always had a fresh pot to hand. Returning to England I enthused about it to anyone who would listen, suggesting opening a coffee shop would be a great business idea, but they all smirked into their cups of tea.
The other revelation was beer. I had assumed that all American beer would be watery yellow froth like the few imported brands we got at home. There was no internet to tell me otherwise and the guide books were more interested in nature’s work with rocks than beer. But, amazingly, getting a decent glass of beer was far from challenging. Particularly in Portland, Oregon, every other bar or club either brewed their own beer out the back, or knew a microbrewery who did, providing a huge bonus to the holiday experience.
Of course, we now know that at the time America was in the throes of a beer revolution – home brewers were experimenting with full flavoured beers and turning their hobbies into new businesses. Such was the impact of this craft beer movement that now it’s perfectly normal for a British brewer to look across the pond for inspiration and even name their beers after an American style – something that would’ve been unimaginable back then.
One new brewery with a passion for American beer adventures is ShinDigger, and I’m now sipping their ‘West Coast Pale Ale’, a highly quaffable number laced with West Coast hops that are scratching a bit of life into my well worn memory cells. It’s a glossy amber colour with a light fizz, light body and a full on howl of hop heaven. Fruity, citrusy, fresh and zesty – they’re all common descriptions for West Coast hops and they’re all relevant here. An effortlessly simple brew deliciously balanced with complex hop arrangement.
Before I first travelled to the West Coast I had never tasted a beer like this, and it’s only recently that I’m properly becoming familiar with the flavours. But thanks to those American pioneers, and the gathering momentum of the UK craft beer scene, great beers like this are much more common experience – and we are all the better for it.
Brewery: ShinDigger, Manchester
Beer name: West Coast Pale Ale
Beer supplied by The Other Brew