Five “Local” Beers You’ve Almost Certainly Never Tried
Equally irreverent and revealing, Dane Huckelbridge’s masterful cultural history, The United States of Beer, charts the wild, engrossing, and surprisingly complex story of our favorite alcoholic drink, showing how America has been under the influence of beer at almost every stage.
We’re excited to share Dane’s list of five local beers that showcase the distinctive styles and history of American beer—distinct enough you’ve probably never tried them. We can’t wait to try some of these ourselves! Find out more about The United States of Beer, now available wherever books are sold.
Five “Local” Beers You’ve Almost Certainly Never Tried:
Exploring the distinctive brew styles of our American past
By Dane Huckelbridge
When I first told friends I was writing a regional history of American beer, the common assumption was that I would only be covering the craft beer revolution that brought small-scale, local brewing to the American scene. Which is a fair assumption—the rise of huge, industrial macro-breweries in the 20th century had more or less turned beer into a national product, with inventions like pasteurization and refrigeration allowing what had been a perishable beverage to be loaded and shipped across the country. A thirsty consumer could easily find the same brands of pale lager almost anywhere in the United States. For many of us, the relatively recent rise of craft beer has provided the only alternative to mass-produced suds.
What the prominence of national beer brands obscures, however—and what the rise of local craft breweries may serve to remind us of—is that for most of American history, beer was a local product, with distinct styles and techniques arising, depending on the region. Immigrants and migrants brought their own unique brewing knowledge, and adapted it to fit their new surroundings. Here are just a few of the local beers an American could have savored in our colonial and frontier past:
When Puritans began settling in New England, they brought a healthy thirst for dark English ales. They literally drank the stuff like water, as low alcohol beers were preferred to drinking from rivers and wells that were often polluted. When hops proved scarce for brewing in their new home, they turned to the bows of red and black spruce to flavor their beer.
In the American southwest, Native Americans brewed a low-alcohol drink called tiswin. They used it in many of their most sacred ceremonies, after a fermentation process that sometimes involved chewing the corn rather than malting it. Geronimo himself was said to be a big fan of corn beer.
Contrary to what you may think, pumpkin-flavored seasonal ales are not a recent invention. In the Mid-Atlantic and New England, pumpkin served as an accessible brewing ingredient during the cooler months.
Cherokees were among the first to make drinks from this tangy fruit that grew wild in southeastern forests. The techniques were later borrowed by African American brewers in the antebellum South, who combined the ingredient with sweet potatoes and other starches to make a special beer for the holidays.
Many in the warmer, coastal regions of colonial America had difficulty getting barley to grow. Their solution was to brew using molasses, an ingredient that was plentiful thanks to trade with sugar-producing Caribbean islands. In New Orleans, molasses beer was sometimes flavored with wormwood—a plant the locals knew well thanks to their penchant for French absinthe.