Buying better beer: Import or domestic?

Posted: June 06, 2014

B UZZ: Hey, Marnie, I see it's Philly Beer Week. How come everyone makes such a big deal about local beer nowadays? I always thought the good stuff was imported.

Marnie: That may have been accurate decades ago, Buzz, but times have changed. Many local beers are now fantastic. Beer quality is determined by the people who make it, not the region where it's made.

Buzz: I thought all the good beer came from Germany.

Marnie: It's true that certain places have earned a reputation for excellent beer, like Germany and Belgium, Colorado and Oregon. That's a feature of their local culture, though, not evidence of regional superiority, and like all social constructs, culture can change pretty quickly. Demand for better beer has been growing in the U.S. since the 1970s. This has led to the emergence of quality-minded craft brewers to meet the need.

Buzz: So I shouldn't be springing for imports for special occasions?

Marnie: That depends on what you like. American beers have improved dramatically, but that doesn't mean there's no reason to enjoy imports. For example, Americans are notorious for favoring bolder, sweeter flavors in our food, and our beers tend to fit that profile. If milder, drier beers are more your style, you may well prefer beers made in Europe or Asia.

Buzz: Why would I want dry beer? I like 'em cold and wet.

Marnie: In drinks, dry doesn't mean "not wet." It means the opposite of sweet. Many specialty beer styles are naturally a little sweeter - from lighter fruit beers and wheat beers to almost all strong beers over 6 percent alcohol, like IPAs and imperial stouts. But, the world's most popular beers are pale, refreshing lagers - from pilsners to light beers - which are much closer to total dryness. It may be hard to notice without a side-by-side taste test, but American beers in the light lager category almost always have a whisper more sweetness than those made in places like Germany or Japan.

Buzz: OK, but you're the expert. Which is better?

Marnie: Neither is better or worse, Buzz, just different. But I confess that I favor drier imported lagers, made in the classic German style.

Buzz: Thanks for making my weekend plans: I'll grill some bratwursts and do a taste test with a local brew and a German lager.


Marnie Old is a local sommelier and wine author known for practical advice with real-world relevance. Check her out at MarnieOld.com or follow her on Twitter at @MarnieOld. Buzz's musings are interpreted by Daily News Assistant Managing Editor Gar Joseph.    

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