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The great American pub crawl (Part 2 of 2)

The conclusion of Michael Jackson's epic beer odyssey

In New York City, a brewer who once worked at Sam Smith's is making excellent ales and stout in a redundant power station in SoHo. It is called the Manhattan Brewing Company, and is at 40-42 Thompson St. Bars like Brewsky's (run by Ukrainians) and the Peculiar Pub (with Chinese hosts), both in Greenwich Village, offer great selections.

Baltimore could be the next place for the beer-hunter. Another of those British entrepreneurs is making a malty ale pompously entitled Oxford Class, available cask-conditioned, at weekends only, at an establishment called Bertha's Mussels, of Fell's Point. Then there is Sissons. If it were not in the middle of town, opposite the covered market, I would call Sissons a neighbourhood bar. The owner, the actor Hugh Sisson, has just started making his own very hoppy ales. Elsewhere in the downtown area, a member of the Grolsch family has started the Baltimore Brewing Company, offering outstanding lagers in a German-style restaurant.

A good few cities in America have bars offering several hundred beers from around the world. One of the pioneers was The Brickskeller, in Washington DC. I am booked to present tutored tastings on consecutive evenings at The Brickskeller. Each evening, we have a full house, of more than 200 people, in an upstairs room with a tiny stage. "How do you like playing my place?" asks the patron, a Corsican-American. I feel like Lenny Bruce on booze.

The Kitty Hawk flew in North Carolina, and that is where I am heading, after Norfolk, in a more recent, four-seater plane. We visit brew-pubs in Manteo and in Durham, a tobacco town with "Thank You For Smoking" bumper stickers. In Durham, the Weeping Radish brew-pub has one of the best dark, Munich-style lagers I have ever tasted.

My intelligence network sends me on to Florida, where the air is like a hot sponge, but I still enjoy a pint of an ale called British Red, at the Tampa Bay Brewing Company. There are at least 10 brew-pubs in Florida.

The South is full of signs saying "Last beer before dry county", or "Coldest beer in town," but things are changing.

The South is full of signs saying "Last beer before dry county", or "Coldest beer in town," but things are changing. On the first upswing of the W, in Nashville, I meet Lindsay Bohannon, who has turned away from his family's tobacco business to brew tasty Market Street Lager in an elegant building that was once the offices of a whiskey distillery.

In Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, I stay at the Drawbridge Inn, which has a brewery attached. The building is a faithful reproduction of a late 1800s German brewery, but it was erected only two or three years ago. In the adjoining beer hall, they serve malty lager by the pitcher, and set off fireworks as a part of "family" entertainment.

Across the river is Cincinnati, then I head north to Columbus, Ohio, to visit three breweries. I particularly like the beer, and the bologna sandwiches, at Hoster's, one of at least three new American brew-pubs to reside in tramsheds. On both sides of the Atlantic, there seems to be an affinity between beer-lovers and tram-fanciers.

In Cleveland, I visit a Jungian academic who is making a Vienna-style amber lager called Eliot Ness at the Great Lakes brew-pub, in an 1860s saloon with bullet holes in the walls. From Detroit, I head north to visit a new, German-run brewery in the old Franconian Lutheran town of Frankenmuth. In Chicago, there are now no fewer than six breweries, of which my favourite is Goose Island.

In Milwaukee, a cop straight out of Hill Street Blues is one of the partners in the Lakefront Brewery, which works only at weekends and makes a spectacular cheery lager each August. I press on through Iowa and Minnesota (great ales at Sherlock's Home, Minnetonka, Minneapolis) to Colorado (more of the same at the Wynkoop, in Denver). One day, I cross snowy mountains, and the Continental Divide, to drink Oatmeal Stout in a brew-pub at Breckenridge, Colorado. Next day, the earth is rocky-red and beer spiced with the local product on the terrace at Embudo Station, where the Chili Line railroad once ran by the Rio Grande on its way from Taos, New Mexico. Nearby, Santa Fe has its own Pale Ale, brewed at a horse ranch on the High Mountain Desert, and bottle-conditioned like White Shield Worthington.

In Phoenix, the air is as hot and dry as sandpaper, and there is ice-cold beer out of Mason jars in a totally fake Wild West town called Cave Creek.

In Phoenix, the air is as hot and dry as sandpaper, and there is ice-cold beer out of Mason jars in a totally fake Wild West town called Cave Creek. Preferring a real Wild West town, I had on through Tucson to Tombstone, thence to Bisbee, Arizona, to visit a brewery in a copper mine crater.

After about 25 flights in a month, I am glad to be decanted at San Diego to meet Bret Nickels, who runs a bi-monthly beer guide, distributed free in Californias 60 or 70 brew-pubs. We seem to visit most of them as we spend four or five days driving the length of the state in his pick-up, dropping off copies of his paper, The California Celebrator, and picking up stories for the next issue.

Los Angeles's most fashionable chef, Wolfgang Puck, has just opened a restaurant that makes its own beer, Eureka. I am astonished to see Los Angelinos dripping in cream designer clothes waving away the wine waiter and insisting upon beer. More astonishing, they seem to prefer the unfiltered brew. We even have barley dumplings.

In Oakland, I tasted a wonderful mild at the Pacific Coast brew-pub. In Berkeley, there is beer seasoned with basil at the Bison Brewpub (well, this is California). In San Francisco, Anchor Steam welcomes visitors at the drop of a phone call. In the town of Napa, there is Ginseng Beer at Brown's, and Nelson Mandela Black Beer at Willet's. In Chico, there is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, another world-beater.

Of all America's beer-hunting grounds, two are truly remarkable.

Of all America's beer-hunting grounds, two are truly remarkable. One is northern California, which can be explored from San Francisco, preferably with the help of the Celebrator. The other is the Pacific Northwest: centred on Portland, Oregon, and Seattle.

After a lifetime of motels, I stay at the Heathman Hotel, in Portland. It has teak walls decorated with Japanese art, and owns the trendy lunch spot across the street with a brewery attached. Another of the town's several breweries, BridgePort, offers in its taproom the best cask-conditioned beer I have tasted in America.

In Seattle, there is a tiny new brewery attached to the lavish Pike Place retail food market, and a larger one in the mandatory tramshed. Several bars offer ranges of Northwestern ales, but my favourite is the Red Door, in the Fremont neighbourhood. The landlord is called Alfa Zinkevicius. Like me, he is a Lithuanian Yorkshireman. Wonderfully cosmopolitan country, the United States. Good beer, too.

Published Online: OCT 1, 1997
Published in Print: SEPT 22, 1990
In: The Independent

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