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The one point that was missed by American Heritage

The U.S. has the world's best selection of beers, and that's the truth

Part 1 of 3

American Heritage magazine's July cover story on beer aroused a lot of interest. You didn't see it? As a beer-lover, you should. Make sure you get a copy, so that you can read Max Rudin's main essay on "The Drink of Democracy". I would like to think that my sidebar "Ten Great American Beers" is pretty good, too, but you may already be familiar with ground it covered. If not, I have now posted the selection in full, as promised.. See Great American Beers..

One of the difficulties in naming great beers is that many people know only the regular golden stuff: the American/international distant derivation of Pilsner, That is the beer world's counterpart to McDonald's. It can be well made in its own terms, with a high standard of quality control, and it is massively popular, but it cannot be exceptional. Its whole point is not to be exceptional. Therefore it cannot be great. Nonetheless, the many drinkers for whom this is ".normal" beer think I am cheating if I nominate a brew like Alaskan Smoked Porter (a particular favorite that I unaccountably missed from my Ten Great Americans.

The choices before the beer-lover in the United States are wider than those on offer in any other country. I want that choice to continue, both for my own enjoyment and the greater good, but it will remain on offer only as long as people buy the beers. My difficulty:

It is possible to explain this choice to people who may know only the regular golden stuff, but it is difficult, because it requires me to discuss styles of beer they may never have see, let alone sampled.

More difficult yet: every time I write for a publication that is not specifically aimed at beer-lovers, I feel obliged to set the scene first. This presents further problems: it could cause every article to sound the same, and it tends to bury the point of the story.

For American Heritage, I squandered an hour or two on a 700 word introduction, far too much for a story that is a sidebar. They had room for only 100 words. As is often the case, I had delivered my story late, so there was not time to send it back to rejig. They did it themselves. The result, the introduction that ran, was a masterpiece of compression. It read well (it was made up my phrases, of course); it whet the appetite; and it made lots of strong points.

The text-editor did a great job, and I am reluctant to criticize, but one of the sentences that did not make it to the printed page was the rubric for the whole story:

The bigger American cities now offer a diversity of beer-styles far greater than that to be found in any single European country.

I made the point in the last line of the introduction. That was perhaps foolish. If cuts have to be made, it is easiest to snip a line from the end. All the same, I wonder ...

In articles for the consumer press, it is hard to communicate the point that the U.S. makes some of the world's greatest beers, and augments them with a wider range of imports than can be found anywhere else. If I write something like that, I often discover on opening the magazine or newspaper that the paragraph concerned has either been selected to accommodate any necessary cuts, or has been qualified with a clutter of adverbs, or otherwise watered down. What happens, I suspect, is that having hired me as an expert writer, editors find themselves unable to believe that my judgment is sound. "Best selection in the world? Are we sure? Is he being carried away with his own enthusiasn? Why don't we just make , "'an excellent selection'"?

Why not? Because I said something specific, strong and, I hope, interesting, and I know it to be true.

Go to Part 2


Published: JULY 15, 2002
In: Beer Hunter Online

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