Well, there have been a few moments, really. Though the parlor-game thought struck me as to which was the most portentous moment only after reading Linda Hervieux’s recent report in The New York Times of the Brooklyn Brewery‘s bold French connections (coupled with a delightful photograph of brewmaster Garrett Oliver pouring outside La Cave à Bulles, perhaps the best beer shop in Paris).
The moment when American beer beat European came in June 2000 inside the sweeping Marriott Marquis in Midtown Manhattan. The World Beer Cup medals had been awarded; and the Association of Brewers (now Brewers Association) was hosting a panel. On it were Steve Hindy of the Brooklyn Brewery; Charlie Papazian of the Brewers Association; Michael Jackson, the incomparable critic; and Carlo Petrini, the Italian journalist-turned-Slow Food founder.
The talk turned to what was being called by then “beer culture.”
“Small production requires culture,” Petrini said, “and the culture of beer is to know the difference” between micro- and macro-production. Did people know the difference? “For most people, there is not a difference in beer. In some countries, there is only one type of beer and many people know only this type. Others are looking for a better-tasting product, and the two can’t get along.”
There it was: a European—not only that, but a European from one of the Continent’s great wine regions, Piedmont, and a noted wine writer—spelling out the search for a “better-tasting” beer back home. Indeed, the Slow Food movement that Petrini was so instrumental in launching would by the turn of the century embrace American craft brewers like rock stars, with Italian brewers in particular taking their cues from them rather than from their Northern European brethren who had been dominating the world’s beer for centuries.
The moment had none of the drama it deserves. It was not like wine’s Judgment of Paris in 1976, when Californian appellations trumped French ones in a blind tasting and the event made Time magazine. But Petrini’s observation on behalf of fellow Europeans made it squarely clear that they were looking for, and desirous of emulating, American craft beer. America was the leader, Europe the follower.
The prescience of not only Petrini’s comments but those of his fellow European on the World Beer Cup panel, Michael Jackson, was made clear once again by the recent Times article on the Brooklyn Brewery in France. Just as Petrini noted that Europeans were “looking for a better-tasting product,” Jackson noted that “the natural dynamic is to drink less, but drink better” in the new century. Here’s The Times 13 years later:
People are drinking less, but they want something that’s good,” said Simon Thillou, a former journalist who in 2006, tired of the usual “tasteless beer,” opened La Cave à Bulles … The French, they say, are now willing to spend more for a better product, be it wine or beer, even if they consume less of it.
Life is moments.