Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Today's column: Brewing it our way

We Americans like to do things our way, even (sometimes especially) if old-world tradition frowns on it.

Exhibit A: the Berman Museum decides to throw an autumnal celebration of beer, holds it on one day in September, and does the whole thing indoors.

Oktoberfest it's not, but then, Anniston ain't exactly Munich.

The museum's fourth annual Autumn Suds Fest is set for Sept. 27 at 6 p.m. The proceeds this year will help support a touring exhibit arriving in October 2009, Mary Lee Bendolph: Gee's Bend Quilts and Beyond.

That national independent streak of ours goes for our beer, too.

For every established European style of beer, there's a few dozen American brewers concocting their own interpretations.

It's very proper that Suds Fest takes place at the museum, where relics from around the world are displayed alongside artifacts of American history. At this year's festival, attendees will get to sample established European beers, many of which epitomize their respective styles, then quaff a version from a domestic brewer.

Expecting that the more-local brew will always seem the worse for comparison with competition from across the pond? Think again. The old bias against American beer may have been closer to the truth in the past, but independent brewers a generation ago began a revolution that is still reverberating through the market. Now, even the big U.S. labels are getting experimental, moving into territory once dominated by imports and smaller insurgent American brewers.

Anheuser-Busch, for example, has been using its Michelob label to bring a range of different styles to market that may be unfamiliar to many American consumers. There's a porter, a hefeweizen and a pale ale. Michelob Marzen will be on hand at the festival, for comparison to the seasonal Oktoberfest offering from the venerable Spaten label from Germany.

Also, Coors has scored a major success with its Blue Moon, a version of a Belgian "white," or wheat-based beer, and a line of co-branded seasonals. Suds Fest participants will get to sample it alongside the "original" Belgian white, Hoegaarden.

Some of the craft brewers leading the major labels down that path will be represented, too. Brooklyn Brewery's Brown Ale will be served alongside the ubiquitous Newcastle Brown Ale from Britain, Sierra Nevada's seasonal Summerfest Lager will match up with the Czech Pilsner Urquell, and Sierra Nevada's porter will stand alongside the Taddy Porter from Britain's Samuel Smith.

Even one Southern brewer makes an appearance, with the 420 Pale Ale from Atlanta's Sweetwater Brewing served next to the U.K.'s Bass Ale.

The beer is being provided by three distributors, Alabama Crown, Bama Budweiser and Supreme Beverage. Served with the suds will be bratwurst and other beer-friendly food. Museum development director Lindie Brown says there will also be darts, giveaways, museum tours and a more social atmosphere than in years past.

To attend, make a reservation ($25 per person or $45 per couple) by calling 237-6261.