Don is the editor of Thirst magazine.
There was a time when American beer was a byword for tasteless, watery, bland rubbish. How things have changed.
Thanks to the good offices of Hashigo Zaki's Dominic Kelly - who is now importing a few lines of top-notch US ale - I gathered two like-minded individuals and we drank our way through five of the most radically different beers I've ever had.
The first one was something of a challenge to three men who had been weaned on British and Irish ale. Green Flash Hop Head is a 6.4 per cent red ale, with the most hoppy nose I've yet come across. The aroma was pure pine with hints of citrus and it was hard to taste anything but hops on the palate, while the finish was reminiscent of bitter aloes. A bit unbalanced for me, but definitely interesting, especially if you like hops.
Bear Republic's Racer 5 IPA was a bit more to our taste, still hoppy as anything, but with a warm blast of sweet malt behind it to back it up.
Next up was the frankly worrying Green Flash Imperial IPA, a 9.4 per cent alcohol monster with - again - a dose of hops on the nose that would choke a donkey. The palate was huge, too, with malt loaf notes underpinning citrus hop flavours.
I've described the other two in my tasting notes, but let me say it was a huge eye-opener for me and I'm looking forward to the chance to try more American beers in the future. Now there's a sentence I never thought I'd write.
Ballast Point Sculpin, RRP 650ml $15
This 7 per cent IPA is deceptively easy to drink, with an almost creamy nose, pitted with hop notes. Honeyed on the palate with a real bite and some interesting bittersweet notes coming from the hops. Long and refreshing, a really rewarding beer.
Ballast Point Victory At Sea Porter, RRP 650ml $16
Firstly, this is 10 per cent alcohol, so one is plenty. That said, this is an absolute gem of a beer, crammed with coffee, cream, vanilla and chocolate on the nose and even more so on the palate. Almost like a liqueur, you could easily serve this with tiramisu instead of a dessert wine. A triumph of the brewing art.