Picture the sight of a giant foamy wave forming above a golden amber ocean, the smell of malty sweetness and pungent pine and grapefruit citrus permeating the air. The aroma entices you to dig deeper, get a taste of this new discovery. The cold sweet elixir hits your palate and moves quickly to the back of your throat, giving you an almost orgasmic feeling of refreshment as it works its way to your stomach. Cool, refreshing, invigorating. You let out a giant elated sigh as you soak in the plethora of emotion that comes next. The weight is almost instantly lifted off your shoulders, as your body feels the cool and your muscles all relax in unison. Delicious isn’t it? I’m talking about the joy of that first sip of malty goodness when you first pop open a beer and take a pull.
How do I love beer? Oh let me count the ways. Maybe this should be “Why Wouldn’t I Love Beer?” but I think that would be slightly redundant. I mean, hello! What’s not to like about it? I also think that anyone and everyone who knows me gets the point I’m trying to make here. Beer is, in my honest opinion, the nectar of the gods. First, contrary to popular opinion, beer can be as wide ranging in variety as wine. In fact, if you were to look at the number of existing beer styles, it may shock you that it is so diversely varied. There is a beer for every season, several in fact. In a previous post I gave a breakdown of how beers are categorized by two distinct styles – ales and lagers – but as I also mentioned in the article, there are many subcategories that fall under each of those. The way beer is brewed is just as complex and exacting as how wine is made, and in some aspects even more demanding. For the uninitiated, or those who have not yet caught the craft brew fever, there is much more to life than Bud, Miller, Coors, Heineken and Corona. Herein we will discuss why I have such an affinity for the malty suds.
My Beer History
Let’s face it, if you know me, you know that I’ve been a beer drinker for a long time. It all started when I was about 5 years old. I know, I know, with a line like that you would instantly write me off as an alcoholic. Guilty! Well only to some small degree. I do have plenty of Irish and German blood in me. It’s part of my heritage, one that I am extremely proud of and make no apologies for. Anyway, back to my youth. Five years old and my family was stationed over in England at RAF Fairford and we lived in on-base housing. My father had a hobby that he was pursuing for some time – brewing beer (I guess I am a chip off the ol’ block) – and I remember looking in the garage and seeing this big vat of what appeared to be thick blackness. It looked like oil. I decided to give it a try because no one was around and my curiosity was getting the best of me. Somehow I managed to get a taste and immediately spit it out. I gagged in disgust and swore I’d never drink beer again in my life. My, how far we’ve come since then. In hindsight, I’d be willing to bet he had brewed some kind of stout, maybe an Irish Stout like Guinness. I don’t remember exactly, it has been about 30 years and my memory is a little foggy on that one. Regardless, this was my first foray into beer.
A few years later when helping my Dad work on the car, he’d often ask me to go fetch him a cold one. I’d run to the fridge and grab a can of whatever was in there – usually Bud, Coors or Miller Lite. Back then there was no such thing as craft beer on the market and the “big three” ruled over the entire industry. Dad would tinker on the car and take a pull on his brew every now and then. While he was focused on the car, I’d often ask for a sip. I wanted to try this stuff. It wasn’t black like the other crap I couldn’t stand and he seemed to enjoy it. I wanted to be like Dad. He was kind enough to give me the last pull on the beer after he had pretty much consumed the whole thing. What I got was mostly a lukewarm beer/backwash combination, but to me it was still considered beer. It was an interesting bonding moment between us – I help dad work on the car, he rewards me with a sip of the suds. The first time I got to savor a whole one with Dad was a few years later in my early teens when we were replacing the fence in the backyard. After laboring for hours fixing the landscaping, the foundation for the fencing and eventually putting in the final nail in the sweltering Texas sun, Dad looks at me and says “I think it’s time for a beer.” I ran to the fridge and grabbed one, came back and heard Dad say “better get two.” I quickly understood that this was reward for a job well done. I brought out the brews and we had our first father/son drink together, which was quickly followed by “Don’t tell your mother about this.” My lips are sealed so long as I get to do this again. We would also enjoy a beer together when going to dinner before we would see the Texas Rangers play. In Texas, you could drink if you were under 21 so long as a parent was there buying for you and supervising. We’d have a great dinner and nice cold beers at Pappadeaux (great seafood place) before hitting the stadium and enjoying the game together. Now I did get a little crazy and rebellious and excessive in my teenage years, but I guess we’ll chalk that up to young angst and immaturity. But I digress.
My Beer Today
Many people who know me understand that I’m a home brewer. In fact, my company had an exposé on this and it garnered me plenty of attention in the office. While this is something that has become public knowledge recently, this is not my first time jumping into this “hobby.” My first experience brewing beer was in college with a couple of my fraternity buddies. We had one of those cheap Mr. Beer kits and made what turned out to be a sort of subpar, somewhat tasty yet overcarbonated beer in those little plastic bottles that come with the kit. To be honest, it tasted a bit like Miller Lite after you just dropped the can, picked it up and cracked it open. Not bad for a maiden voyage we supposed, but definitely considered it something to learn from and improve upon. Here is why this has relevance in this article. Ever since the first time I brewed a beer, upon consumption of the finished result, good or bad (but mostly good), you get a sense of accomplishment. A sense of pride. “Look at me, I made this.” It goes even further when friends and strangers alike have a taste and they offer their acknowledgement and support. Having someone recently tell me she would pay for the kind of beer I just gave her, it just gave me all sorts of pride and furthered that sense of purpose. I love to make people happy. Whether it is done entertaining people or feeding them homemade booze, I love to see the smiles on people’s faces when they get to experience something I have brought forth, something I created. Call me a “people pleaser” if you will. In all seriousness, if I could make money doing this, I would be a very content man.
Some time ago, my parents bought me brewing equipment. I guess they knew what I really wanted for my birthday. (editors note – I’m pretty sure this was from Dad only, as my mother had no clue when I repeatedly thanked her for the b’day present. Thanks again, Dad) After my first brew with my new equipment, I gave a six pack to my father when it was ready for consumption. He and Mom both said they loved it. Now is that the parent talking to the child trying to make them feel good about themselves? Or is this truly a proud parent moment of recognition for the hard work their child put in? Hard to say, but my brother-in-law also bestowed kudos upon me after getting a taste of that same brew. He drank it out of the bottle, a big faux pas, especially when I had a specific list of instructions included with the beer. But I guess I can’t be mad at him. He’s still kind of a craft beer rookie. See below for the incriminating evidence.
Now as mentioned before, I like to make people happy. I like to entertain. I’m a pretty sociable fellow. Years ago, they used to call people like us “social butterflies” but that sounds a little too girly for my liking. This is because whenever there was a party or social event in the works, we always made sure we had a hand in it somehow. From prep work to buying kegs, cups and munchies, we were all over it. And while we were in attendance of said events, we would float through the crowd, meeting everyone there, sharing a beer or a shot and striking up conversation. This another reason I love beer. It’s a great conversational tool. I don’t mean you drink it to get the liquid courage in you to go talk to some pretty lady you’ve been eyeballing all night – although I must admit, I’ve been guilty of that in the past myself. What I mean is that when people gather and enjoy a beer together, it makes for a relaxed atmosphere that brings out a comfort level to the point where you find yourself chatting it up with a complete stranger like you’ve known them for years. It’s a wonderful social accessory.
My Run-In with Sam Calagione
Regarding my social commentary above, here is a case in point – Barcade was hosting Dogfish Head Night one night back in February. The brewery does a tap takeover and has several of their beers on tap, while a few other labels stay on there as well. The people came for great beer and to meet the President and Founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Sam Calagione. Aside from the starstruck vibe plenty of people get when they meet high profile personalities, especially those with the level of celebrity that Sam has within craft beer circles, the place had a standard laid-back feel to it. I had conversations with plenty of strangers who had instantly become newfound friends and fellow craft beer lovers. I walked up to Sam and had a nice conversation with him while enjoying some of his high gravity brew. We talked shop, mostly about brewing and what we like in our beers, what we aim for when we brew, etc etc. I felt like I had known the guy for years. I didn’t get all man-crush on him and ask if we could pose for a pic together. I left that to the other beer geeks. I just stood there, chatting him up, picking his brain on all things beer and enjoying some of his delicious brew with him. Then I somehow mentioned the website and that we enjoyed reviewing his beers. Shameless self-promotion? Perhaps, but I want as many people to wonder about it as possible. The more who wonder, the more who view. There is a method to my madness. Anyway, Sam asked about the site, I told him what it was and gave him the name of it. He looks at me and says “yeah I’ve heard of you guys.” Jaw meet floor. I just found an instant kinship with this guy that I just met. Our conversation continued over another beer or two while others came around and took pics. It was totally an informal social gathering, not some pretentious meet-and-greet. This is what I mean. With a beer in your hand, it’s very easy to interact with others doing the same. There’s no hoity-toity uppity snobbery going on. Just good people enjoying a good time with each other over good beer. I won’t say that we don’t turn into total beer nerds and dissect the shit left and right, discussing all the flavor profiles and subtle notations, hop characteristics, SRM and IBU levels like a bunch of mad scientists, because we almost always do. But that’s all because we really do get into our craft. We really do love our beer. I guess my point here is that there is an instant connection that can be made between people who share a common passion for great beer.
Beer – it’s what’s for dinner. And dessert, breakfast the next morning, lunchtime, etc. It’s good all day long. You can drink a good beer and actually benefit from the vitamins and minerals within the brew. Now I’m not saying you have to drink every hour of the day or night. Leave that to the professionals (grin). What I am saying though is that a lot of these craft brews have high quality ingredients and none of the crap adjuncts that these mass-produced brewers toss into their beer. So not only do you get better quality beer, you get beer that’s altogether better for you. Nothing in there that shouldn’t be. Here’s an analogy – When you’re running low on antifreeze/coolant and your car is about to overheat, you dump water in there right? Helps keep the engine cooled off. Yes, it works in a pinch, but without the right ingredients (i.e. more antifreeze), it’s just not the same and the quality suffers as a result. Get my point?
I hope this was entertaining and educational for you. My hope is that you the viewer get inspired to go try that new beer you saw on tap at the local bar. The one you’ve never heard of. The one that keeps calling your name as you wallow in loathing over a super light adjunct-filled beer. You never know how much you will like something until you try it. And because everyone has different tastes, there are a great number of different styles of beer that are available in the craft world. No mass-produced piss water. Just the good stuff that guys like you and me work diligently for, slaving over endless hours to produce a better product than what you see on the shelf in the local 7-Eleven. Life is too short to suffer through shitty beer. Like I said at the beginning, I love beer. I LOVE it. But I’m not talking about enjoying keg parties of Keystone or Natural Light. I’ve outgrown that. I’m talking about good beer aka “craft beer.” Go find some craft brews and give them a try. Pick the ones you like best and expound upon them. When all is said and done, crack open your favorite and enjoy it. Better yet, invite a friend to join you. Trust me on this. Ok enough yapping, I’ve probably bored you already. And with that, I will part with one of my longtime favorite toasts –
Here’s to you, here’s to me. If we should ever disagree, ___ you and here’s to me… (insert your favorite expletive) Cheers!