Monday, August 11, 2014

One Word of Advice for the Craft Beer Newbie

It's Monday morning, the weekend has plans for the next 5 days, and you're coming down from the high of your first trip to a good beer bar. Sure, there is work to be done, but you can't get the thought of tropical fruit flavored IPA's, tart Berliner Weiss, and Peanut Butter Porters out of your mind. The boss is asking for that report you said you'd have ready for his Monday morning meeting, but you know nothing will get done until you Google "Advice for the Craft Beer Newbie" to learn more about all of the fantastically flavored drinks that rocked your world only two night ago. As fate would have it, you find yourself on this very blog and I'm offering one word of advice to you as you begin your journey into the vast world of beer.

And what is that one word advice I have for you, the craft beer newbie? Well....Craft. But this isn't a word or idea I want you to focus on. Craft is a word you should forget. Craft, in relation to beer, has meant a great many things to a great many people. It could mean a brewery that makes less than 2 million barrels per year (excuse me, 6 million), has recipes that don't include corn (scratch that, corn is just fine), and may or may not be part of a revolution depending on how righteous you want to feel whenever you reach for a beer. It's a word that has meant anything and everything and when that happens you're essentially left with nothing. 

Love beer. Forget the craft. If you really love beer and you plan on making this fermented liquid a part of your life you need to love beer for beer. You should find joy in the history, ingredients, processes, and people that are the world of beer. Or you won't and that's fine as well because it really doesn't matter. Maybe you won't give a damn what Mosiac hops provide in the way of flavor and aroma. And maybe you'll hate sour beers or IPA's and find you're only interested in coffee flavored stouts. That's cool. The point is that beer, boiled down to the basics, is simply an optional drink and you can like as much or as little of that world as you'd like.

Beer is a lot of things but it doesn't (and shouldn't) need to be serious. Don't feel intimated by some silly term like craft that only serves to confuse what really matters. If you're reading this because you're looking to take part in a revolution, looking for an identity, or to be a part of a scene then it's best you just move along. Beer was here long before "craft" and it's going to be here long after the trendy appeal dies down. If you really love this stuff and plan to make it a part of your life, then love beer because it's awesome and forget the fluff that is craft.  

This post is the first part of what will be multiple essays from a variety of Mid-Atlantic bloggers looking to offer one word of advice for those of us who might be new to "craft" beer. Check in with Hipster Brewfus tomorrow to see what he thinks. 

Day 2 - Hipster Brewfus on Patience
Day 3 - Oliver from Literature and Libation with Reciprocate
Day 4 - Andrew of Das Ale Haus says Drink
Day 5 - Bryan from This is Why I'm Drunk on Live.
Day 6 - Josh of Short on Beer wants to take you on a Journey.
Day 7 - Liz from Naptown Pint suggest you Relax.
Day 9 - Brewkeep Radio wants you to focus on you.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Session #90: Beer Fight Club

It’s Session Time and many a Session has passed since I last participated, but with local blogger Jake from Hipster Brewfus throwing down a challenge like the one detailed below I feel a duty to jump back into the Beer Blogging Friday ring.

Have you ever drank a beer that became a battle, more than an enjoyable experience? Maybe a beer that was far bigger than you had anticipated? Something you felt determined to drink, just so you can say you conquered that son of a bitch, and you are all that is powerful. Or perhaps it is something that is just so bad, all you want to do is slap it around a bit. Or maybe you were on the verge of passing out, but you just wanted that one last beer, and the valiant struggle between taste bud fulfillment and the velvety embrace of sleep that ensued.

Three years ago today my emotional pint glass was filled to the brim as I walked into local landmark Max’s on Broadway full of excitement to try a few unknown beers at their Rare & Obscure Event. Not only was I going to be drinking good beer, but I’d be doing so while rooting the US Men’s National Team on to victory as they took on our rivals from Mexico in the Gold Cup Final. Typically, I steer clear of big weekend crowds at the bar, but the chance to witness Rare US soccer achievements and taste Obscure beer was simply too much for even the most dedicated of hermits to ignore.

At the kickoff I decided to order a De Halve Maan Brugse Zot. It was going to be a long 90 minutes and much like the US team, I wanted to pace myself and make sure I had the energy to go the distance.  Smart decisions are essential both on the pitch and at the bar and early on those decisions were paying off. The US team put the ball in the back net twice and I enjoyed the simple pleasures of a well-made Belgian Golden Ale.

But then something happened. Riding high from the early goal two lead and coming to the end of my first beer I got a little over confident with my second beer order. “I’ll have the Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus”. I had never heard of it, couldn’t pronounce it, and quite honestly had no idea that sour beer was even a thing. Side stepping the crowd I gingerly made my way back to our table and sat down just as Mexico cut into the lead by taking advantage of some poor US defense. “Oh well”, I thought to myself and reached to take my first taste of the Rose de Gambrinus.

“Holy god, that’s terrible”, I said.

“They’re still winning 2-1”, Deana my girlfriend at the time replied, assuming I was talking about the game.

“No, taste this” I responded, eager to spread the evil that had just entered my mouth.  Deana took a sip scrunched her face in sour horror and silently handed the glass back shaking her head violently back and forth to let me know she would be have having no more of this Rare & Obscure freak beer.

A little time passed and I went back in for a second taste hoping that my palate might have adjusted enough to make the rest of this beer somewhat enjoyable. But it wasn’t meant to be. Rose de Gambrinus caused shivers, pain face, and much sadness at $12 misspent. This was a sour of proportions I’d never known before and I simply was not worthy. And as fate would have it, neither was the US team as they conceded an equalizer only 5 minutes after the first.

The rest of the night I sat with my glass of Rose de Gambrinus in dismay. Why did a beer like this exist? Why did I, with a list of beers 100 bottles deep, have to stumble across this one? And why was it so off putting to me? Sure, I’ve experienced beers I hadn’t liked before, but none kicked me in the balls like this one had.  I sat there, a beaten man, feeling like a failure for not “getting” what many would consider a gem of a beer. And the US team, well, they provided no solace and took their own beating as they lost a chance at a trophy with a 4-2 loss.

A few weeks later I found myself at another establishment and they just so happened to have a sour beer on tap. A glutton for punishment, I ordered it. Deana sat across from me shocked I’d be willing to put myself through this kind of punishment once again, but I didn’t want my previous experience with sour beer to be my last. The beer was set at our table and I took a sip. “That’s actually not bad”, I said with relief.  By the end of the pint, I found myself actively enjoying a sour beer.

As we drove home that night it hit me that my enjoyment of the second sour beer would never have been possible if I had never experienced my excruciating beer battle with Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus. It made me stronger and took my palate to such an extreme place that almost any sour beer I’ve come in contact with since has paled in comparison. Believe it or not sour beers have become one of the styles I crave the most and every time I take a sip of a sour beer I take a second to both think about Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus, the beer I’ve hated more than any other, and say thank you for making it possible for me to enjoy a myriad of other beer I may never have tried if it weren’t for the ass whipping of a lifetime it gave me three years ago.