Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

January 26, 2009

Beer Diary:

Beers I Have Known

Everyone’s got a handful of those “touchstone beer moments” that help define what kind of beer dork one really is.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
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I love reading and hearing the stories from craft brewers and connoisseurs who were ardent shit beer drinkers their entire lives until a single sip of good beer instantly and irrevocably changed their view of beer. Like all it took was for a single pint of Bass Ale for an otherwise stalwart Blatz drinker to wake up the very next day, quit his office job, and buy a bar that he stocks with obscure craft beers from around the world.

Romantic, but completely unbelievable. I’ve known far more stalwart shit beer drinkers in my life than beer dorks, and only a handful of the Bud Light or Old Style fans I’ve known has even considered completely giving up their favorite swill for locally brewed craft beer, and that came about over a period of, literally, years. While every beer dork I’ve met also took a varying number of years to become the bull-headed beer snob that I’ve come to know and, yes, perhaps even tolerate.

That’s not to say that everyone who enjoys good craft brews doesn’t have those “touchstone” beers where they discovered some new and wonderful taste that instantly sears the moment into their memories forever. In fact, I have more than a few of those moments—and, more importanly, beers—burned into the various cortices of my brain that have influenced my tastes and preferences during my continuing journey deeper and deeper into beer dorkdom.

To wit:

Sprecher Amber
Summer, a handful of years ago. I was at a baseball game. I love all the major sports—football, baseball, cricket—but there’s no sport as enjoyable seeing live as baseball, whether it’s major or unaffiliated minor league. And there’s nothing like a cold brew at a baseball game. Despite that, at this baseball game and I didn’t even plan on having a beer, since I had to drive a good distance afterward and I assumed the vendors would only be peddling watery swill anyway. To my utter shock, a beer cart a pop-fly from my seat had Sprecher Amber on tap. So I grabbed a hot dog, a pint, and some peanuts, and plopped my ass in my seat for the game to start. Almost off-handedly I took my first sip and was astonished with the crystal malt pop the beer gave off, while still being smooth and drinkable. I’d had Sprecher Amber before, but this was the first time I really tasted it. It’s still to this day one of my favorite ambers in the Midwest, if not the country.

Schneider Aventinus
This wheat doppelbock from Germany (“weizenstarkbier”—gotta love those German words) is an absolute beer treasure. The first time I had it, I was in some fancy-pants bar in Chicago while the parental units were next door consuming rotten grape juice while listening to piano music. I pawed through the menu looking for a beer list amid an endless drivel of wine and champagne. There was some Heineken, a couple of Mexican beers, Anchor Steam, and a beer I’d never heard of called Aventinus. Instead of sticking with the safe Anchor, I ordered up this Aventinus, despite the fact it cost a whopping eight bucks. Boy am I glad I did. It came in a uniquely shaped wheat beer glass designed to hold the entire 16.9-ounce bottle, as well as the massive, pillowy head. The aroma was a cornucopia of bright bananas, dark raisins, and spicy cloves. But it was the very first taste that blew me away: dark and malty, dry and yeasty, light and fruity, all at the same fucking time! Plus, 8.2 percent ABV. Beats shitty ass wine any day of the week, and that’s including Sundays.

Founders Red’s Rye
This super-hoppy rye brew had me not at the first sip, but at the first sniff. I was walking from the beer fridge to the couch. It was a Monday night. Football was on. That annoying commercial break between the kickoff and the first play was just ending, and Al Michaels was talking about something, probably the weather. I lifted my pint glass to my schnoz for a quick whiff. And I froze dead in my tracks. That blast of Amarillo in the nose was the most incredible “beer” smell I’d ever come across. The Europeans sometimes refer to the aroma of Amarillo and other American hops as “cat pee” because its assertiveness offends their staid and stale sensibilities, but to me it was a revelation. And the sipping only helped brand that memory into my skull, what with the complex blend of malty goodness, powerful bitterness, and rye spiciness. Another astonishingly great beer from an astonishingly great brewery.

Chimay Blue
This was my first taste of monk-brewed (or, at least, contract-brewed) beer. At a restaurant, looking through the beer list. Nothing worth drinking, except Chimay Blue. I’d heard of it and knew it had a reputation. But Heineken and Carlsberg also had a reputation. So I warily ordered up an 11.2-ounce bottle. It came in its own goblet, which was pretty cool, but doesn’t necessarily means a beer is any good. Again, it took only one sip to convince me that this was one fantastic brew. Dark fruits meticulously interlaced with Belgian yeastiness. Smoooooth. One of the world’s great beers, and a great choice whether you’re eating with a hot date at an upscale Thai joint or in your basement all alone with a sackful of Taco Bell. Yeah, I love Thai food …

Capital Autumnal Fire
A friendly enemy of mine, a peculiar individual by the name of Pid Purdy, invited me over to his crap shack for a cutthroat game of cribbage. It was late September, years ago. I’d been sitting in the car during a late Midwestern heat wave for something like five hours to get to Pid the Squid’s place. The Gremlin is a high performance machine, and it doesn’t have room for pedestrian niceties like air conditioning or seat belts. So needless to say I wasn’t in a good mood. I sat down at the fold-out card table and started checking the deck for any marks—Pid’s been known to bend the rules on more than one occasion. He came back from the fridge with two bottles of beer. “Let’s try a couple of these,” he said. I was a little shocked he had craft beer in the house. Usually his fridge is jam packed with health food and shit like Corona. But no. This time he was offering a bottle of Autumnal Fire. It was early in my beer dork years. I had yet to try it, and actually knew very little about it. Autumnal Fire had a reputation as a beer not for beginners, and Pid’s demeanor was somber and serious, like he was suggesting we try our hand at becoming international mercenaries in an African blood diamond war. We cranked open the bottles, gave each other the stink eye, then simultaneously sipped. My memory is that it was brutally malty, and aggressively hopped. And mind-blowingly delicious. I had had Stone Arrogant Bastard for the first time only a few months before, and I remember Autumnal Fire rivalling that notorious brew in both complexity and the challenge it presented to finish it. Maybe my palate’s changed that much or my memory isn’t what I thought it was, but I’ve posited before that even though this is still a great beer, it seems it isn’t what it once was. Oh yeah, I skunked Pid once and swept him on a seven-game set. That was almost as good as the beer …

Those are five of my touchstone beer moments, part of the reason beer dorks like us are constantly on the prowl, looking for that next craft brew that will give our noses and taste buds a ride that we’ll remember for damn near forever. Anyone else got a beer memory zapped into the back your forehead you wouldn’t mind sharing? We’re all ears.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

Beer Dorks News

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Trying to spin it positive, BA releases end of year graphic. Only 5% growth in the craft sector when nearly 1000 new breweries opened? That's a collapse waiting to happen.
R.I.P. Tallgrass... another casualty as the regional/national craft beer market continues to get squeezed.
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Pizza Beer founder crying about failure of company, blames everyone else. Reminder, the beer tasted like vomit. Try having better ideas or making better products so you're not a failure.
It's Bud Light so doesn't really matter, but we expect this beer to be sitting around for awhile.
Indiana brewery to open with controversial beer names to "get the conversation going". Translation: taking advantage of serious issues for free publicity.
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