The Evolving of a Craft Beer Geek (or “How I’ve Learned to be More Tolerant”)

Craft Beer with a View

Craft Beer with a View

About four and a half years ago I wrote and posted a not so short essay describing my journey to craft beer geekdom.  Soon after that I stopped blogging (despite the fact that one of my craft beer idols, Greg Koch of Stone Brewing, actually took the time to read it and posted a complimentary comment).  Plenty of good reasons got in the way of my writing (some less than good ones snuck in there as well) but my “research” and enjoyment of craft beer, the industry and, more importantly, the people involved with it continued.

Now that I’ve started blogging again I thought it would be a good idea (and maybe fun) to go back and re-read the Crafting of a Craft Beer Geek post to see if anything has changed since I wrote it.  Do I still agree with it?  Are the points or observations still valid?  What did I miss?  What’s Next?

One thing occurred to me right away.  I did miss something.  I had to have missed a lot of somethings to have written that whole thing all by myself (which I’m pretty sure I did).  I know I attended and participated in the birth of all three of our children so at least I didn’t miss any of that.  Lesson learned: only write posts that don’t require 2 bombers or other large format bottles to get through.  With that in mind, here are a few look-back observations and updates to that infamous post:

  • I must have thought I was going to win a prize for the longest sentence and longest average sentence.  James Joyce would have been proud.  My high school English teachers would have fainted.  My college creative composition professor is still at the front of the class doing an adaptation of Ben Stein’s “Beuller….Beuller…?”
  • I’m up to about 1,500 craft beers tasted and about 750 reviewed (still slacking there)
  • Anchor Steam still has a place in my craft beer fridge.  Fat tire not so much.
  • I finally made the pilrgimage  to Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens.
  • That grown up version of the “safe tree” is still in Scottsdale/Sedona though the forest of safe trees now includes Papago Brewing, Four Peaks, Old Town Tavern, The Yard House & Stone Rose at the Princess.
  • I finally began home brewing with Honey Badger IPA as chronicled in New Jersey Monthly Magazine.

Most importantly, I’ve found that I was right about my parting observation back then.  It’s still not about the beer.  It’s about the craft beer people like the group at Just The Booze Dancing and the people that make up the vibrant craft beer culture (fans, writers, brewers, bar owners) in places like Philly, Austin, San Diego, Asheville & the next great craft beer scene, wherever that might be.

Oh, and if you do plan to click over and read the original post, have a Stone Double Bastard in hand.

Cheers!

 

 

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A Taste of Craft Beer History Reveals Today’s Higher Standards

A few weeks ago I hit one of the larger craft beer retailers in the area in search of nothing in particular.  Just looking to pick up a few options for the coming weekend.  No agenda.  All Quests for a Holy Ale temporarily suspended.  Just as well, I’d left my armor and coconuts at home and had I encountered Tim or a ferocious rabbit in the tequila aisle I’d have had to have run away for I’d also left my Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch in the booster seat of my car – the pink one (the seat – not the car).

Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch

Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch

Anyway,  unprepared to dispatch with a mortal foe I suspended the Quest and perused the aisles for less dangerous options.  Then a powder blue six pack in the Sam Adams section caught my eye.  New Albion Ale.  What? I’m pretty sure I would have noticed a tricked out DeLorean in the lot so I didn’t think this beer was delivered in a time machine.  Probably a good thing because I doubt the hops would have tolerated close proximity to a flux capacitor.  Something tells me florescent lamps are far more friendly.  OK, so if it wasn’t transported in time from circa 1980 then it had to have been brewed recently.  Turns out it was.  Samuel Adams brewed it using the original recipe with New Albion founder, Jack McAuliffe.  News to me.  So much for keeping up with he latest craft beer news.

New Albion Ale (brewed Samuel Adams)

New Albion Ale (brewed by Samuel Adams)

New Albion Brewing didn’t have a long run.  Even though they were only around for 6 years (1976 – 1982), their flagship hoppy pale, New Albion Ale, was critically regarded as a game changer.  It was one of the original legitimate craft beers along with Anchor Steam (already an elder statesman having been first brewed in 1971) and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.  Considered revolutionary in 1977 when Alan O’Day ruled the charts with Undercover Angel, I wondered how it would stand up to my modern palate.

Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada Pale are brewing stronger than ever.  They’re practically living craft beer dinosaurs like Galapagos Tortoises, Gila Monsters or Abe Vigoda.  As much as I still love to grab an Anchor Steam from time to time, I don’t feel as though I’m tasting history when I pour it.  New Albion, on the other hand, speaks differently to me.  Samuel Adams revived the wooly mammoth with this one and I really felt as though I’d be drinking back in time as I poured it, appropriately, into one of their glasses.

Nice rich amber pour.  Modestly hazy.  Supporting a short, dusky white head.  Good looking brew.  Not a whole lot going on in the aroma.  A little citrus.  A little toasted malt.  Unfortunately, the wallflower aroma was telling.  Sadly, the flavor was uninspiring.  Modestly hoppy with caramel and milk chocolate notes.  Nothing wrong – not unbalanced, just not worthy of having been a wingman in craft beer’s first attack squadron.  Was I being too harsh?  I have that tendency from time to time so I thought I’d check with the crowd over at RateBeer to see what the wider consensus was.  The reviews of New Albion largely agreed with my basic impression.  Nothing special here.  Not a drain pour by any stretch but certainly not a world class brew.

Not by today’s standards.  And that’s where the magic and legacy of Jack McAuliffe became apparent.  Our standards have grown with the wider variety and bigger, bolder brews that New Albion helped pave the way for. We expect more.  Hell, Sierra Nevada Pale barely gets noticed against a backdrop of today’s hoppy standard bearers like Pliny the Elder, Hopslam, Ruination or Nugget Nectar as a result of its own success.

So in the end, New Albion Ale came across as, well, ordinary, but thanks in part to the handful of years when it was regarded as a pioneering brew, it set the stage for today’s extraordinary brews.  Cheers to the hoppy history lesson!

Hoppy Holidays!

flyer_xmas2008_small

It may be too early to stuff the holiday stockings but it’s not too early to start stocking the beer fridge with great holiday ales.  Nothing says the holiday season is approaching like the sight of the first few Holiday and Winter seasonal brews on the shelves.  This is my favorite time of the craft beer drinking year because so many interesting and flavorful beers are released.  I’ve always been a huge fan of Anchor’s holiday offering – “Our Special Ale”.  This year’s vesion was released on November 3rd and started hitting shelves along with a few of the other early holiday brews including Avery’s Old Jubilation and Red Hook’s Winter Hook.

The Trappist Monks have a good gig going over in Belgium but they have nothing on the Elves when it comes to brewing Holiday Ales!  

Do yourself a favor and tell Aunt Millie not to bother with that scrumptious home made fruit cake this year and to pick up a six pack of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale or Deschutes Jubelale instead.  If she insists on forcing her way into the house with one of those sticky cinder blocks anyway, make sure you have enough of your favorite holiday brew on hand to help get it down.

Cheers!

The Crafting of a Craft Beer Geek

Oak Creek Brewpub in Sedona, AZ

Oak Creek Brewpub in Sedona, AZ

Ask me almost anything about beer and there’s a pretty good chance I’ll know the answer.  “What’s the difference between dry hopping and continuous hopping?”  I know that. “Does chocolate malt really contain chocolate?”  I know that too, and – no, it doesn’t.  “What’s Fritz Maytag’s claim to brewing fame?”  Yeah, I know that and it doesn’t have anything to do with inventing a combination Maytag dishwasher/brew kettle.   “Who brews Pliny the Elder Ale and what styles of beer pair well with Thai food or Texas BBQ?  Yes, I can tackle those as well.  The list goes on and has gone on at beer tastings and other events for a while now.  I’ve been a proud bearer of the beer geek tag for a good 8 years.  I’ve hosted countless beer tastings, reviewed hundreds of beers, sampled hundreds more, brewed my own beer, given purchasing advice to a handful of owners, buyers and beer managers at local liquor stores and designed flights for some local craft beer bars but one question has evaded even a poor answer despite many attempts:  “when did you become a beer geek (or beer nut as the question is usually posed)?”  For far too long, the best and most honest answer I could come up with has been, “I don’t really know.”  Absurd, how could I not even know enough to take a weak stab at such a basic and obvious question?  Well, never one to be comfortable with not knowing the answer (especially to something so seemingly simple), I sat down with a contemplative pint or two of Great Divide Yeti Oak Aged Imperial Stout and determined to come up with something better than “I don’t really know.”

When it came to beer in the first place I was late to the tap handle, not having my first one until midway through my second semester of sophomore year at Syracuse University.  A self-imposed goodie two shoes I can honestly say that I never had a drink at a high school party and I didn’t even thought about sneaking a little something from my parents bar.  Throughout Freshman Year I never uncapped one of the Haffenreffer’s my future roommate, John Chawner, and his future wife, Cathy, were so quizzically partial to.  When I did start to accompany my college buddies to the bars adjacent to campus I tended to stay away from beer completely – just hated the taste of it and couldn’t understand why anyone would drink it.  Embarrassingly, I would usually be caught with a vodka Collins in those days but that’s another story.

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