I never really knew that I could love beer as much as I do today until one night at an Archers of Loaf show, many years ago. My friend Russ was drinking the shit out of some Columbus Pale Ale. I joined him in the libations and was glad I did. The beer was so full of flavor and the bitterness was undeniable…but somehow this beer was très quaffable. How could anything that intensified the taste of beer, even drawing out the bitterness, be as good as this beer was?
Back in those days, the local brew was not that easy to come by, but I made it a point to order a Columbus Pale Ale whenever I could. Then there was the (once defunct, now back) Hoster Brewing Company, Barley’s, and Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing Company. All of these breweries made some tasty beers, but I didn’t know what was good and what wasn’t. I knew that they were better than the typical industrial, rice-adjunct lagers served in every bar. However, these beers weren’t as easy to obtain.
So, I drank other beers. There was Pete’s Wicked Ale and Sam Adams. Imports made their way into my belly. I mostly drank Guinness and the occasional Bass. However, I learned to stay away from any German beer in a green bottle. Even back then, Heineken never tasted right. I started frequenting this bar/bagel joint called Bernie’s. It was a hole in the basement, but some great rock shows happened there. Bernie’s was also a place that boasted a huge beer list. On the side they called “the Distillery,” one could find a many pewter mugs hanging from the ceiling. Regulars who tried every beer on the list received their own mug with their name engraved. I made it halfway through the list before always settling on Sam Adams Boston Lager or Guinness.
Eventually, I ventured out west for a summer, to Seattle. There, I discovered that same intense feeling I got from that first Columbus Pale Ale. The bitterness and citrus of the hops burst into my mouth with each new northwestern beer I tried. There was a lot of Redhook (pre-corporate takeover), some Elysian, and some breweries I can’t remember. Of course, there were still the nights of Corona I’d rather forget, but craft beer was taking a hold of me. I just didn’t quite realize it.
After several years of floundering with imports, “microbrews,” and the occasional seasonal release, I sort of reached my summit in beer drinking or so I thought. I was comfortable ordering anything that wasn’t made of rice and sold via ads during the Super Bowl. I wasn’t a connoisseur, but I wasn’t a bro either.
Then, one night, it happened.
I hoofed it up to the corner beer and wine shop at the end of my street while I waited for a sandwich to be delivered. I wanted a beer, maybe two. I didn’t really want to buy a whole six-pack. So, I perused the the stacks and coolers for something interesting. All the sixers that looked good were more than I was used to spending. Then, I walked around the corner and saw a cooler full of these big beer bottles with the most sinister images of gargoyles daring me to pull them from the cooler. One bottle caught my eye in particular. It said “Stone Ruination IPA” around a gargoyle ready to charge. The green and gold paint on the bottle told me that this was no ordinary beer. The narrative scrawled on the back confirmed this assumption. This beer challenged me to drink it and taste anything else for the rest of the night. I took two home right away.
Stone Ruination is the beer that “ruined” me. All that citrus and bitterness. This was nothing like the pale ales and IPA’s I had had previously. It certainly wasn’t anything like the imports that once satisfied me. I grew to be obsessed with the beer. As soon as I discovered the pizza place down the street kept Stone on tap, I always made a point to go there for dinner or to see a show no matter who was playing. My bachelor party started at that very pizza joint and was lubricated with a pitcher of Stone IPA.
Then, we moved nine hours away to Missouri. I had no idea there would be no Stone, no Columbus Pale, and certainly none of my previous haunts to supply me with the beer I was learning to love. However, I discovered some new beers and learned to appreciate those I had taken for granted back in Ohio.
It started with Boulevard and Schlafly, the “local” Missouri beers. Then, there was Flat Branch, the Columbia brewery. I rediscovered Bell’s and learned to appreciate Two-Hearted Ale, a beer that was too much for me pre-Ruination. There was no Stone, but I was making due.
That was probably three years ago. I never really thought things could change, but they did. That was just the beginning for where I am today with my beer geekery. To learn that part of the story, you’ll have to come back Monday.
To be continued…
1If you haven’t been reading this blog for long, I’m from Columbus, Ohio. Columbus Pale Ale was the beer we drank at nearly every bar in town. It was a heavier, more bitter pale than one would normally find. However, that flavor-forward character has waned in recent years. This is either due to my evolving palate or a change in the recipe.
2None of the locals bottled and not every bar served the local brews in the beginning. By the time I left central Ohio, nearly every bar in town served Columbus Pale Ale.
3Hoster had a nice restaurant/brew pub in the Brewery District, but it eventually closed. In recent years, another company bought the rights to the name and recipes and Hoster lives on.
4This was my session beer through most of my senior year of college. At the time, this was impressive. However, now that I know Guinness has an ABV just over 4%, it’s not such a big deal and explains why I could drink so much without getting drunk.
5What’s funny is that some people still prefer Heineken, despite the fact that those green bottles are perpetually skunked in this country.
6I believe the list was somewhere in the 70’s or 80’s. It was boosted by a ton of weird imports they rarely had in the case anyway. I grew tired of drinking skunked imports for extra cash and eventually turned to a few favorites.
7It wasn’t actually a distillery, but it did serve a lot of drinks for such a tiny bar.
8I’ve explained my healthy intake of Guinness, but I drank a lot of Sam Adams as well. To me, it was heavier than the Guinness and quite tasty in those days. Then, things blew up for Sam Adams. While I still respect all that they’ve done and do for the craft beer community, the beer just doesn’t taste the same.
9The old term for “craft beer” was “microbrew.” This contrasted with the corporate brewers being called “macrobrewers.” This false dichotomy suggested that what microbrewers did and macrobrewers did was the same aside from the scale. However, it is clear today that craft brewers produce beer that is completely different from anything churned out by their corporate counterparts.
10I think in an earlier blog post, I reported that I purchased one of these bottles along with a sixer of something else. Upon further review (meaning that I thought about it for a moment), I remembered taking two bottles home. I planned to drink one, but I drank them both instead.
11It was a long time before I discerned the difference between pale ales and India pale ales, but it’s rather clear today. Honestly, aside from a few American pale ales, I don’t really care for the basic pale. Give me an IPA every time.
12Yes, it was not Ruination, rather Ruination’s little brother. Still, that IPA on tap is potent hopbomb.
13Some of these “haunts” include two beer shops that I had no idea were as stocked as they were. I recently revisited two beer stores within a five minute of my old house and found pretty much every beer on my theoretical wish list. Sadly, I don’t make enough money to fill that list, so I made due with what I could gather.
14At the time, there was another brewery that didn’t last long. The owner also happened to be a bee keeper. So, there was honey in every beer and not in a good way.
15This beer used to just seem so heavy and filling to me. Now, it’s a go-to beer.