Over the course of the last 10 years, I was part of a burgeoning craft beer scene in Middle Missouri. I was there before a lot of great breweries distributed and several new breweries opened there. I was at the first ever Columbia Beer Enthusiasts‘ tasting and eventually became an officer (a position I guess that I still hold despite moving 1300 miles away). At the height of the international and national craft beer boom, I was fully embedded in my own scene.
And now, I’m starting over.
I am no longer part of a scene outside of the fact I’m the “new guy” on a local Facebook group dedicated to craft beer in the region. However, I’m no longer a regular…well…anywhere. There are no local breweries following me on Instagram and Twitter. No one’s giving me the inside scoop on releases. In fact, I haven’t a clue when any beers are hitting the shelves. I’m lucky to stumble upon beers I’ve never had that are actually fresh.
It’s weird having to start from scratch. I don’t know that I have the energy to hunt down white whales or hit tap takeovers or hit the road on the weekends to travel to a nearby brewery. I received word of a beer fest in nearby Springfield and I scoffed at the $45 price tag. I don’t really want to start over.
So, my other choice is to ease into the craft community. And if it happens that I become an integral part again, so be it. However, it will most likely mean that I know a thing or two about beer. I know what I like and generally know where I can find it.
Somehow, I’m okay with this. I guess I kinda have to be. I mean, weeknight drinking (including Sundays) now becomes a lot tougher to maintain as my daily commute has tripled (10 to 30 minutes) and the demands of my new job have increased with less flexibility. Sure, I’ll get my summers off, but the coming fall will mean that I need to have a clear mind and plenty of rest to be effective. This is what I want and it’s worth adjusting my lifestyle.
Of course, there’s always the weekends…to spend with my almost-7-year-old and 17-month-old. The second kid made my participation in craft beer and homebrewing tough enough, but now I have to attend to my kids’ needs more that my time and availability is tighter during the week. Will I enjoy a good craft beer? Yes. Will I be ticking away at an impossible list of options? Probably not.
It’s similar to my place in the music scene. The scene here is so much more robust with five significant campuses and a couple of smallish urban centers loaded with creative types. So, it’s probably too big for me to put a dent in it anyway and once again, I honestly don’t have the energy anymore.
And all of this is okay.
Maybe my 30’s was my time to get involved in a scene or two. My 40’s seem to be about my family and career with a little enjoyment on the side. Through all my efforts in music and craft beer scenes, I feel I have a handle on how to enjoy them without being a part of them.
So, where do I get my craft beer fix now? I have Spirit Haus which is nearby – like 2 minutes nearby. This area is loaded with these little beer/wine/liquor stores with an assortment of odds and ends. This is good for exploring the possibilities of the region as well as scoring a gem now and again. Plus, there’s usually a guy at each of these stores who knows everything. At Spirit Haus, they have a guy (Gary, I believe) who knows wine. I haven’t been there enough to know whether or not they have a beer guy, but someone seems to know what they’re doing. The shelves are stocked with a nice spectrum of craft beer and there’s some interesting Belgians as well. The cooler is a labyrinth you enter at your own claustrophobic risk. I was in need of some unique tripels for a pesto dinner and instead of going for Belgians, I wanted some New England fare. What I got was the tripel from Allagash (maybe the best of the style I’ve had) as well as a somewhat older Fluffy White Rabbits – kept in the cooler as an older, hoppy beer should be. Spirit Haus is my neighborhood stop, something I’ve not had for a decade.
The other stops are not so close, but they offer a fix. Most beer folk know that to fully explore the range of a state’s distribution (if not always the complete breadth), you should hit a Whole Foods. The quantity is never amazing, but they feature locals, regionals, and some rarer, more expensive choices. If I want something local or high-end, I grab it at Whole Paycheck. (However, I’m going to avoid all the West Coast IPA’s that have been sitting there since last fall!) There’s also 44 Liquors which is a regional chain that’s just plain huge. They get everything and in large quantities. For a lot of special releases, places like this get a large share and it sits there for a while. There were so many 120 Minute IPA’s and World Wide Stouts not to mention a full lineup of Lost Abbey beers, that I was nearly overwhelmed. Of course, a place like this also has year-old IPA’s. I guess it’s all part of the learning process.
While Spirit Haus is in Amherst and the other places are in Hadley, my favorite place might be in Northampton. Provisions is one of those fancy food and drink stores that have everything. However, these stores often half-ass the beer and overprice everything. That is not the case with Provisions. They had the local breweries covered, including some rarer beers. I was even able to score several affordable offerings so that I could sample some beers from several breweries. Despite most of the beers being kept on shelves (there was a fully stocked cooler as well), the ages seemed appropriate. I suspect these beers move quickly. My only disappointing discovery was that the place with the largest number of bottles from Shelton Brothers (of nearby Belchertown who carry Mikkeller, Evil Twin, Jolly Pumpkin, everybody) was limited to a shelf in the corner. I opted not to check the dates of those beers as they looked to be not a priority to the store. Something I can overlook since the rest of the store is so amazing.
With unpacking and dragging a 17-month everywhere, I haven’t had time to check out local watering holes. That said, I enjoyed two. One was High Horse Brewing and the other The Dirty Truth in Northampton. I was told by a grad student that High Horse served great food, but the beer was so-so. The food was good, but I don’t know what beer these grad students must be used to. The Anti-Imperialist Session IPA was really good. If a brewery can do a good session IPA, they can certainly do most styles.
The other watering hole was sort of a spur of the moment stop. My father-in-law treated me to a beer at The Dirty Truth. After being carded and having to produce multiple forms of ID because my ID is still out-of-state (also, I’m 40), we slipped in at the end of a long bar to peruse the ~40 taps to try. I had the incredibly bitter Boom Sauce from Lord Hobo Brewing Company and my FiL sipped on White Lion’s Insane Mane (which I sampled as well). Nice, dark joint and they didn’t mind the antsy toddler at the bar.
And that’s about the extent of my beer adventures here in Western Mass. I feel so out of it not knowing any of the beers on tap (particularly local ones) or knowing where and when special releases hit the shelves. Just today I went looking for the Victory/Dogfish Head collaborative saison and two of the above places didn’t have it.
It’s either going to be a long time until I get fully acclimated with this beer scene or I just get back to enjoying the beer again. I mean, every time I go out or pick up something to take home, I’m having a beer I’ve never had before. So, that’s something right? It will be interesting to see how long I go before I start chasing white whales again.
For those who read this blog (assuming that you know it’s producing again) for the beer stuff, hang in there. I’ll find something to say. I might even go back to reviewing records with beers again which could be fun.
Also, I forgot to mention that it helps to have good neighbors. There will be more to say about this later, but I feel two families have been particularly welcoming and it would be wrong not to mention them in my quest for a place in the new beer scene. First, one couple has an in with Shelton Brothers. We’re hoping to set up a tasting sometime. I don’t need to tell you how excited that makes me. If/when it happens, that will be a night of epic beer drinking proportions. Probably.
The other neighbor only had two beers in his house when I was over last. It just so happens they were both two-year-old brews from Brasserie Fantôme. The first was Saison D’Erezée – Hiver which somehow tasted like a peaty scotch. How does that happen?!? Then, there was Fantôme de Noël which was also silly good. I suspect there will be more stories involving that guy when the only two beers in his house are two white whales of the highest order.
It seems my role in the world is shaping in front of me. Aside from father, husband, instructional designer, etc., I’m beginning to see myself as a curator of sorts. This blog is ground zero, but I have and will venture out from time to time to curate craft beer and indie rock cultures.
I bring this up because my gentleman dabblerhood has me prepping for more DJ gigs. No. I am not that kind of DJ (nor this). The kind of DJ I am is the kind that plays his own records between bands at a Hairhole benefit and once again for Monday Vinyl at Uprise (September 24th). In this capacity, I’m not really creating anything. I simply present what I think is good and worth preserving.
How can this translate with my craft beer enthusiasm?
Well, it has with my involvement in the Columbia Beer Enthusiasts. I helped create and manage their online presence while doing my part to create events that promote craft beer to all of Middle Missouri. I’ve even been asked to host some beer/ice cream/record pairing events, but that’s still top-secret. I’ll let you know when this materializes.
All of this curating comes together in written form on the blog you’re reading right now. Hopefully, it will eventually materialize on actual paper, but that’s a work in progress. I may have to back off and curate some other writers to accomplish this goal…
Anyways, the point is that if we can’t create, we should curate. Consuming thoughtfully is good, but it barely contributes to the cause. Curating promotes a culture to the masses, encouraging others to join in or at least appreciate said culture. Maybe I should just change the blog’s name to Curating Beer and Pavement…
Or not. Thanks for reading once again and participating in the conversation.
I HATE it when a server asks whether or not I like dark beer. Dark beer is not a style. Dark beer does not contain more nutrients. Dark beer is just dark. Typically, a beer’s color is caused by the type of grains used in the brewing process. It often accompanies certain flavor profiles (roasted, chocolate, raisins, etc.), but it’s not limited to just one. There are big differences between porters, strong dark Belgian ales, bourbon barrel aged Russian imperial stouts, and Doppelbocks.
So, dark beer is just a way for people to describe beers who don’t know anything about beer. That’s why my beer club had some fun and decided to do a tasting featuring only dark beers. After a few objections, folks warmed up to the idea and ran with it. The following is what we drank in reverse order. (Keep in mind that each sample was maybe a couple ounces. So, I didn’t get as tanked as it may seem.) I’ll see if I can remember what each beer tasted like…
Mikkeller Black – I tweeted that this was maybe one of the best beers I’ve had this year. Whatever it was, it was really intense. So smooth despite all the heat. I look forward to drinking this one again as I have one sitting in my cellar/closet.
Shmaltz Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A. – This beer is so ridiculously full despite its reasonable price point, much like all the Schmaltz/He’Brew beers. To be honest, at this point in the evening, my taste buds were beyond shot.
Avery & Russian River Breweries Collaboration Not Litigation Ale, Batch# 2 – I don’t know whether or not this counts as a dark beer, but we drank it anyway. After a load of heavy beers, though, it just didn’t stand up. Still, it’s a nice beer and surprisingly strong.
AleSmith Brewing Company Wee Heavy – Much milder for this style, IMO. I was sort of surprised that it wasn’t more impressive, but what can a Wee Heavy do with a bunch of stouts?
BrewDog Abstrakt – Strange, but totally worth the sips I was able to have.
Brooklyn Brewery Local 2 – Nice beer. Somewhat delicate among the heavies, sort of like all Brooklyn brews.
HaandBryggeriet Odin’s Tipple HaandBryggeriet – A big, shining example of an imperial stout done right. Or so I think.
Life and Limb 2 – This one was sort of a letdown. Too subtle or too “boring?” More on that concept later this week.
He’Brew Rejewvenator (Year Of The Grape) 2010 – I really liked this one. The grape really comes through. Despite my hesitancy to buy He’Brew fruit beers, this one and the Pomegranate beer are really good.
Treble Kicker Black Francis Imperial Stout – The bourbon has all but disappeared from this beer. The chocolate is still there, however. I’m looking forward to seeing how this beer ages.
Schlafly Reserve – Imperial Stout (2010) – Man, this beer could use some time in the cellar to age. It’s just too much bourbon and basically tastes like the barley wine. I bought one with the intention of aging it. So, we’ll see.
Atomic Cannon American Barley Wine – John is a homebrewer in our group. He did one of those deals where you brew a barley wine and turn around to use the spent grains to brew a ESB. I don’t know about the ESB, but this barley wine was superb. Tons of flavor and aroma like most great American barley wines. It could have been a little more carbonated, though.
Schlafly Reserve – Imperial Stout (2006) – The local Schlafly rep showed up with this bottle and we were glad he did. Where the younger version was overpowering with it’s bourbon flavor, this one had settled quite a bit. Gone as well was the thick, syrup-like mouthfeel of Jr. I loved this beer a ton. One interesting thing we learned was that the batches before 2009 (I think) were aged in either Maker’s Mark or Jack Daniels barrels. Today’s batches are aged in something else. (The rep couldn’t remember.) Whatever the difference is, get back to the 2006-2008 versions ASAP!
Hantverksbryggeriet Kosacken (Prototyp X) – I don’t know where this one came from, but it was a decent stout. (It’s a stout, right?) A couple of us were struggling to figure out what’s that thing that makes it taste so Scandinavian. Could it be juniper? I don’t know, but most of the beers from that region taste the same. From what I gather, double stouts are the “lighter” version of imperial stouts, body-wise.
Casa de Elwess Nuts About Porter – Jade is president of our little club and has recently taken up homebrewing. The beer showed up a bit flat, but she brews a nice porter. This one featured hazelnut, which had me a bit weary, but it wasn’t too overpowering.
Schlafly Black IPA – This beer was not officially part of the tasting, but the Schlafly rep showed up with a keg and most of us tried some anyway. It’s a decent Black IPA/Cascadian Dark Ale. It’s not too roasty and the hops have a nice presence. It’s not a hop bomb like some BIPA’s, but it’s pretty good. Several of us felt this would be a go-to beer if it were regularly available.
Update: Here’s the proof in picture form…
A little over three years ago, I took my first real steps from beer consumer to beer geek.
The holidays were upon us and I was looking for some nice beers to take back east. What I found were boxes encasing 750 mL bottles of barrel-aged beers from St Louis’ Schlafly. There was the Bourbon Barrel Stout and Schlafly Reserve Barley Wine. These beers made the long journeys to Ohio and Michigan that winter and I’m glad they did. Each beer was probably the most intense experience I had had with beer to that date. I was hooked on the biggest beers one could buy. Suddenly, a $10 bomber was not so scary.
While on that trip, a beer nerd who was trying to convert me put in an order for some beer. While gathering his loot, I found some nice things for myself. Two six-packs of Stone Ruination at about $15 apiece returned home with me that winter. I had never spent that much on such a relatively small amount of beer. I was in, but I didn’t know what to do once I left Michigan and returned to Missouri.
Columbia, Missouri is no hotbed for beer, especially three years ago. The beer nerd often suggested I go to St Louis for beer and buy from a gas station in town with a huge Belgian selection. This idea of going out of my way just for beer seemed a bit much, but I was certainly intrigued. If Detroit could have such a nice selection why couldn’t we? What did a big beer community look like?
One place that showed me what beer culture could be like at its best was Seattle.
That was about the time my wife and I traveled to Seattle for a little R and R. Over the course of a week, I tried probably every west coast IPA and DIPA I could get my hands on. In fact, our hosts had a sixer of Ruination waiting for me in their fridge. At some point, a visit to Elysian Brewery was fit into the itinerary. There was one particular day when, after a chocolate factory tour, we headed across the street for a drink at Brouwer’s Cafe. The list there was gigantic and I felt overwhelmed. We eventually left, bellies full of craft beer goodness. As my wife did some shopping, our guide took me to a bar around the corner, whatever IPA I had there was just as ridiculously good as beers quaffed earlier in the trip. Eventually, we made our way to another part of town where Bottleworks held shop. I purchased beer for the rest of our stay as well as some to take home. That night, after beers and some Thai food, I hit yet another destination where the IPA’s were as hoppy as you’d hope. That Seattle trip solidified my commitment to traveling and transporting beer in order to try the best.
Upon returning, a new group was forming in Columbia. Eventually, we would become the Columbia Beer Enthusiasts. We would meet at least once a month to share beers from all over as well as those brewed on our own. This is where the beer geekery really took off as my palate was regularly exposed to beers by the likes of Russian River, Ninkasi, Dogfish Head, Three Floyds, etc., etc. This one-time interest quickly grew into an obsession.
Almost three years of hanging with these beer nerds has taught me a lot about beer and given me a newfound passion. I now have a closet full of beer which serves as my “beer cellar.” In that cellar are beers I’ve had for several years as well as beers not currently sold in Missouri. There are brews of my own making. The homebrews have done quite well among my beer geek friends and I enjoy them as well. I am currently an officer with said beer club. My weekends are now filled with one new beery experience after another. There really is nothing quite like craft beer and the community surrounding it.
To this point, craft beer has been the only thing for which I can obsess over as much as indie rock. The new styles and breweries popping up every day make the hobby rather exciting. What will be interesting is to see where this all takes me next. That said, maybe I should get back to some reviews and show you my love for craft beer instead of telling you about it.
1I use terms like “geek” and “nerd” interchangeably here. I mean no disrespect and claim the terms for myself on many occasions. It should also be noted that I don’t hesitate to use these terms when discussing indie rock fans. It’s a connection between the two worlds that may have to make it into my manifesto or list of beliefs at some point.
2Before Pizza puts it in the comments, Schlafly has nothing to do with crazy wingnut Phyllis Schlafly. They make beer; she makes problems for poor people and women.
3Yes, even moreso than the Ruination experience a few years earlier. Ruination was expected. I had no idea that stouts could be so full of molasses, vanilla, and bourbon. And the barley wine…I didn’t have any idea what a barley wine was. Again with the vanilla, but this had a thick, syrupy body and the sweetness to match. These are two of better beers in their style produced anywhere. While I have a certain fondness for Ruination and its ilk, the west coast IPA/DIPA has been a bit overdone and sometimes we need something else.
4Getting over the cost of craft beer is the biggest step for most consumers. We’ve been conditioned to think that beer should be cheap. However, the old adage “you get what you pay for” is especially true for beer. A $10 bottle is basically $5 per beer, but that beer is higher in alcohol and significantly more intense flavor-wise. The cost is worth it.
5Yes, the best Belgian beer selection is in a gas station. I don’t go there as often as I used to as I have either tasted most of the beers they stock or new options have since opened.
6It’s interesting to me that Seattle used to be my mecca for indie rock. Then, it was Portland. The same thing could be said for beer as Portland has earned the right to be called “Beervana.”
7If you’ve noticed, Ruination comes up over and over again. It has become a significant beer in my beer geekdom. I will be one of the first to welcome their arrival in Missouri in a little over a week. I’m thinking of asking Stone CEO and co-founder Greg Koch to sign a bottle of Ruination. I don’t know that the quality of the beer is as good as it once was since the brewery’s big expansion, but it’s a significant beer for me.
8Elysian was actually the first brewery where I feasted on northwest beers about 14 years ago. It’s a long story, but after a day of traveling with my tail between my legs, hot, sweaty, and dirty, Elysian was the oasis in the desert of my shitty life.
9I tried to order a Dogfish Head 120 IPA. Supposedly, the bartender said they were out. I suspect that he could sense I was a noob and simply pointed me toward something that wouldn’t knock me out for the day.
10Once again, this is a place where craft beer and indie rock meet. Community is incredibly important for both. It’s part of what has drawn me to my two obsessions. Nothing is better than enjoying craft beer or good indie rock than enjoying and/or talking about with friends.
11It should go without saying that I place my family above my hobbies, but I’ll say it anyway. These are just the things outside of the people I love that make each day worth experiencing.