Beer and Pavement

On Beer

Posted in Beer by SM on April 8, 2011

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[1]. 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[2], 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[3], 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[4] 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[5]. 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[6]. On the side they called “the Distillery[7],” 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[8].

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[9],” 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[10].

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[11]. 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[12].

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[13] 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[14]. I rediscovered Bell’s and learned to appreciate Two-Hearted Ale[15], 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.

Gateway Beers (and Bands)

Posted in Beer by SM on December 22, 2010
Get it?

Image blatantly lifted from the blog I link to in the first sentence.

One of those beer and whiskey loving brothers[1] posed the following question:

Is Blue Moon good for craft beer, or is it a soul-sucking vortex of all that is good and holy?

Basically, the best selling “craft-style” beer[2] is Blue Moon. For the uninitiated, Blue Moon is hardly considered a craft beer. It is brewed and bottled by the monolithic Coors corporation, maker of all things rice adjunct-ed. So, crafty, Blue Moon is not. It is not the typical American industrial lager brewed with corn or rice, but that still doesn’t make it a craft beer.

However, that’s besides the point. Blue Moon’s status as mistaken craft brew makes it a prime candidate as a gateway to craft beer nirvana. Consumers who typically purchase cases of Budweiser or Coors, might take a chance on a Blue Moon. It’s light in color, not particularly offensive in flavor. So, it won’t scare anyone away. With some clever marketing, Blue Moon even feels like it could be a craft beer or the old-school “microbrew” to the craft beer ignorant. A beer with flavor that’s perceived as crafty might be a short jump to more ambitious brews, but I have yet to witness this effect. Let me illustrate…

Let’s just say that your PBR-guzzling bro orders the BM[3] at Friday’s or Chili’s or wherever BM is the most enticing option. He takes a swig (most likely from the bottle[4]) and holds the bottle out and inspects what he’s just dumped down his gullet. Cirtus. Bubblegum. This beer actually tastes like something other than beer.

“I might have to give some of these microbrews[5] a try.”

The night ends and eventually, your bro finds himself in the beer aisle with yet another case of PBR in-hand when he suddenly notices a display. On the display are some strange beers he’s never seen before tonight, before his craft beer revelation. They’re from exotic locales like Portland, San Diego, and Milton. The styles are even more interesting: India Pale Ale, Russian Imperial Stout, Saison with Brett. He realizes that these are the microbrews he was after. He drops the case and grabs what he thinks is a six-pack, only to find that it’s just a four-pack. That seems cool to him; this bro is low on cash after the trip to TGI Friday’s. Then he’s sees the price tag. “TEN FUCKING DOLLARS?!?”

Your bro carefully puts back the four-pack as if it’s his grandmother’s heirloom ceramic angels that he just super glued back together before she returns from the store. Then he eyes a bomber. “Hey, that’s like a forty. I love me some forties,” he thinks to himself. However, this “forty” is more expensive than the four-pack and has a cork in it. He nearly drops the beer before placing it back on the shelf, grabs his case, high-tails it out of the supermarket, and vows only to drink Blue Moon on special occasions, like eating at Chili’s.

And scene.

Of course, the vignette above doesn’t even address the surprise the craft beer curious experience when they do take a chance on a true craft beer. Imagine the same look the old dude with the bitter beer face from those ads in the early nineties upon a noob’s first sip of and IPA or DIPA in the neighborhood of 85+ IBU’s. Or think about that guy who drinks energy drinks instead of coffee because he doesn’t like the taste of coffee testing a big Russian Imperial Stout. Don’t even consider what happens when the craft beer ignorant try sours or Belgian beers. Forget it. This is not their father’s Blue Moon. If the prices don’t scare them off, the flavors will.

That’s why I think the best gateway into craft beer is…well…CRAFT BEER.

Take my gateway into craft beer, for instance. I started out on rice adjunct, industrial lagers like the rest of you. I tried to mix it up with a Rolling Rock[6] here, some Little Kings there, and maybe a Sapporo now and again. None of those beers satisfied and most imports of the day were skunked. Guinness and Sam Adams soon dominated my beverage choices by the end of college. After that, I often chose these beers or the periodic microbrew, thinking my palate was expanding but never really finding anything that challenged.

Then, the craft beer epiphany[7] happened.

I had ordered a sub sandwich to be delivered and figured I could wash it down with a beer. Of course, I didn’t really need a ton of beer, just a few before I settled in for the night. So, I sauntered down the street to the beer shop, the Pace-High Carryout. After looking around a bit, I noticed a cooler of these big beer bottles. Right at my eye level was a beer with a gargoyle looking back at me with the words “Stone Ruination IPA” etched on the bottle. I liked pale ales and the like and thought a couple of these bottles would do the trick for the evening. Plus, it seemed easier than lugging a sixer down the street.

Upon opening this beer and pouring it in the tumbler I once stole from a bar, the aromatic hops hit me like a ton of bricks. Then the huge malt backbone and tremendously intense hops pummeled my tongue into submission. How was this beer? Where had this kind of beverage been all my life? This was my gateway beer, not effing Blue Moon blandness in a bottle.

Of course, it took me a while to fully figure out this whole craft beer thing. It didn’t help that my local beer retailer had issues restocking their shelves. Either way, I was constantly in search of that big flavor and aroma Stone’s Ruination thrust upon me. The search never stopped, even after finding many, many fine craft beers. Bland beer did not make me a craft beer fan. Craft beer made me a craft beer fan.

The same goes for music[8]. My gateway band was Nirvana. Sure, I had flirted with the likes of U2 and REM, but it was Nirvana that exposed me to indie rock[9]. By the time I discovered Nirvana, they were no longer on Sub Pop, but Kurt Cobain and co’s feet were still firmly planted in the underground, choosing to tour with unknown indie bands, touting Dinosaur Jr on MTV and The Breeders in the pages of Rolling Stone.

I fell in love with indie rock because of indie bands, not bands marketed as indie or alternative. Bands who obviously came from and still supported the underground showed me a whole new world of music that corporate whores could not. Bands developed by major labels for the masses have never made me want to try out new bands the way indie bands have.

The point is that quality is not something one can fake through slick marketing or copying an aesthetic. You can’t beat the real thing, whether it’s music or beer. So, the next time you see your buddy reaching for the sixer of Blue Moon, direct him toward a Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanca or Allagash White[10]. Or, really blow his mind with something else entirely, like an Arrogant Bastard or Maharaja. There’s no need to settle for the corporate thing that supposed to taste like the indie thing. Just go with the indie/craft product and we’ll all be happier.

Oh, and as an added bonus, there’s this.

1The little one.
2Read “craft-style” as “blatantly ripping off good, hard-working folk trying to keep tradition alive while still innovating and stretching boundaries in order to keep beer real” as that’s really all macro breweries are doing by marketing “craft-style” beers. Check the ratings for such beers on RateBeer or BeerAdvocate. You’ll find that the copycats only resemble craft beer in marketing and image, not flavor.
3I used this abbreviation for Blue Moon on the Brothers’ blog comments and it was pointed out that a “BM” is also a bowel movement. Freudian indeed.
4Because if you drink mocro beer, you don’t care what it smells like. In fact, you may actually hate the smell. I always ask people who drink a good beer from the bottle if they would smell a rose through a straw. Drinking a beer from a bottle has the same effect. Why is drinking from a beer bottle so accepted, but if I drink straight from a bottle of wine or liquor, I’m a lush? Avoid drinking from the bottle if you want to enjoy the beer. Pour it in a glass.
5I use the term “microbrews” as this is what peopel mistakenly call craft beer. I don’t know when/where this started, but I remember first calling them “microbrews” back in the nineties. The problem with the term is that it insinuates that these beers are somehow just smaller versions of the larger macrobrews or industrial lagers. Aside from the crazy numbers corporate beer pushers produce, nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, the macros are big, but their beers are not. Craft brewers brew the biggest beers and they are anything but smaller versions of Budweiser et al.
6At the time, Rolling Rock was still a pretty small, regional brewery. I thought I was drinking a microbrew at the time. Little did I know how similar they were to the big boys. Eventually, Rolling Rock was bought out by said big boys. The rest is rice adjunct history.
7Just learned this term in an interview by one of my favorite beer blogger/Buckeye fans, The Beer Wench. Her interview of The Dude from It’s a Fucking Beer is a must read.
8Sorry. This is where my argument gets a bit week. I still contend it applies, but I’m too lazy to really make it work. I’ll tie it all up with a reference back to the beer. Don’t you worry.
9This is a bit unfair to REM as they were and have always been a true ally to indie rock. I think it had more to do with the fact that I wasn’t old enough nor possessed the ability to know about REM and the bands they came up with. For me, they were not a good gateway as they were presented as something so separate from the underground, unlike Nirvana.
10Seriously. If someone likes a Belgian-style white ale/witbier that much, they should try what the style is really supposed to taste like. If they don’t like that, they should try other styles…or just quit pretending to like craft beer with real flavor.