The Evolution of Beer Part II
The general consensus around the Porch is that for most of us, our first foray into drinking consisted of shitty watered down piss poor beers. In fact, I spent the first two decades of my life swearing up and down that I would never drink beer. This likely was a direct result of stealing sips from my father’s Milwaukee’s Best, or to the layman, BEAST, when I was just a little guy. Needless to say, most uninitiated drinkers have at one point or another served their time sloshing swill before arriving at the great awakening that is craft beer.
As with every epic journey, there is a middle to every beginning and end. Typically, it’s not quite a Chutes and Ladders scenario, where one goes straight from Keystone to Pliny the Younger without some experimentation and discovery along the way. And while each path may take a different route, this map could serve as the norm when it comes to a beer drinker’s evolutionary development.
For the sake of discussion we’ll assume that everyone is a law-abiding citizen and start our journey back in college. Ah college, where lb-s gained in the dining halls outweighed responsibility, classes consisted of syllabus week, finals week and a bunch of hazy nap sessions in between, and cheap beer flowed like, well cheap beer. For many, this time of naivety translated not only to poor life decisions, but also with dismal beer selections.
This primordial group of beer evolution includes the likes of Keystone, Natty Light, PBR (I hung with athletes, greeks, honors kids and yes hipsters, but we’ve already addressed that issue in previous blog posts), Busch Lite (as my friend put it, the camo cans makes it taste better), God forbid one wrong turn with Beer30 (yes that is the name of an actual beer, and yes it tastes as disgusting as it’s name is sounds sketchy) and straddling that line was Miller High Life, the champagne of beers.
This earliest stage represented a serious love hate relationship. They provided fuel for several bouts of not-so-athletic competition. When people recount college as a time of creativity, my thoughts immediately revert back to the myriad of drinking contests invented to satiate our boredom. Beer Pong, Power Hour, Flip Cup, Battle Ship, Beer Baseball, Beer Olympics, Quarters, Horse Races, President, and Boom, just to name a few. Yet on the inverse, too often would the following mornings be mired by the stench of a staler, more putrid version and a stream of groans, curses, and the occasional projectile vomit would follow soon thereafter. Ah the reversal of fortune.
The next stage of evolution is often born out of a misconceived sense of maturity, and sophistication. “Bartender, I just sold back my books, I’ll have a Bud Light, its gonna be a good night.” Barely a step up, but just enough to feel like a high roller. The second evolutionary level consists of Bud Light, Budweiser (aka Bud Heavy or Bud Deisel), Miller Light, Coors Light, Coors Original, Rolling Rock, Stella Artois and Heineken (it’s foreign, it must be amazing) and straddling that line, Shocktop. Reserved of special occasions of merriment, these beers said: “Hey ladies, I’m kinda a big deal”, “I do whatever Super Bowl commercials tell me to”, and more conventionally “I’m a poor college kid who think’s they’re hot shit.”
Don’t be misconstrued, I still love the Banquet and Rolling Rock and not just for the irony. To many these are also the drinks of the working class and serve as an integral post work unwinding necessity. But they lack real flavor and deviate from their more complex craft or import, pilsner compatriots.
Like in Good Book featuring the original power couple Adam and Eve, sometimes all it takes is a fruit. Often times the rabbit hole that leads to craft beer started with the likes of Pyramid, Blue Moon and Leinenkugle, closely followed by Amber Bock, and Shiner, this is where things start to get interesting, By senior year or fresh out of undergrad, we began to see a gradual awakening of sorts. Suddenly, the idea emerges that beer can have flavor and can be consumed for enjoyment. Often it starts with the fruitier varieties, which serve as the training wheels of good beer. Incidentally enough, Miller Coors or InBev Budweiser have since purchased most of the brands in this category, due to their drinkability and approachability.
But there comes a point when a species reaches a critical mass. Eventually that confluence of evolution and circumstance results in a point of no return. We’re talking about the point when species learn to communicate, birds learn how to fly, when Al Gore invents the internet. This is the point when one truly jumps into the deep end that is craft beer.
For me, it all began when I moved to Colorado, the mecca of American craft beer. Less than an hour after arriving at my host family’s house in Fort Collins I was introduced Odell’s winter seasonal Isolation Ale and I was hooked. This beer had flavor, complexity, and a personality. Within weeks I could be found prowling around the likes of New Belgium, Odell, and Great Divide in Denver.
This shift to craft beer, though monument was just the first step. What followed after included the likes of nitros, sours & wilds, dry hopping, barrel aged, crazy adjuncts and tinctures. I started reading up on the differences between lagers and ales. I spent whole days homebrewing with friends, I began pairing beer with different flavor profiles found in food and most importantly I talked to as many people in the industry that could put up with my novice questions.
And now here we are, perhaps the final frontier for craft beer fans. You know you’ve gone off the deep end, when you’ve joined the ranks in tracking down special releases of Pliny the Younger. Or waited in line for a bottle release of Hunahpu, or hosted a bottle share for 50+ of your closest beer friends. When you have friends all of the country who send you beer and vice versa, but you’ve never actually met in person, when you plan vacations based on breweries you plan to visit in the area. Oh and perhaps kiss of death, when your passion drives you to start a beer blog.
It may seem more obsessive than the Beanie Baby craze, but it makes complete sense in the end. As I’ve said hundreds of time before, this industry isn’t just about making money. It’s about a community, a family, and that is why so many of us have become hooked.