Beer and I have a long, sometimes cantankerous, at other times warm and loving relationship history. My earliest memories of beer are pegged in the ‘tragic’ end of the spectrum, sneaking swigs of warm, unfortunately Salem Light butt-soaked Rainier from my old man’s half-empties.
Somehow those experiences didn’t prevent further experimentation with malted hops and barley in my high school years, when everyone’s favorite beer was whatever they could score with a fake ID or sympathetic older sibling looking to make a few bucks. The ‘any port in a storm’ years. Fire-brewed Stroh’s, Rheinlander, and Oly Gold were always efficient go-to brews due to their low price point and general availability to the mildly-underaged.
My Navy years provided a slight improvement in my world view on beer as I ticked past 21 on the odometer, but the emphasis during this era was largely fiscal in scope. Coors Light and MGD were supremely cost-effective options throughout many Long Beach, CA pub crawls for the cash-strapped enlisted man. Nothing said freedom like $1 draft beers at Bobby McGee’s; the supremely economic path to hedonistic self-promotion amongst CSULB co-eds.
It was during this time that my nascent appreciation for beer first saw its first spark of illumination. Some pals and I used to hit a small bar in Long Beach called ‘The Crow’, which was often manned by elderly ex-military folks, the retired, and assorted flora and fauna of the middle-aged alcoholic set. It was here that Guinness first passed my lips. I remember a crusty old guy named Bob buying everyone a round of Killian’s Irish Red. There was once a pitcher of a Czech pilsner promptly downed in short order, the explosion of what I later learned to be spicy hops made me squint with unsurety. While my fledgling palate merely recognized these offerings as pre-funk, they made definite impressions, intimations of appreciation I would expand upon later in life.
Around the time I departed the good graces of the Navy and returned to WA, Red Hook had come into vogue in Seattle. Grunge music was exploding, flannel was de riguer, and people in Seattle largely seemed to have traded the big red R(ainier) for the brash upstart Red Hook ESB. There wasn’t a Sonics or Mariners game I attended without a fistful of ESB, and to me it was like the evolution of Seattle contained in a bottle, a part of the landscape. It was the first beer I truly enjoyed for the flavor complexities.
My appreciation for beer has grown over the decades. For the remainder of the 90s, it was Pyramid, Red Hook, the occasional Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve in my fridge. Once in a while I’d get crazy and stock some Heineken. Bohemian, I know.
After moving to CA in 2005, I traded my occasional stash of beer for a newfound appreciation for wine. ‘Sideways’ was sparking a thermonuclear explosion in central CA, and I was sucked in. Fell in love with Monterey Rieslings, Oregon Pinot Gris, Chalone Chenin Blanc. Discovered Hahn Cabernet Sauvignons, spicy Zinfandels, and would (and will) try any Pinot Noir put in front of me. Started buying Port at every tasting room visit. The varietals, the terroirs, the noses, the mouth feels, the tannins, the pairings with meats and cheeses and chocolates. For where I was in my life, the discoveries of wine spoke in a new, unexpected but welcome voice.
Over the last year, I’ve been gradually re-approaching beer with the same perspective. Discovering nuances in lagers and pilsners and ales. Enjoying porters. Experiencing beers from eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and the Mediterranean. Stumbling across new favorites from the surprising now-nexus of craft beers, San Diego, like the superb Ballast Point Pale Ale. Pining for Manny’s Pale Ale from Georgetown Brewing in WA (can’t get it in CA yet). I look at beer now like I did during my wine discoveries – opportunities to experience authenticity. In the future I want to grow further and try my hand at home-brewing (thusly fleshing out the ‘brew’ component in my domain name), but for now, it’s a lot of fun to experience the really excellent offerings that abound out there in this craft beer renaissance.