02 May 2008

Session 15: How it all began

This month’s Session asks how we first became interested in good beer. I’ll confess to not having any single “Eureka!” moment. In fact, my initial answer was simply to say that I live near the retail mecca Beers of the World. At some point I figured, I live near this place, I should shop there (I started cooking Indian food for a similar reason). But that doesn’t explain everything.

My story probably isn’t unlike that of many other Americans. I drank illegally in high school and college (until I turned 21). Those days, I drank beer to get drunk. The beer was cheap and weak; quality isn’t important when you’re doing keg stands or playing quarters. The object was often to pound brews as quickly as possible so as to maintain your buzz the rest of the night after you leave the dorm. I didn’t know much beyond the world of US mass brands and regionals. And I didn’t necessarily like the beer I was drinking. In fact, taste seemed beside the point.

Later in life, I got into wine a bit (my father’s a big wine guy), went through a period where I drank hard liquor, and then doubled back to beer. This time it was the good stuff. I had the money to afford it and wasn’t just trying to get plastered. I started regularly visiting Beers of the World. Interestingly, I don’t think my impulse was finding great drinks so much as it was simple curiosity. How many different ways could beer taste? And what’s with all these Indian beers (you know, India Pale Ales)?

I developed a liking for a lot of the beers – I recall Gosser Dark being an early favorite – and have since been encouraged by friends (although nearly all are, alas, macro drinkers) and internet sites, including beer blogs.

In truth, none of this would have happened if I didn’t have a natural inclination toward connoisseurship. Like many middle class blue staters, I want to expand my tastes and try the best of what’s out there, and I don’t worry about whether I like what everyone else likes. No doubt, if I were running for president, I’d be branded an elitist (by scotch-drinking political commentators, nonetheless).

Looking back, I wonder how this topic plays out by nationality (and age too, I suppose; I was a teenager during the ‘80s when the craft beer movement was much less developed). Our 21 drinking age undoubtedly affects American drinking habits. The extended period of illicit juvenile drinking imprints upon us attitudes that are hard to shake, and I’ve often thought that it makes for a less smooth transition away from adolescent binging to a more mature approach. Does it push us into distinct two groups: beer geeks and average Joes? Is there a middle ground we’re missing?


Boak said...

Interesting question. Coming from a country where drinking is legal at 18 (and most of us start earlier), I'm not sure the legal age has much to do with it - I think bingeing / drinking for the sake of it is a state that most of us go through for the first couple of years. It's all part of growing up...

Thanks for contributing!

Chipper (Dave) said...

I believe much of the beer choices that early drinkers make is due to their financial situation. Teens who start drinking early don't have much money and tend to drink what ever will buy them the most beer for the buck. Those with the means may explore into higher priced or less expensive micro brews. We can't expect "virgin" beer drinkers to pick trappist ales or double IPAs right off the bat. These guys are used to drinking nothing but high sugar high caffeine drinks. It takes a low bitter bland beer to wean them off of the soda pop.

Buttle said...

I don't disagree with either comment, but I still think juvenile stage carries on longer because of the higher drinking age. My recollection of college was a time where -- often with professorial influence -- we tried to adopt more 'adult' tastes in music, movies, food, etc. But not beer.