Last year my father in law and I attended a Beer & Food pairing put on by Garrett Oliver, Brooklyn Brewery’s brewmaster. If you’ve never heard Mr. Oliver speak, I think it is well worth seeking out an opportunity to do so. In a nutshell, his beer philosophy revolves around the pairing of beer and food and an emphatic plea for people to respect beer (apologies if that is over-simplifying things). After the session, my father in law generously purchased a copy of Mr. Oliver’s book, The Brewmaster’s Table, for me and I was able to have it signed (and spend a few minutes talking with a genuinely friendly and passionate individual).
Fast forward to last night when I finally started reading the book. I’ve read bits and pieces here and there when trying to decide what to eat with a certain type of beer, but haven’t gotten around to going toe-to-toe (cover-to-cover?) with this decidedly epic book (at least epic as far as beer books go). Within the first few pages, Oliver discusses his first experience with real beer—a cask-conditioned ale the color of maple syrup. He doesn’t recall the name, nor the brewery or even the style. His recollection of this experience brought to mind my first experience with real beer…my first “beerpiphany.”
The year was 2004. I was living in Austin attending the University of Texas and was being exposed to all sorts of new and exciting things. One of them was beer. And while I drank plenty of it (via a hand tap into a plastic cup), I had never been impressed with megabrews and knew in the back of my mind that there had to be something better out there. My first exposure to craft beer was by way of Texas’ ever-popular Shiner Bock (arguably not craft, but that’s another topic), which was far better than the macro beers I’d had. I then discovered New Belgium’s Fat Tire, which seemed to be the beer of choice for the more discerning of my 19-20 year old peers.
When I turned 21, new doors opened for me (literally and figuratively). I discovered the diversity and world of flavor of craft beer when I was legally allowed into the places that served them. Luckily for me, craft beer had already gained a strong foothold in Austin at that time and there were some places serving respectable beer (The Gingerman, Crown & Anchor [down the street from my apartment], The Dog & Duck Pub, etc.) and there were even a hand full of small craft breweries. Even many restaurants and coffee shops had good beer selections. I imbibed many a pint of Real Ale’s Firemans #4 at the Spiderhouse and Live Oak Pils at Austin’s Pizza on Guadalupe.
But it was on a night in the summer of 2004 that I dragged my friend Evan to the Draught House Pub in search of new beer horizons. I don’t remember the day of the week, but the place was dead and my friend wanted to go somewhere else. I talked him into staying for one beer (literally one beer, I don’t think he ordered anything). As with Mr. Oliver’s experience, I don’t remember what the beer I had was. I do remember it was golden with a frothy head and a potent hop bouquet. The bitterness and complexity of flavor (my memory wants to say fruity esters) stand out in my mind. Was it an IPA? A Belgian Strong Ale? I don’t remember. I do remember thinking, after taking a sniff of the beer, “can I really drink this?” I did really drink it and while it overwhelmed my fledgling palate, I quite enjoyed it.
I’m not going to romanticize and say that pint sparked a love affair with craft beer. But I will say that it was a formative part of the development of my beer palate. I just wish I could remember what kind of beer it was…
Have you had any beerpiphanies? I’d love to read about them in the comments section.