The Session 104: Goodbye American Beer

No, this is not my suicide letter. It is also not me swearing off of beer. That would just be stupid. What this is, is a reflection of myself over the past 6 years; when I started drinking beer.

I do not remember the exact date but sometime within the next 21 days, 6 years ago, is when a friend I had in college took me into his home and opened up my eyes to a world that exist outside of the cheap spirits that my college self was drinking… as well as the PBR. It wasn’t too long after that when I received a Mr. Beer kit and my life was changed forevTheSessioner. Though, Mr. Beer did not last long in my life. On Thanksgiving-morrow 2009, I brewed my first all grain batch of homebrew… and the next day I brewed another.

This may open up your eyes to more of the person I am today. Explain my views of the beer world and where I see myself. I once was the person that I hate today. But with open eyes, ones thirsts for knowledge; with knowledge one seeks experience; and with experience, one realizes how little they really know… and to some, that is a problem that they must reconcile.

When I started homebrewing I may have only tasted 20 different beers at a maximum. I went to Fred Meyer and looked at the selection. It was a great one, and it has only gotten better. But I was completely overwhelmed by the selection. My way of combating that was to buy variety packs of beer… and there weren’t many. The first pack I bought was a New Belgium Folly Pack, and for anyone who pays attention to me online, this should be a red flag to the origins of my Passionate and dedicated self.

I wish I remembered all 4 of the beers that were in that pack but 3 of the 4 were Fat Tire, 1554, & Hoptober. Fat Tire was my first look into the world that we call malt. I loved it. It touched me in a way that a spirit never had before. On my fist sip of 1554, I could not contain myself; it was the best beer I have ever had… Ok, at this point I have not had many, but today it is still my favorite beer. I will drink it anywhere, anytime, anyplace. When it came to Hoptober… I hated it. Honestly, I hated all hoppy beers that I had. I would tell everyone about how horrible IPAs were and that they never should have been made… this is quite funny looking forward in my life. One thing I am actually happy about, this year New Belgium re-released Hoptober and I was able to actually assess it with a more mature palate.

Sometime around the AHA Learn To Homebrew Day 2009, I received a Mr. Beer kit. I had a lot of fun with that process but it was by far the worst beer I have ever tasted… to that point. *Now, I highly endorse Mr. Beer. You just need to know what you are doing in order to use it. There are a few out there that can give great tips.* Something made me want to continue to make beer, but I decided if I was going to do it, I was going to do it the way it was meant to be done. I did some pretty crappy research and bought a Coleman cooler-red-, a turkey fryer, and a couple of kits that I thought would fit my taste; World Wide Lager – Heineken Clone- & an American Wheat Beer. And catch this, I was not sure what the difference between “milled” and “un-milled” was, so I bought one kit one way and the other, well, the other.20141010_153004

One thing I was happy about is that I found out the grain had to be milled before I brewed with it… great, right? Well… I had a rolling pin and a gallon zip lock bag… for over 10 pounds of grain! That was the worst ever… but the beer didn’t turn out all bad… even though I knew nothing about lagering or using lager yeast. Pretty sure it fermented in the mid-60’s under my kitchen sink. The American Wheat Beer came out horrible. I had no idea what happened with that kit. Probably everything. But it did not discourage me. I bought two more kits and brewed those just over a week later. I hardly had the results back from my first beers… which, well… I would never try to turn around beers that fast today.

As time went on, I bragged to everyone that I made beer and shaved the 13 hairs on my face with a straight razor. A co-worker wanted to come over and see me brew. I showed him what I knew, playing it up like I was some kind of expert, and eventually went on to teach him how to make beer. My first year I probably brewed around 40 batches… Let’s not talk about how many of them were good. I stopped using kits about 6 beers in and decided I would write my own recipes because I knew all that there was to know about beer. Looking at old log books… I have no idea why I am telling anyone about this.

The next year I graduated from college and moved down to Los Angeles. I met a lot of cool people and this is where I lost complete control of myself. There was this cool new app called Untappd. I saw a lot of people using it and I created an account. If we were to talk about the capabilities of it back then vs now, your head would spin. Most users today have no idea how hard life was. I thought I was cooler than I was, so my account went unused for several months. But once I did start using it, I met so many more people and so many more venues. I would travel across and outside of the city to go to specific places to drink as many beers as I could and earn as many badges as possible. Multiple events, rare beers for the sake of saying I had them, and places just because my Untappd “friends” were going to be there. This was a chapter in my life that I am glad that happened, but looking back… I am glad something snapped me out of that path.

Remember how I hated all hoppy beers and verbally destroyed all IPA’s, etc? Well… in this time, there was also a period where I drank nothing but IPA’s for 2-3 months. And I mean A LOT of IPA’s. The IPA that set me down this course? Dogfish Head 120. I was given this beer on a set of a film I was working on and it opened my eyes to what an IPA could be. Not all IPA’s were the initial spitfire and palate wrecking bitterness that gave me the bitter beer face in all of those Keystone Light commercials.2014-05-12 20.38.54

I snapped out of this phase right before the Inaugural IPA Day. I realized that a majority of the IPA’s I guzzled didn’t stand out at all. There was no deciding factor between them all. I talked about how much I loved them, but if it wasn’t for Untappd, I would not have known what I had. Very few stuck out and to this day they are still classics and renowned by drinkers everywhere. Because of my hatred of what this style had done to me, I opposed everything IPA day was about. It was not the style that got me into beer and the fact that they were using it to try to convert the masses, which I was so about back then, I thought it was unfair to force their ideals on potential new beer drinkers. Drink What You Damn Well Please Day was born… Though, I probably wasn’t the first to use that phrase… and I still checked into Untappd to make sure I got the badge. I could not pass that up.

A few more years past and I was still fighting the good fight converting macro lager drinkers into craft beer drinkers of all kinds, when I realized I knew quite a bit but I did not know a lot. This is when I started looking into the Beer Judge Certification Program. Not seriously at this point but a few of my friends became judges so I partly looked to them to learn and did a lot of my own research. This is also when my homebrewing took a turn for the better. I was making some good beers before this but after the number of batches I have done, if I didn’t improve, that would have been ridiculous. At this time I was learning about other styles. What made them, defined them, the characteristics of each. That is what changed my brewing. I made subtle changes or focused in beers that I liked, and were good before, in order to make them moreso fit into a guideline.

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That quickly led into me doing some serious studying for the exam and with a little forceful encouragement from a friend, I took the online entrance exam and the Cicerone Certified Beer Server exam. The Cicerone program was not something I intended on doing but somehow I passed that on my first attempt. Even the BJCP online entrance exam I knocked out the first time. Kind of made me regret paying the extra money for three attempts at the exam. A major jump in studying and judging competitions took place. Almost as much so as my crazy LA drinking adventures. I traveled city to city, state to state to judge. Though, this seemed way different from before. I was able to experience every cities beers and also their local homebrew scene. I guess it paid off due to my decent score on both the BJCP Tasting Exam and the Certified Cicerone Exam… though, I messed up a bit too much on the Tasting portion, so that is coming up for me again.

I am not sure when the urge to not take beer so seriously hit me. I don’t mean beer as a whole, because that is very important. But maybe it was in the craze of all the selling and buying I realized business is business and those decisions do not affect me or the quality of the beer I drink and brew. At this time, there were only a couple that have broken the hearts of the nation. Others would follow after me. Some never cared to begin with. But everyone had to make the journey they made on their own.

With everything above, we haven’t even started getting into my purchasing and trading history… I could spare you the details because I am sure you have an idea, but I went from buying cases of $20 a piece bombers and trading for beers that are nearly unattainable to now focusing on the enjoyment of beer and those you are with. There are many great beers that beer geeks/nerds/snobs/whatever pass over due to their accessibility, lack of sex appeal, and probably their low, low price. It is unfortunate that these beers are not purchased and drank more by segments of our community but I think it is a good thing I hit this point before I open the next chapter of my beer life. Which kind of brings this rambling back to why I started.

I am greatly looking forward to the beers of Germany and all of Europe. Living/working over there will give me an opportunity to take my knowledge to another level. For a lot of styles, I only really know what was written in a book or a set of guidelines. I will finally be able to taste them for myself. One thing I was going back and forth on was my brewing. Do I focus on perfecting styles while I have such great examples of them? Or do I brew what I get homesick for and want to drink. I am sure it will be a combination of both but I hope that when I return to the US in 3 years, I can be more of the expert that I thought I was when I really knew nothing. Actual experience drinking these beers around the world, the ability to talk about, describe and give a rough recipe without looking back over notes. You know, for real be that guy… but we will see. There is still a long journey to go and besides these generalities, I honestly have no idea where I am going.

Cheers!

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The Session 104: Goodbye American Beer

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