For the Love of Beer

Why the idea of typing up a blog posting while engaging in one of my favorite activities — drinking a beer — had never previously occurred to me, is completely beyond comprehension.  Tonight it’s an Alaskan Brewing Co. Pilot Series Troppelbock, an imperial doppelbock which contains some serious tastiness.  I’ve been toying with the ideal of homebrewing since last year, but then I began to read up on the process and I got scared… not scared like I read something out of the Necronomicon or anything like that, but scared about screwing something up… something to which I know I’d invest a huge amount importance.  What can I say?  I love beer, and I have for a really long time.  I went through my ass-headed, teenage phase where it was all about getting as fucked up as I could possibly manage, however, that gave way in short order to an appreciation for the humble, malted beverage.
Growing up, of course, it was all about the big, national breweries because that’s what was readily available.  Like most Americans, I consumed a lot of Budweiser before I got wiser (…I know… sorry, I couldn’t help it).  I tried Miller High Life and Coors, and in more destitute times I drank all of the low ticket stuff: Natural Light, Busch… you know, the stuff you usually purchase with an accompanying paper sack.  In my sampling of American adjunct lagers, I had one very tiny advantage: I grew up in a border town.  Given the bad press received now a days by towns bordering Mexico, one wouldn’t necessarily perceive this as an advantage… and how this relates to beer aficionado-hood may be even more nebulous.  The advantage was this: it gave me access to Mexican beers.
Mexican beers are mostly either American-style adjunct lagers or German-style beers — thus, I got to taste stuff which was not from the big, American breweries and that had a profound effect on my beer preferences.  For example: did you know that Modelo Negro is a German-style schwartzbier?  That Dos Equis Amber is a Vienna-style lager?  This means that at least these two beers are brewed with something American adjunct lagers are not: barley malt.  The term “adjunct” means that an adjunct grain is used to brew a beer; corn and/or rice for American-style lagers… which makes for a shitty tasting beer, unless it’s served really cold — in which case the taste becomes passable.  The Mexican beers led me to other import beers.  St. Pauli’s Girl was available, as was Loewenbrau… and Canadian beers: Molson, Labatt, and Moosehead… and then one day, Guinness.
Killian’s Red and Killian’s Brown formed my introduction to the exotic world of UK brews… little did I know then that these actually fell under the aegis of Coors… (Sidenote: Coors, Miller, and Michelob did a lot to promote the craft beer movement… I’m not entirely sure that’s what they intended — I think they were desperate to topple Anheuser-Busch… but their tactics probably had some unintended side-effects… namely, they introduced some unusual flavors to a bunch of unsuspecting palettes).  The big turn for me came when I had my first Guinness.  The first Guinness I ever had came out of a bottle, and it was not at all what I expected.  The watery excuse for a brown ale which was Killian’s Brown didn’t prepare me for the bready, malty, chocolately hooligan fist of a stout that was a Guinness.  My taste buds were assaulted.  In light of the imperial stouts I now regularly consume, Guinness actually falls on the lighter side of the stout family; however, pouring that first bottle into a glass and marveling at the inky blackness was a rebellious act on the part of my tastebuds which, according to the commericals, were only supposed to be satisfied by the cold, crisp flavor of Budweiser.  When my tongue touched the tan head of that stout and got a little taste, Budweiser and American adjunct lagers went out the window.
The difference in flavor is night and day, and is better when experienced… trust me, I can’t do it justice because taste is subjective and what I find appealing is not necessarily what anyone else might find appealing.  Rather, the adventure here comes from sampling far and wide.  We live in a Renaissance of craft brewing and in the availability of import beers and beverages.  Where once my only choices came from the national brewers, I am now overwhelmed by the number of choices from craft brewers from all around the country.  I live in Texas and I’m drinking a beer which was brewed and bottled in Juneau, Alaska… a beer which happens to be a variation of a traditional German style bock… a robust dopplebock made imperial by an American craft brewery by aging the beer on oak chips.  Talk about complex flavors, this one is amazing… there’s malty sweetness which includes nuts, fig, chocolate, and vanilla; but it’s balance by a dry yeasty flavor and just a hint of hop bitterness… and I mean: just a hint.  American lagers just don’t come close, and it seems a shame to me to restrict one’s palatte to such a limited flavor.  There are subtle differences between the taste of a Budweiser and, say, a Miller Genuine Draft… but those adjunct grains make them fundamentally the same, and neither one of those beers is going to challenge the palette… in fact, they’re designed not to be challenging so long as you drink ’em cold.  Being out of one’s comfort zone every now and then is a good thing… at least I think so.
I discovered craft beers with a little concoction known as Pete’s Wicked Ale.  By the time I got to Pete’s, I was drinking mostly UK and German import beers, and had not consumed an American beer in a while.  There was nothing wicked about Pete’s Wicked Ale other than the fact that it further subverted my taste for the stuff being put out by the big, national breweries.  As an avid fan of Dungeons & Dragons though, the term “ale” conjured images of hard bitten, road weary adventurers taking their respite at the local inn while gathering information for the next dungeon crawl… dwarves wearing gleaming battle helms and bearing foam soaked beards from the tankards of ale they dourly consumed.  Suffice to say: the term caught my imagination as much as it did my taste buds and created a fan for life.
Really, considering a few odd turns, this brings us to the present.  Sure, I took a small break from beer drinking and developed my palette for wine — the Spanish varieties are still my favorites — but the ales still hold their power over me.  Hell, I write because I love to read… why shouldn’t I brew because I love to drink?  I’m buzzed, you guys…
In other news: WorldCon is taking place here in San Antonio this weekend; practically every author I admire is here… but, for me, attending the convention is cost-prohibitive.  Bummer, but one has to live with it.  I got a small taste on Thursday afternoon when I got to hear Robin Hobb, Catherine Asaro, and Elizabeth Bear speak at the library where I work.  I was fortunate to get that, and believe me: as brilliant as those three are, it’s plenty.  There’s other stuff I want to write about, but I’ll save that for upcoming posts.  Go grab a beer now, and toast to what ever you like.


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