Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On Beer

When I reached legal drinking age I always pictured myself aging into a wine person. I pictured myself eating rare cheeses and pontificating about the various merits of the fine vintage I was partaking. I would be able to wax poetic about the various wine growing regions around the world. I would talk at length about their soil contents and how they nurture different types of grapes allowing different countries to produce different types of wines. I would pay attention to yearly weather patterns. I would know what wines to buy from where and how long to store them for optimal enjoyment. I would know and strictly adhere the proper serving temperatures. I would scoff at the cheaper more popular wines people brought to parties. I would be an intelligent man of the world full of knowledge about the delicious wines I drank. In short, I would be an insufferable prick.

I never really got into wine though. Sure, I drink it. I have a vague idea of what I like. If I were to go to a tasting – which I never have, but would like to some time – I would be able to compare the different wines intelligently if not fully knowledgably. No, I do not know wine. Was it the expense? Did I find the volume of knowledge intimidating? Did I just get lazy? No. The simple answer is I have been blindsided by beer. Yes, beer, the nectar of the blue-collar world. I have fallen head over heals for beers, and I do not feel I have lost anything in foregoing wine. As I have grown I have discovered the vast, eccentric, complex world of beer. Beer holds its own against wine. I actually find the variety of beers exceeds that of wine. Once you move beyond the Coors/Budweiser Joe Six-Pack level of beer drinking, you discover a beverage that holds its own against any wine in terms of complexity of flavor and experience. That’s right. I have become a hophead. I save my poetic rhapsodies for fine Belgian concoctions of malt, barley, and hops. I can talk of a beers balance, complexity, and mouth feel. I can confidently turn my nose up to any beer in any keg at any run of the mill party. I have chosen beer over wine and am just as much of an insufferable prick as I ever wanted to be.

Not that I am alone in discovering the true wonder of beer. There seems to be a rising tide of true beer connoisseurs. There is a preponderance of websites and news articles dedicated to reviewing new beers. Beers are being imported at higher rate, and – more exciting yet – American microbreweries seem to be in a boom. New breweries, both local and with larger distributions, are opening across the country. With these businesses comes a new an infectious love and respect for beer and traditional brewing processes. This has also led to an influx of unique beers. While wineries seem to be stuck in more classic methods, microbrews have been freed to experiment with different brewing techniques and ingredients. I have sampled beers with a far range of flavor additives ranging from the more traditional chocolate and coffee to a beer advertising hints of bubble gum – well full confession, when faced with the bubble gum beer demurred, although I have it on good authority that it was pretty gross. Now is a wonderful time to explore the vast world of beer. It is a great to be a beer drinker today.

Beer also offers a more affordable option than wine. Now I fully feel that a good beer offers just as much flavor and complexity of a good wine, but where you may spend well over ten dollars for a single glass of even average quality wine, you can buy a truly fantastic bottle of beer for as little as three dollars – prices of course tend to vary across the country. For the cost of a decent bottle of wine, you can buy a mixed six-pack of beer from a good distributer. While the wine drinker stuck with just the one kind of wine for that money – better hope he likes it – I can have six different beers to tempt my palette. This is certainly a more attractive situation to me.

Of course, I do not know everything about beer. I am looking forward to trying many different varieties. I am enthusiastic about exploring the idea of pairing beers with food allowing the brew and the food to compliment and bring the best out of each other. I want to try every Belgium Double, Trippel, and Quadruppel I can get my hands on. I want to stop at as many local microbrews possible to enjoy beers only be found at these locations. I want to sample and learn as much as I can about beer. I want to the best-informed insufferable prick at the party. And when someone uncorks the wine, don’t be surprised to find me reaching to the cooler for a much more interesting IPA.