For those who know me, it may be hard to imagine a time before I prattled on endlessly about beer. I’ve always been a bit of an enthusiast; my Father once told me “When you get into something, you REALLY get into it.” Whether the Heman of my childhood, music, cooking or The Simpsons, there always seemed something to effuse about. It was not until a fateful evening in 2001 that beer; common yet mysterious, both exciting and relaxing would enter this canon and change my life.
As a senior in college living in New York City, I was attending a Professor’s party with a when we were served quite a fancy beer. By “fancy” I mean it was a corked and caged large bottle poured into a ballooned, stemmed glass. There is even a picture somewhere of this moment; our faces tilted in a “...do you have any Grey Poupon” kind of poncey reception. All joking ceased the moment it touched our lips.
The beer was Chimay Blue, also known as Grande Reserve. Everything about this fantastical drink exploded my concept of what beer was and could be. It wasn’t that I was obnoxiously law-abiding that it took me until late 21 to recognize the charms of beer - it was just the right beer at the right time. Until this point in my life both the flavors and ceremony of alcohol, in general, had been alien to me. The taste of beer was the of ubiquitous, skunked green bottles, wines were cheap and characterless, and liquor tasted of something I would clean my instrument’s strings with. This stuff was entirely new to me, a different universe. That energetic pour revealed a deep, dark brew with an voluminous, mousse-like foam that audibly crackled with enthusiasm. Remembering my first impressions of the flavors now feels like recalling any truly sweet, joyous, revelatory moment in life. The beer was more regal than powerful (at 9% it is big for a beer but modest for any wine) with a lightly chocolatey, spiced quality I had never imagined.
Over the next few weeks I raided Fairway Market and every corner deli for every interesting beer I could find. So what was in my newbie beer fridge? Skull Splitter, Heineken Dark, Old Speckled Hen, Blue Moon, Hop Devil, Mississippi Mud are a few that come to mind. Hard not to laugh when I think of beers that I now love that at the time were just beyond my reach: Sierra Nevada Stout (in the yellow bottle - holy ROASTY!), Sierra Nevada Bigfoot (with a name like THAT, it’s GOTTA be good!), and later sad memory of the Rodenbach Grand Cru and Cantillon Gueuze that went straight down the drain.
Nearly 20 years later and happily working in the world of beers I often think back to those first months of curiosity, collecting and tasting and that fateful first sip.