There is a fairly interesting/annoying (aren’t they all?) chain status post rolling around Facebook asking people to list the 10 books that have had some sort of influence or left a lasting impression on their lives. If for no other reason, it’s a good way to add to your reading list. But you know what’s more interesting than books? Nothing. But do you know what is a close second? Beer!
A buddy of mine tagged me on a twist to this meme: the 10 beers that have left a lingering flavor, and I thought it would be a fun post. These may not be my favorite beers (but some are), or even very good beers (most are), but they always bring me back to a specific time and place in my life. Some have even resulted in my life spinning off in an entirely different direction.
So, the 10 beers that have stayed with me in some way, in rough chronological order, are:
The beer: Odell 90 Shilling
On the list because: It was my gateway
The story: I grew up in a valley between the foothills and the plains in South Denver. For a long time, all I remember being in my house for alcohol was either Coors or boxed white wine. Then, through some miracle, my parents discovered Odell (or Odell’s as it was called back then). Weekend after weekend my parents would make the almost 2-hour-each-way trek from our little burg to Fort Collins to fill their (clear, unmarked) growler of the dark amber liquid called 90 Shilling. Even when I was eight, I knew that this was something special. This was different than Coors. This was different than boxed wine kept in its special little cupboard (yes, warm). I actually didn’t make the connection that Coors and 90 Shilling were even in the same category of drink until high school. My dad loved it so much, his friends got him a half BBL keg of 90 Shilling for his 45th birthday celebration. 90 Shilling is still a solid choice when I visit a bar and they don’t have a solid selection. And it will always be my gateway craft. Not too shabby of a start, really.
The beer: Guinness Stout
On the list because: A rule breaking, a great day, and an epic night
The story: My history with Guinness goes back to high school. On my senior trip to the UK and Ireland with my AP English class, I spent a couple of days with my sister’s now in-laws. They are, probably, the sweetest people on the planet. I was ill with the flu, so they gave me medicine and took care of me. They also took me around Dublin and took me out to a very fancy restaurant (yes, there are fancy restaurants in Ireland). Before my trip, my (now) brother-in-law told me how to ask for a Guinness in Irish. I told his father, and Paddy was delighted (yes, his name is really Paddy. I am not making any of this up). I did say, however, that it was against the rules for me to drink on the trip, so Paddy only ordered me a half pint. It was like drinking coffee mixed with motor oil. I hated it. But considering all of my classmates thought I was the person narcking them out when they went clubbing (hint: it wasn’t me) and were trying to make my trip miserable, it felt pretty damn good to break the rules.
A few years later, I returned to Dublin with my parents. While there, my dad at I visited the Guinness Brewery (or The Brewery). It was a flashy, commercialized tour without any personal touch, but it was educational if not fascinating. As a bonus, it was great to spend the day alone with my dad (which is a very rare thing) and to enjoy a beer, poured properly, at the place where it’s produced. It was just about as perfect as a day can get.
Finally, when my sister’s eldest was Christened, my parents and I went back to Ireland. Christenings, like most formal events in Ireland, usually end up at the pub. As we all did that night. It was about as stereotypically Irish as you can get: a group of lads sitting around telling stories and singing songs, everyone drinking Guinness, a Southwestern restaurant attached to the bar (wait… what?), deep conversations about sentence structure and symantics (huh?), my mom telling me that I should just stay in a much older friend’s room (yikes), and my mother drinking 17 Guinnesses (Guinni?) and me close behind her with 15. Now, when you have three adults sharing one hotel room after drinking that much Guinness, a fun night quickly turns into a disturbing morning. But nothing could ruin how awesome that party was. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is like a post-Christening party in Ireland.
And my mom and I are now legends. I’m pretty sure we will never pay for another pint in Ireland.
The beer: Le Fruit Defendu (Verboden Vrucht)
On the list because: I had to pick just one of the beers I drank in Belgium
The story: When you fly from Denver to Brussels, you leave at 10:30am and arrive at 7:30am. And when you are flying coach, it can be absolutely brutal. When I landed in Belgium for the first time to visit my parents on their amazing overseas adventure, I was one whupped puppy.
But, of course, you’re not allowed to sleep because then the world will be eaten by Chuthlu or something. So, my parents promptly took my vacant shell to the Grand Place (Grawn Plaws) and stuck a waffle in one hand and a beer in the other. I believe the beer was Leffe Blonde and the waffle was made out of the ground up remains of pixies. Regardless, it was amazing. For the remainder of my month there, my mom and I would visit the supermarket every 2-3 days and grab two beers of 10-12 varieties (as well as the proper glassware, of course) and take them home. We would also try new beers when we went out (I remember eating at one Mediterranean restaurant that only had Jupiler in the can and didn’t have the glassware. It was scandalous).
My two visits to Belgium, despite being distracted by the beautiful countryside, culture, food, and potatoes, was defined by beer. It was because of that trip to Belgium that I fell, unwittingly, in love with beer. And, it was because of that trip, that I landed the job at Flying Dog Brewery, which really started me on this whole crazy (downward?) spiral. I chose Le Fruit Defendu, out of all of the other beers I had that trip, because it was one of the only beers I had again and again. I loved the glass with a tiny, naked Adam and Eve on it and the twisted stem, but the complexity of the beer: spicy, sweet, fruity, deep was what really had me enthralled. Whenever I look at my glassware collection, it is that glass I hold most dear.
The beer: Flying Dog Barrel-Aged Gonzo Imperial Porter on Brett
On the list because: It completely changed my palate
The story: Speaking of Flying Dog… There are so many stories I could tell about the beers I drank, the people I met, and the crazy experiences I had during my time at Flying Dog, but none was so profound nor life-altering as my experience with Gonzo, aged in Stranahan’s barrels, with Brettonomyces yeast. This was back when I knew I liked beer, I could tell the difference between major styles, but I didn’t know much about the subtleties and intricacies of beer. I knew I liked Gonzo, and I knew I liked Stranahan’s, so I figured I’d like a marriage of the two. When they popped the bung on this beer, you could smell it throughout the brewery. It was funky and weird and sour and like nothing I had ever smelled. I had briefly flirted with a couple of Flanders Reds when in Belgium, but none of them came close to this. When my boss had me take a drink, it was like a Sour Patch Kid had sex with a vanilla bean on a horse blanket. It was horrifying and intriguing and absolutely impossible to stop drinking. I think I consumed at least half of the barrel. Now, eight years later, I still adore sour and funky beers more than almost any other style for their complexity and perplexity.
The beer: Pabst Blue Ribbon
On the list because: We were so, so broke
The story: There was a stretch of time in 2007 that neither Josh nor I was gainfully employed. Although we were making it rain resumes, we were getting a whole lot of nowhere. Of course, when you don’t have any money, you can’t afford good beer. So, after depleting our supply of Flying Dog beers, we were forced to turn to PBR. Our local liquor store sold 30-packs for cheap enough that we could get one a week and drink on that. The downsides were that PBR tastes slightly like pee and it has the magical ability to have the blasting power of 10 cans of beans. The upside was that at least we had beer. Even now the Bearded One will proclaim that PBR is the only shlocky beer he likes. I will attest to no such thing. I still get the farts just thinking about it.
The beer: Ballast Point Yellowtail Pale Ale
On the list because: It introduced me to California beer
The story: After regaining employment, we were so in debt that we still didn’t have a lot of disposable income. Luckily, around that time, our local liquor store started carrying Ballast Point for $5.99 a six pack. Not nearly as cheap as PBR, but a hell of a lot better. We bought 90% of the Ballast Point the liquor store brought in. The one we liked the best was the Yellowtail Pale Ale. It was more of a hoppy blonde than a pale ale, but it was just so drinkable. Soon the Bearded One introduced me to Port and Stone and Anderson Valley, and my love for California beers grew. In 2010, we drove out to San Diego for San Diego Beer Week and, sure enough, Ballast Point was our favorite brewery we visited. Too bad more cities don’t have a beer week like San Diego (ehem: Denver). Even the year we went, which was just prior to the craft beer explosion there, we had 650 events over 10 days to choose from. That is how you do a beer week.
The beer: Twisted Pine Billy’s Chilis
On the list because: It defined a year of our lives
The story: One rainy spring Sunday, Beardy and I decided to go up to Boulder and try some Boulder breweries that we had never before visited. Boulder Beer was closed, and Crystal Springs didn’t yet have a tasting room, so we stopped by Walnut, Mountain Sun, and, despite having a pre-conceived notion of mediocrity, made our way to Twisted Pine. What we found there were some of the nicest servers in the industry, a great atmosphere, and beers we genuinely enjoyed. So, the next Sunday, we decided that we would go back again. And the Sunday after that. And the Sunday after that. Every week we would order two pitchers (not at once) of Billy’s Chilis and sit and watch skateboarding or snowboarding or football while grabbing a bite to eat and chatting with our new friends. One time we visited on a Thursday, and when we walked in and Jayson, the bartender, was already pouring us a pitcher of Billy’s, another patron said, “so you are the couple that drinks all the chili beer.” Legends, we were. We loved it so much there that I even brought my mom there for Mother’s Day (sorry, Mom). After about a year we stopped going to Twisted Pine as it was an hour drive each way and we needed to save some money, but we still stop by occasionally to quench our thirst for chili beer and reminisce about the good ol’ days when we were locals at a brewery 50 miles from our house.
The beer: Brewery Rickoli’s Single Hop 5256
On the list because: It changed how I understood hops
The story: For about a year, the Bearded Brewer and I worked at Brewery Rickoli. It was an amazing 12 months, and one that saw the Bearded One start to live his dream and really flourish. During that time I drank so many amazing beers, as Rick is a truly amazing brewer. But one stuck out, not just because it tasted good, but because it changed everything I thought I knew about hops. Rickoli’s came out with a flight of four single-hop pale ales for tasting during Colorado Craft Beer Week. It was the same base with just a different hop. The goal was to find the hop that customers enjoyed most and pick a name for the resultant beer. Of the four beers, there were two with hops that were absolutely different than anything I had ever had before: 6300, which had a distinct dill flavor, and 5256, which smelled and tasted of black currant. When I was studying in London, my drink of choice was Strongbow with black currant liquour. I love the tart, dank, only very slightly sweet taste of black currant and to find it in a hop was delightful. After trying that beer (trying it so much I drank ~2 gallons before it was gone), I started doing more research on hops and what causes all of the different flavors and aromas and how to best coax them out. That research was invaluable as I went for my Cicerone certification, and is part of the reason that I did so well.
The beer: Westvleteren 12 (Westy 12)
On the list because: It lived up to expectations
The story: If you haven’t heard of Westy 12, stop reading now and go read about it. Seriously. Just go to Rate Beer or Beer Advocate or any of the other 1000 beer websites and look up Westy 12. Now, there is a lot of hype about a lot of beers that may or may not be 100% valid (I’m looking at you Pliny the Younger), but, as we all know, beer is a very subjective thing. Rarely, there is a consensus that a certain beer is pretty damned great. Westy 12 is one of those beers. Yes, it has been mythologized because of the difficulty in obtaining it (only by reservation, only at the monastery). Yes, many of those who claim to adore this beer have never even tasted it. However, for those few of us lucky enough to have supped of these suds, it is a near-religious experience. But my story of how I was able to taste it was pretty sweet as well.
Last spring, when Pliny the Younger made its yearly rounds, we thought we would stake out a spot in line at Hops & Pie to get a taste. When we arrived, four hours before tapping, there was already a line of ~10 people and it was 14 degrees out. We sat in the car for a little bit and decided that, while we really wanted to try the beer, it wasn’t worth the frostbite. To drown our sorrows at our own wussiness, we visited a couple of local breweries, including TRVE. At TRVE we met a lovely guy who works at World of Beer in Glendale (east Denver). We told him that we missed out on the Pliny tapping due to an aversion to frostbite, and he mentioned that they were tapping Younger at WOB the following week and gave us all of the details. Score! I then casually mentioned that, while I was excited to taste Younger, it was nothing like my desire to try Westy 12. His response: “well, I’ll bring one of my bottles down for you to try, then.” Wait… what!? So, that next week, I sat at the bar at WOB and had two of the highest ranked beers in the world in my hands at the same time.
While I liked Pliny the Younger, Westy 12 absolutely blew me away. It was like someone had taken my mom’s very buttery cinnamon sugar toast and turned it into a beer. It was all bread crusts and sugar and toast and perfection. Sometimes beers disappoint. Sometimes they meet your expectations. And sometimes they nuke anything you thought might be true and replace it with magic. Pure, unadulterated magic.
The beer: Wet Hose IPA
On this list because: It is the first beer I ever helped homebrew
The story: The Bearded One’s boss managed to get his hands on a large amount of fresh Cascade hops, and since they couldn’t be utilized at the brewery, we decided to brew a double-IPA with them. We used a Blickmann kettle and a giant cooler-tun. It took about seven hours, all told, and was an absolute blast. I cannot wait to get our keggle system up and running (we finally got the extra kegs we needed!) and we will be homebrewing like maniacs. Now if I could just afford some nice conical fermenters. The beer will be ready in another 9 days or so, and I am in absolute bits waiting to try it.
There are so many more beers I want to put on this list: Dom Kolsch, Flying Dog Road Dog, Port Brewing High Tide IPA, Pisgah Breakfast Stout, Stone Sublimely Self Righteous, Yuengling, Flying Dog Horn Dog, Green Man ESB, Sweetwater IPA, Odell St Lupulin, New Belgium Le Terrior, Steamworks Steam Engine Lager, Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Rogue Hazelnut Brown, Brewery Rickoli Elke’s Brown Ale, Samuel Adams Oktoberfest, Blackstone Chocolate Milk Stout, Lefthand Milk Stout, Paradox Skully #1…
Beer is more than a beverage. It is a part of a memory. Drinking a beer can bring you back to a time and place like few other things. And, being that beer is an excellent social lubricant, those memories tend to be pretty great.
What are the beers that you most remember? Is it because they bring back a memory? Because it’s your favorite beer? Because it was so rare?
Go out. Drink some beer. Make some memories.