Imbibe Hour

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

The year in beer 2011

It wasn't suppose to happen this way.  It wasn't suppose to happen at all.

When I started out deciding to write a blog about drink, I was very focused on spirits.  I've been a big fan of cocktails and spirits, and started focusing on bourbon primarily when I started.  However, there were many times I just want to just sit back and grab a beer, instead of mixing up drinks.

Beer.

It's one of those ubiquitous drinks that is just about anywhere on the planet, and when it comes to imbibing alcohol it's probably the first place you begin.  I started drinking beer up in Canada when I was in my late teens, not unlike most people who discover beer.  Back then there really wasn't much choice.  Many of the top producers or what some today would call macro-breweries, even made beers that weren't available in certain areas of the country, keeping certain brews to only local markets (I still to this day have never seen Molson Export sold anywhere West of Ontario, maybe things have changed?).  On top of that many of the liquor laws did not look kindly to imports, and taxes were generally higher.  In short there was less options, and you ended up usually drinking the same domestic mass produced fizzy yellow lager that probably first fell in your hands, because it was cheap and easy to get.  Then something happened.

It's hard for me to pinpoint the exact date I noticed something change, but around the late 80s / early 90s a word came up that I heard called "micro". Small independent brewers were trying to make their way on to the scene.  Part of my personality is to always taste something new, and when I heard there were small independent micro-breweries trying to make an appearance I desperately wanted their beer.  Reports came out about mass produced beer being pedestrian.  There were comments that small producers could make a better product, they used old recipes, better ingredients, the large mammoth breweries got so large that they could no longer make a quality product, and so forth.  They were "different".  All the points seemed to indicate their beer was better to some.  Still, whether you believed this or not, I often could never get my hands on these micro-beers, and if I did they weren't cheap.

When I came to the US and settled down 14 years ago, I remember distinctly wanting to try some better beer.  I was definitely not a fan of beers of macro US produced breweries.  I grew up being inundated with their advertising, and flooding the market, and perhaps more so really hated their beer not just on taste but out of some pride to buy local and some perhaps nationalistic sentiment.  Hey why have fizzy yellow US lager, when I can have... umm.. fizzy yellow Canadian lager?  This sentiment, didn't last very long, my tastes changed, and more importantly, I got bored.  Also in my young days of yore, it was probably a stupid sentiment to be had, so I'll chalk that up to inexperience.  I found myself leaving beer and going to wine.  Then something else happened.

I was at a liquor store in the US and started noticing more varieties of beer on the shelves.  I went to other places, some even specialized in beer sales.  Depending on what state I was in, the laws sometimes were less restrictive than what I grew up with, the shelves were filled with LOTS of different beers, some from around the world, more so than what I saw in Canada.  I was quickly drinking a lot of Belgian beer and liking it.

My head exploded, I had to have them all.  Then around 2002 I saw a 6 pack on the shelf that said beer of the year.  I thought that was a pretty dam bold statement to make.  I looked at the package and it said Dogfish Head Raison d'Etre.  Long story short, I took it home, and my life since then for beer has never been the same.  When I gushed my enthusiasm for the beer to a store employee about the micro brewery he described a term that to me was new.  Dogfish as he mentioned, was some of the best "craft beer".

Since that day over ten years ago, "craft" beer has taken off unlike anything I have ever seen.  There are more breweries now that I can think of.  Beer made locally is now considered desirable, perhaps even filling in with the niche of supporting local farms, and having an emphasis on a better product.  In Washington DC where I was living there were no local breweries 10 years ago, now with Port City, DC Brau, and a host of others there are several.  The same thing has happened in other areas of the country, and there is now a lot of craft beer.  Attitudes are changing about acquiring beer.  Instead of just going out to the bar and having "the usual", there are craft beer bars, where you can drink several kinds of beer from multiple breweries.  Events can be held, and even the brewery reps and sometimes the brewers themselves will be there and you can talk to them.  Local breweries are also turning into social centers.  Instead of heading to the store, you can go to the brewery and buy beer there direct from the source.  Many breweries have tap nights, entertainment, and it has become a social gathering spot and not just a place to take away the wares, or have a tour (you've seen one fermenter you've seen them all I say!).  Speaking of beer to take home, you can fill up on tap beer with a growler and take it home as well (either at the brewery, and some other beer bars).  This is a common practice in many States (it varies depending on the law), where you can bring in a growler to fill of 64oz of fresh tapped beer and just walk home with it.  Growing up in Canada, this was impossible because of the liquor laws.  When I first came  here I didn't even know what a growler was.

Suddenly I was very excited about beer again.

With my insatiable appetite, I had something at my disposal that as a young beer drinker years ago was practically impossible.  The Internet, and more so, the information that comes with it.

With a host of active tools and a world of instant information literally at my finger tips, I discovered beers I could only dream of twenty five years ago, and more importantly "understand" them better.  In 2011 I finally decided to chronicle my year in tasting beer, and I decided to make a video about it.  The results are below.  Grab a few beers, sit down and relax and watch the show.

I don't know where craft beer is going in this trend, but I am really liking the amount of drink and choice that is available.  Even back in Canada, there are more independent breweries than before, beer is now taking off more than ever and what could be a better time to have a great drink to imbibe on once in awhile.

Cheers!

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