|Ghosts convene around the 2012 batch of Allagash Ghoulschip, haunting it with spooky souring microbes.|
When you like something a lot, and you find other people who also like that thing a lot, it's easy to create a basic sense of community. Beer happens to be an exceptionally easy thing to bond over, especially if you brew it, but sometimes you want to dive a little deeper into a conversation than just listing some beers you've drank. In any passionate group of 'enthusiasts,' it's easy to kick off a conversation by asking the basic: "How did you get into this?" question.
Many people develop their love of (obsession with) beer over time, but I firmly believe that beer inspires such devotion largely because it is an acquired taste. We all have some vague story about how we got into beer, but these anecdotes and personal histories can often be long and a little tedious — maybe more fun to ramble about in person. I could write a very long blog post (I mean, longer than usual) about how I first discovered craft beer. But for all those years of developing my palate, discovering new things, and switching style allegiances, one night in particular stands out to me as the moment my tastes in beer really changed — or maybe solidified.
This was a few years ago, sometime in October, I think. One particular detail kind of nails the timeframe, and adds a nice bit of semi-irony that is perhaps the entire reason I remember this particular evening so well. Me and a few good friends were out for some beer events in NYC, and our first stop brought us to Blind Tiger, a wonderful (if perpetually-packed) beer nerd haven in the West Village. I forget what the exact nature of the event was, but I think it may have been an Allagash tap takeover. In any case, me and my friends were all about the Allagash Ghoulschip, an extremely rare one-off sour pumpkin beer thingy. It was a killer beer, and everyone at the table agreed that this sour beer thing was pretty neat. I had had sour beers many times before, and am one of those people that was hooked after one taste, but it was around this night that I finally began to pinpoint the specific flavors and nuances that I enjoyed about them. You know that moment when you suddenly find yourself able to go beyond "I sure do enjoy the flavor of this!" to being able to talk about it in specific beerwords?
As we sipped our spooky sours, I glanced over at a table near the window and observed two gentleman who just gave off an air of "knowing about beer." (They must have had particularly illustrious beards.) While everyone else in the room was busy killing these rare kegs trotted down from Allagash, these guys were drinking beer out of a can. What first seemed like sheer madness soon clarified, slightly, when the BeerPulse-reading portion of my mind recalled the significance of the cans in their hands. It was a beer from Vermont called Heady Topper, and the brewery that made it had just been wiped out by devastating floods only a few weeks prior. The brewery just happened to have opened a separate canning facility around the same time, and thus survived as a production brewery making only a single canned beer. I remember thinking at the time: "What a crazy situation, I hope those guys can rebound. I think I've heard that beer is pretty good, too." While we briefly considered getting a can, we had other destinations in mind, and continued on our way. One of my friends went back to the next day to see if they still had any cans. They didn't. It would be another year or so before Vermont really took over the world, and the potent double-thread of Alchemist / Farmstead would have me dreaming of northern-bound roadtrips, along with everyone else on the East Coast.
But this remains, mostly, the night that I decided I was obsessed with all things sour and funky. After our goblets of Ghoulschip at the Blind Tiger, we headed to Brooklyn for a sour beer night at a bar called Mission Dolores. There were five or so Flanders Redish and Oud Bruinish beers on tap, and it was this massive acid punch to the tongue — following the already impressive Allagash stuff — that led me to conclude these sour beers might just be my favorite style. Flanders Reds in particular really get me with their unrivaled balance of sweet and sour, the insane complexity brought out with hints of cherry, vanilla and oak. Where previously I had tried sours only to forget their names the next day, that was the night I tried Cuvee des Jacobins Rogue and decided it could not be the last time I had such a beer. I would be watching tap lists closely from then on. For when you gaze long into the sour, the sour also gazes into you.
Editor's Note: Okay, perhaps these anecdotes don't make for the most interesting stories ever, and this was kind of boring. Later on, I found a dollar, just right on the sidewalk. It was crazy.
Anyhow, there's something satisfying to me about being able to trace interests and obsessions in such personal detail. How often do we actually know why we like what we like? How many of the things we love were found when we were young, and those particular moments — the sparks of interest that lead to a hobby, or even a career — lost over time? Brewing is a unique hobby in that most people don't or can't get into it until they are older, and have already discarded a dozen previous hobbies from youth. It's a recipe for a passion and a hobby unlike any other.
Am I the only one with these lame memories, or can you trace your own personal history of changing tastes?