One of the first things I learned after moving to Canada was this;
Canadians, for the most part, drink crappy beer!
They are very much like Americans in this regard, eh?
Is it our common heritage, geography, or language that makes us this way? Is there something in our North American DNA that makes us allow ourselves to be manipulated by mass media? The desire to fit in, to go along with the crowd?
People often ask me when did I become a beer snob? Believe it or not, it goes back almost 30 years, to the early drinking days of high school. When we would hustle somebody’s brother or uncle to buy us beer, I would ask them to pick up a 6 pack of something beyond Bud/Miller/Coors. In the dark days before the craft beer revolution, that meant getting something imported.
Heineken, St Pauli, Lowenbrau…those were pretty much all we had to choose from at the local liquor store in those days. Of course, I would always make sure they got the dark version of whatever it happened to be. (Does anyone remember Heineken and Becks Dark?) You see, even then (at 14 or 15) I wanted to drink something I could taste. It was great, because no one wanted to drink “my” beer.
Eventually, as I got older, I discovered other brands…Guinness, Bass, Watneys…mostly beers from Great Britain, with a few German’s thrown in. Different styles as well; Bitters, Milds, Porters, Bocks. Back in the 80’s, some friends and I rented a house that had this cool living room with a shelf that wrapped around the entire room. We came up with the idea that beer bottles would look really cool up there, so we scoured the local bottle shops for as many different beers as we could find. We would race home with our discoveries and have tastings in the living room, partly for the experience, partly to fill the shelf!
After tasting so many new and exciting beers, there was no way I could go back to the watered down mass produced swill!
As the 80’s gave way to the 90’s, the craft beer movement started to unfold. Anchor, Sierra Nevada, Samuel Adams were bursting on the scene. Traditional styles that had been dormant were revived, new styles and variations of the traditional were being produced by these pioneers. Before the internet, it was strictly word of mouth. For a short time in the early 90’s, I lived in Dallas, TX. We found this little place (I think it’s still there*) called Flips, a very quirky little jazz bar, and it was like being in heaven. We would stop by 3 or 4 times a week, just to see what was new. They had 10+ taps, all unique, as well as a bottle list which was AMAZING for the era. That’s where I had Celis White and Celis Pale for the first time. Welsh Ales, Czech Pilsners, Doppelbocks, Helles Lagers, such a world of discovery! I learned to tell an ale from a lager, a porter from a stout, a dubbel from a tripel, I learned about maltiness and hoppiness.
*Yup, still there. Flips Wine Bar and Trattoria on Lower Greenville Ave
When I moved back to California the San Diego beer scene was in it’s infancy. I discovered Stone Brewing almost by accident. I was at some generic Mexican Cantina type chain restaurant, and saw a tap handle with a big rock on it. “What the hell is that?” Stone Pale Ale, another new discovery. Soon after the area was exploding with Micros and brewpubs (many of which failed). Alesmith, Ballast Point, Karl Strauss, Pizza Port, Stuft Pizza and Brewing were a few of the early adopters of this new wave of beer making.
Looking back, I don’t think I could have been in a better place and time. (well, except maybe Portland or Seattle)
The true curse happened when my ex bought me a home brewing kit for Christmas. (I tell folks that the only good thing that came out of that marriage was the brew kit!) Such a thrill when I brewed that first batch, an Irish Stout. Then came the Pales, IPA’s, Belgian Wit’s, even a Pumpkin Beer!
I frequented the local pubs, taprooms, brewpubs and home brew shops, always looking for the next discovery. I kept my day job of course, and brewed on weekends. One of my bosses had a friend who was starting a brewery, and he knew what a beer geek I was, so he suggested that I moonlight a couple days a week at the brewery. That brewery was and is Green Flash Brewing.
It was a dream come true! I could still have my ‘real’ job, and do sales and marketing for Green Flash a few days a week. I stood in Costco for hours on end, proselytizing about the beer, begging people to take home a case. I visited every crappy bar and tavern, begging for just 1 handle. I ran the tasting room every Friday and Saturday, when the same 14 people showed up every week for a free buzz after work.
I remarried, we started having kids, and I had to put away my play things and get a real paying job to help support the family. I still frequented all of the breweries and taprooms, hoping to someday go back. I got to know all of the brewers and owners and publicans. I watched from afar as Green Flash exploded, winning numerous medals and awards. I kept my toes in the water, so to speak, by doing promotional projects for the local breweries and pubs.
Eventually my wife’s company offered her an amazing promotion, with the caveat that we had to relocate to Vancouver, BC. I did my research, saw that there were more than a dozen breweries in the GVA, and told the wife that Vancouver would be OK. Her promotion and salary meant that my income wasn’t as critical to our survival, which enabled me to pursue my dream; Working in the brewing industry. I immediately started sending my resume to all of the breweries in BC.
No luck so far, but that won’t stop me. I’m doing the same thing I did in San Diego, getting out and about scouring the pubs, hitting the liquor stores, and searching the web looking for the best that BC has to offer. Getting to know the ‘players’ in the BC brew community, tweeting and following, learning about the beer scene here.
Since I am somewhat housebound until I get a gig, I am starting this blog. Partially to fill time, partially because I love to talk and write about beer. Hell, I just love beer.
It’s kind of funny, that beer quest started by a bunch of drunken kids still hasn’t ended.
Andy The Beerman