Thursday, May 1, 2008

A shaky start but a strong finish

Boak and Bailey have asked us to think about when it all started for us beer-wise. When did we start drinking 'good' beer?

The first time I tasted a beer I really didn't like it. It was a sneaky sup of foam from the voluminous frothy head of my mother's glass of Guinness that she had unwittingly left lying around the house. It was nasty and intensely bitter to my 7 or 8 year old taste buds, and I couldn't fathom the slightest reason why she would willingly drink it. I've since learned that the head is always more harshly bitter than the body of the beer because hop compounds rise up with C02 and impregnate the foam. Perhaps if I had delved a little deeper into the glass my experience would have been different.

I'll jump along decade or so now and tell you about the first 'proper' beer I tried. My girlfriend of a few months, and now my wife to be, took a trip to Prague in 1999 and brought me back a Budvar gift pack containing two cans of the illustrious lager and a tall porcelain receptacle painted with jaunty looking fellows enjoying some of the local produce. I think I was supposed to drink from this, but really didn't like the idea of not being able to see the beer within. I still hold this prejudice today. Sadly this was another beer related assault on my tender taste buds. I thought it too bitter and struggled to enjoy it. I'll hold my hands up and admit that up to this point my beer tastes did not extend much beyond the macro produced fizzy yellow fluids that the student bar was knocking out on the cheap, so a true Bohemian hoppy lager was quite an assault on my palate. Still, it was good news for my Dad because he greedily finished of the remains of my can and dispatched with the remaining can just as deftly.

So, the Irish couldn't do it for me, and the Czechs fared little better. Who was to come along and rescue me from a life in the beer wilderness? Well, it was the Germans with their more approachable wheat beers sporting almost novelty like foam and a curious haziness. I recall an evening shortly after the Budvar affair when I insisted my girlfriend take a walk with me to one of the more progressive Dublin off licenses that stocked Erdinger. You see, while these more flavourful beers weren't exactly working out for me, I knew I had to persevere because a little voice told me that there were wonders to behold if only I could find the right beer to ease my way in. Erdinger proved to be that beer, and I still think that the more inoffensive wheat beers are the perfect gateway beer for neophytes because you have the sensation of drinking something completely different to your usual tipple, but it doesn't offend the senses too much. I got a little cocky however, and rather than progress to perhaps a Schneider or Paulaner weisse, I spied a bottle of Aventinus in Dublin's one craft beer pub and jumped right in. Needless to say I couldn't finish it, and I decided to take things a little easier from then on. An evening in Dublin's Porterhouse with a half German friend of mine proved to cement my love of beer. I tried a great many beers with him over a number of weeks and got to grips with numerous styles, but I knew the transition had been completed when, after a number of months seeking out and drinking exclusively craft beer, I tried a pint of my former favourite tipple and wondered where all the flavour had gone. I know now of course that there was little or no flavour there in the first place, but it was quite an eye opener and I realised I could never go back.

I brew my own now, and probably produce some of the most bitter beer in the country from my small kitchen brewery. I can't get enough of hop flavour, aroma and bitterness. Funny how things work out, isn't it?


The Beer Nut said...

Sounds like a difficult birth. I think my introduction to wheat beer came from a home brewer. Unfortunately I've no details on how she made the stuff, but it was really good, and came in 2L plastic bottles, something none of the ICB mob seem to favour for some reason.

Thom said...

Plastic bottles have had teething problem in the commercial arena. I think brewers like them otherwise because they are cheaper and lighter. As for home brewing, well, I don't much fancy them myself. I think it's an image thing. Some people would expect home brew to be presented in an apparent amateurish way.

Boak said...

I agree that wheatbeer is a good gateway drug - both the Germans and the Belgians. I know a few people who don't really drink beer but will have a Hoegaarden on a sunny day.

Thanks for contributing!