What is the most consumed drink in the world behind water and tea? The answer would probably surprise you. That frothy, inebriating substance that tastes so good. The perfect chemical balance produced when malt, hops and water combine together and yeast begins to eat the sugar little by little. As the days go on, alcohol develops and matures. What is then produced becomes one of the largest social glue constructs in the modern world. The ancient Egyptians actually paid their workers in beer. Often liters each day to help with nutrition and the obvious intent we usually have when consuming alcohol. What is the fascination behind this substance that people wait hours for? There was a time in America where the options were limited when visiting the grocery store. Now it feels like there are breweries popping up in every town around America. It’s becoming the newest addition on the corner, rivaling that of McDonalds and Starbucks. There are even people in search often for the holy grail of certain beers. Lines in wait for limited releases and large amounts of money spent on rare brews. For something that has been around for so long, it’s now taking the world by storm with different variants. Fill your glass and take a drink with me as we dive into the beer world.
My first drink in high school was one experience that I might not publish as a way to get enthusiasm for beer. Getting together with my friends at a house that was free of parents for the weekend. As we waited for our supplier to come back from the store, I was intrigued at why we were all waiting around for this special elixir. The stories of the fun people had, after consuming massive amounts and the various escapades that would incur. The pondering came to a stop as I watched a young man walked through the doors of the household. In his hands, he held a box of bud light 40’s. The grin on his face said that he was there to provide a good time. Passing the beers out to all of us, we all started to crack open the beers and take our first sip. Wow! This is what people drink to have a good time?! What was I in for? When does the good time start? As I continued to drink chug by chug, I started to feel the burst of euphoria. I felt like I could conquer the world! As stupid drinking games ensued, our group of friends got riskier and riskier with our behaviors. Randomly smacking each other when someone started closing their eyes. The night started to come to an end, as we had person after person hug the iron thrown for dear life. Everything we ate and drank for the day projected out of our mouths. What a night?!
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a bit wiser with my alcohol consumption and I’ve gotten past my need of just “getting drunk”. No longer were the nights consuming drink after drink, waiting for the unique sets of abilities that the people around you have when they consume alcohol. It’s now more of a tasting experience. Beer has become more of an art form as time has moved on. Starting to experiment with beers that didn’t come in 30 packs, I started to realize that there was more to the substance. In the initial phase it was Oberon and different forms of Samuel Adam’s. It got deeper and more complex as I experienced IPA’s. Dogfish head 90 minute IPA was a big shift in my palate at the time. The strong hoppy ale was so unique from its competitors at the time and it came in four packs. What was this world coming to when they skimp on two beers? Well, for those that have had a 90 minute IPA, I think you’ll understand why there are only four! Branching more, I went to beers with lactose to form a perfect milk stout, or beers with different fruits to add some variation. To see the different forms of beer that are being made currently, is baffling in comparison to when I was younger. Each brewery has their own unique way they create beer. America is actually on the forefront of going hops heavy and creating deep piny, citrus IPA’s.
As my palate expanded, I wanted to tour Europe for different forms of beer. We visited Belgium on our first trip. What an experience to have as we made our way through Brussels. Sometimes known as the beer capital, Belgium has been known for their famous beer across the years. Dating back to 3rd and 4th centuries AD. They’ve perfected the famous lambic and Belgian Strong ales. Even better, since the early 1900’s, Trappist beer has become popular after the famous Chimay beer started to hit the market. Only twelve monasteries around the world meet the qualifications to be called a trappist. Most are found in Belgium. On our first day in Belgium, we made our way not to a monastery, but a brewery specializing in lambics. Cantillon brewery asked for a small fee to tour. The tour takes you around the brewery and you learn the history of how they have created their beer since the early 1900’s. One method of fermentation that they have perfected is called open air. The beer is placed into shallow vats where they are left for Mother Nature to work her magic. Through the air comes wild yeast that combines with the beer and helps create a lambic. A deliciously tart beer that often sits for years before being open. We tried various forms of their beers, including lambics as we made our way through the brewery. As time went on, people packed into the place like they were on a pilgrimage. We could see that the brewery is popular to locals and tourists alike. We got our fill on their delicious brews and left the brewery. As we exited, we saw signs of the beer culture across the entire town. We stopped at various beers bars and saw the passion behind their talent of making beer. Touring Belgium, we easily saw why this was a must stop on any beer enthusiasts holiday.
Another trip to Europe had us in the thick of Germany. Germans are known for their famous beer and also the famed Octoberfest each year in the city of Munich. The German purity law has been in effect since the 1500’s. The law states that beer can only be made with barley, hops and water. Imagine giving this law to America? The country is just now starting to revel in the next level competition that comes from different countries across the world. Either way, as we traveled from Berlin to Munich, the beer culture was at large. Often in the form of two sizes of beers, a half liter and a full liter of beer. If you’ve seen pictures from Germany, it’s often people with massive liter mugs that look as large as their head. Being often a light beer, it’s much easier to drink a bit more with a lower ABV. The Helles is a perfect form of a lager in Germany and will taste a bit maltier than a typical American or Czech pilsner. We had many forms of German beers on our trip, but this is probably the most famous when you think of beers made by Lowenbrau and Hofbrau. A perfect place to sip a Hofbrau is at the Hofbrauhaus of course! Sip a beer here in downtown Munich, and you’ll be sitting where people like Hitler drank beer with his socialist party, or Mozart got a good buzz before writing some of his amazing work. The beer culture is extremely thick as you make your way through Deutschland.
One of my favorite styles of pilsners is clean tasting, a Czech pils. The most famous form of this would be from Plzen, Czech Republic. What a perfect city for an amazing pilsner to come from right? Pilsner literally translates to “from Pilsen”. The difference between the Czech and German beer, is usually that the Czech is a bit lighter and less bitter than its friend from Germany. Both styles require beer to be fermented in cooling conditions. We visited Prague, Czech Republic in the fall one year and we tried various local beers. On our trip we decided to take it a step further and dive in (literally) on the process. Making an appointment at the local beer spa, we had no idea what we were getting into. As we entered, the receptionist stopped us to say we were a bit too early for our appointment, then proceeded to ask if we would like a beer while we wait. What?! Of course we would love that! After drinking our lager, we moved into the beer spa room where there were large tubs of water with beer ingredients. After scanning the room and looking at the decor, we jumped in and felt an instant response on our bodies. The mixture of malt and hops in the water, formed a perfect union as it traveled across our skin. Paired with a beer tap and several size glasses sitting between us, made for quite an experience. Becoming your own bartender does not promote moderation by the way! As we sat and relaxed in our private baths, the beer continued to flow. As the timer next to us continued to count down, we started to feel much happier and conversational as the beer went through our bloodstreams. As most people will probably tell you, the best beer to have while in a warm tub will be a nice refreshing pilsner! The Czechs started the famous pilsner and they have perfected the experience with adding a tub of beer into the conversation.
Being from the Bay Area in California, I can’t talk about beer without a final thought on India Pale Ales(IPA). The IPA has started to have many forms over the years, but they originated in England in the early 1800’s. George Hodgson’s Bow brewery was one of the first known breweries to export beer to India. They were lightly hopped at the time vs what we see now as a “norm” for IPA’s. Either way, this style came to the US in the early 1900’s and took off. Within the last 20 years, you’ve seen breweries in the US often try to “out hop” each other. Putting more and more hops into their recipes to create what the craft beer enthusiast would consider “dank”. The famous west coast style IPA grew popularity after a Stanford graduate created Anchor steam in San Francisco. The hops craze got bigger and bigger with beers from Stone and Lagunitas. England originated the form in the early 1800’s, but Americans have perfected the art of dank. Russian River in Santa Rosa, has won many top beer awards for their famous Pliny the Elder. People line up each year to get a taste of its younger counterpart with a limited release, Pliny the younger. Various forms of IPA’s have been made over the years and variations continue to evolve. If you’re ever wondering about how “dank” a beer can be, take a trip from San Diego to Portland. You’ll experience the gauntlet of extreme hops.
The best way to get your inauguration into the beer world? I would recommend a brewery tour and a flight of various forms of beer. There are so many different types of beer that you are bound to fall in love with one (or many)! Either way, beer has taken on a next level of cultural enthusiasm as more and more breweries open across the world. Regardless of your flavor profile, if you haven’t given the beer world a shot, maybe you should. You’d be surprised at what you might end up liking. A Guinness at the factory in Dublin, Ireland. Famous monastery beers in Belgium. A trip to Octoberfest in Munich. All are amazing experiences to schedule on your next vacation. Until then? Drive to your closest brewery, find a seat amongst amazing people, and toss back a flavor of your choice. Whether you say Prost, Slainte, Na zdrav or cheers, you’ll be welcomed in with open arms. The great thing is, you can take a flight without leaving your seat!