Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here tonight to let you in on a little secret: every single Alehead started out as a regular ol’ human being. That’s right, we were all born into the world as simple men before our Alehead apotheoses. And here’s the great thing about being born again: you are often old enough to remember your rebirth. By rebirth, I’m sure you’ve figured out what I mean. It is of course the moment when you consume your first beer. And so this week, I’m asking for a double Conundrum response: Tell us about your first beer drinking experience, and, if you had the power to choose any beer to be the first one you consumed, what would it be?
BROTHER BARLEY MCHOPS
Born into the world as simple men? Pshaw! Personally, I sprang forth from my mother’s forehead as a fully formed half-man, half-god who had already sampled every beer on Earth and had strong opinions on the use of Centennial vs. Simcoe as a dry-hopping agent.
No seriously, I remember having sips of beer from time to time as a kid and not being particularly impressed with this weird-smelling adult beverage. Perhaps it was the bitterness…like most kids, I was more interested in drinks that tasted like malted battery acid (Coke) or liquified dessert (chocolate milk). I would steal or ask for sips from my Dad’s beer on occasion to act like a grown-up, but I don’t remember ever really enjoying it. Perhaps that’s because Gramps McHops used to drink really crappy beer. Narragansett. Haffenreffer. And his all-time favorite, Molson. To be fair, in those days, options were slim. Jim Koch hadn’t started a craft beer revolution in Boston yet and package stores generally just sold a wide variety of terrible American and Canadian pale lagers. My favorite beer memories from those days involved solving the little rebus puzzles on the back of every Haffenreffer bottle cap. Those were fun!
So honestly, I couldn’t tell you what my first beer drinking experience was…but I do remember the first great craft beer I had and how it completely changed my worldview. One of my best friends from childhood had an older brother who would buy beer for him (hooray for older siblings!). My friend made a hobby out of collecting beer bottles which naturally led him to try all sorts of different brews from a variety of ale factories. As a consequence, he began sampling high-end craft beers long before the rest of us and quickly realized that they tasted much better than the macro-swill everyone else was drinking. One evening, he asked if I wanted to try a sip of his “favorite beer in the world”. I was all of 14 at the time and, as I said, didn’t have a very high opinion of the fermented arts. Nevertheless, how could I turn down a taste after that kind of hype? The beer in question was Otter Creek’s Stovepipe Porter. It completely destroyed my perception of what beer could taste like and forever changed my opinion about the merits of alcoholic beverages (in retrospect, probably not a good thing). It would be another year or two before I truly embarked on my own personal beer journey, but the seeds were planted that day.
As for the second part of Beerford’s question? I wouldn’t change a thing about my introduction to the world of beer. Perhaps the Stovepipe Porter isn’t my all-time favorite today, but it was the perfect gateway brew. If I had to do it all over again, Otter Creek’s well-roasted, sweet, slightly smoky, ridiculously drinkable dark beer would still be my choice. Why not? It worked out pretty well for me.
DR. RIPPED VAN DRINKALE, III
Beerford, this is a great question. On one hand, you have to assume that most of us were fairly young when we ventured into the world of mind-altering depressants. There’s only so far you want to push the envelope in terms of flavor profiles when introducing a newbie to beer. On the other hand, we’re all a bunch of drunks and clearly had no regard for taste when we grabbed that glorious beer in the first place. I for one didn’t want to taste the beer, I wanted to experience what it would do to me both physically and mentally. I’ll admit that this strategy is stupid, even indefensible, but it wasn’t without some thought. I suppose not much has changed with most of my strategies in my adult life. Anyway, I’m answering this question twice and it will hopefully make sense in a few short moments.
First beer – Budweiser. I’m not talking sips from daddy’s tallboy or anything like that, I’m talking a full-on warm can of Bud hanging from the end of a sixer ring. I drank the whole can, it was awful, my head hurt, I got a little wobbly, and it was the greatest feeling ever. I don’t think I had another beer for at least another year after that point, probably because I couldn’t find another beer, but the seeds had been sown.
First good beer – Pete’s Wicked Winter Brew. This may actually be the second full beer I ever had after that first Bud experience. The order doesn’t really matter though because from that point on I knew the difference between what good beer should be and what shitty beer really is. I should probably point out that I received a 6-pack of Pete’s from the same young gentleman that Brother Barley mentions in the paragraph above. Small town, only so many sources for entertainment and this dude had them all. As I was saying though, Pete’s was a pretty big deal back in the day and they were certainly pioneers in the industry with their line of Wicked Ales. While it hasn’t been brewed since 2004, I feel it’s necessary to post a little excerpt from the original bottling that I found on the old interwebs:
Pete’s Wicked Winter Brew is our dark beer, which we present as ideal for cool weather refreshment. It is a rich, satisfying beer, which includes a note of natural raspberry flavoring as an important part of its delicious profile
Hmm – Craft beer, adolescence, raspberry flavoring. I’m starting to realize why this beer worked for me. I suppose I wouldn’t change anything about this choice. While raspberry flavored beer certainly isn’t good (not talking Lambics here), I will have to say that any newbie who had never experienced anything more than macro sugar-water would probably enjoy this beer more than others. If someone threw an IPA in front of me I probably would have never reached for another beer for years to come. After the Wicked Winter Brew, I looked for things like Pete’s Strawberry Blonde, the Honey Porter from Sam Adams, Blue Moon’s Pumpkin, and other relatively flavor-modified beers. Not good beers by any stretch, but those beers helped move me into a world of beer that I’m still exploring to this day. Sure, I probably started down that path too early, but so what? It’s not like me dumb or nothin’, right?*
*Editor’s Note: Sad news this week…the Pete’s brand, which just entered it’s 25th year, has officially been discontinued by the Gambrinus company. Pete Slosberg was about as important as any brewer in sparking the craft beer movement in the 1980’s. His Pete’s Wicked line of brews were some of the first craft beers consumed by many Aleheads during their formative years. Pete sold the company to Gambrinus in 1998 and it was never the same again. Declining sales over the past decade eventually led to this week’s decision. While I haven’t had a Pete’s in many years, it’s still sad to hear about the departure of such a historic name in the craft beer world.
Before I forget, if Nurse Van Drinkale ever blesses me with a girl* please remind me to give her a Double IPA for her 10th birthday so she doesn’t want another drink until she’s 39. My boys? Well, one of them is already helping me homebrew so I’m guessing they’re a lost cause. You never have to worry about boys though, just look at me and how I turned out! Not just anybody writes articles for a blog, you know.
*Beerford Note: FYI, Ripped, before you go Henry the 8th on us, you do understand that it is your genetic contribution that determines the sex of your child.
HERR HUMULUS HORDEUM
Unlike the other Aleheads, I actually didn’t start drinking until I was in college. There are several reasons for this. First of all, being the younger brother of Slouch Sixpack (whose first beer, by the way, was Labatt Blue consumed in utero, which explains his misshapen face and ornery demeanor) I saw the negatives of drinking– namely stories of my brother eating dog biscuits in front of a girl he was trying to “impress” and then puking. I was also on some medicine for a while which prevented me from consuming alcohol. No, not the “don’t drink with alcohol, wink wink” type of medicine, the “mix and melt-your-liver-and-kidneys” type. Coach always said I was good with excuses.
So the first beer I tried was some cheap gross swill provided to me free of charge at a large party. However, the first beer I remember really liking was Rogue Dead Guy Ale the summer after my freshman year. I was working at a field station in upstate New York with a bunch of Graduate Students who were old, and therefore had access to decent beer. A lot of the Aleheads are pretty harsh towards Dead Guy, but I’m not sure why (probably because they think Rogue is “popular” and disliking it is counter-culture and “cool.” Kind of like people who like Indie-rock. A side note: all Indie-rock is completely mainstream, and if you like it, you are not special, you are just like everyone else. And put down that fucking PBR). I still buy Dead Guy occasionally as a session brew.
COMMANDER PINT O. CHUG
The first beer I remember drinking is Rolling Rock. I didn’t drink another beer for at least a year after that. Similar to Brother Barley’s experience, I found Rolling Rock to be bitter-tasting and very carbonated.
My first quasi-craft beer was nothing to write home about, either. At some point my friends and I determined that if we wanted “good” beer, we should get J.W. Dundee’s Honey Brown. It was a hell of a lot better than Rolling Rock, but it still didn’t turn me on to the taste of beer. (By that point I was perfectly happy with beer’s other attributes, namely, the goggles.) Still, it was drinkable.
By the time I went to college, Sam Adams, Otter Creek, Magic Hat, Long Trail and Pete’s Wicked were the “microbrews” of choice. Of these, I remember liking Sam Summer and Magic Hat #9. You guys aren’t going to like put this on the web, are you? Because I’ll deny saying this.
Growing up my dad was more of a bourbon-and-soda guy than a beer drinker, so the sips I had as a young’un were generally whiskey-based. Some of his buddies were beer fans though, and one weekend afternoon out at our cabin in the sand dunes in Oregon after splitting a bunch of firewood (thirsty work), one of them snuck me a beer on the condition of anonymity (let’s call him ‘Ron Katutson’). The beer ‘Ron’ slipped me was a Miller Genuine Draft, and on that particular hot, dusty, thirsty afternoon it actually tasted pretty damn good. I didn’t drink a whole lot of beer until college, but that actually wasn’t a bad introduction to the world of beer, all things considered. However if I could go back in time and put a different beer into my hand at that moment, I think I’d go with a Full Sail Session Lager. Though nothing special, it’s a similar beer that’s a huge step up the quality scale from MGD. I wouldn’t want to change my first beer drinking experience, it’s a fond memory. But if a tiny wizard appeared in front of me (hi Commander) and gave me the power to swap one beer out for another at that moment, I don’t think I could resist the opportunity to swap out that MGD and give my young self the chance to…