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Oakes Weekly - February 10, 2005
Great Beer Memories
February 10, 2005
Written by Oakes
When I was a young lad, a group of friends and I ended up at an establishment called Fogg ‘N’ Sudds in Burnaby, BC. We just wanted some dinner, but the hostess seemed pretty serious about getting us to drink beer. We were all underage and figured “Sure, what the hell.” If that sounds a bit nuts, it was. Maybe higher powers were intervening, distorting ordinary reality so that the future could take its most logical course. That being, to make me a big-time beer geek. It didn’t happen right away of course. There was no Ratebeer back then. There was no Internet back then, come to think of it.
Anyway, I wasn’t a beer drinker at all. I’d had Kokanee and Budweiser before, but didn’t like them. To this day, I cannot understand how anybody drinks beer when those types of products are the first ones they are exposed to. Were it not for that higher intervention, I might never have touched another beer in my life, and gone on to run RateWine.com. But knowing what I didn’t want was a start. I searched the menu for something I might like. At the time, the Fogg was a semi-serious beer bar. It was at its most serious in the mid-80’s when it first opened, and went downhill gradually from there, but was still the best beer bar that Vancouver has ever seen at that point. The bottle list, some 200 long, was too much to contemplate. I searched the tap list. Guinness. A recognizable name, but barely. And I didn’t really know what it was, but it was from Ireland and word on the street was that they liked drinking, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I ran across the street to get more money from the bank machine. I really only had enough cash for dinner, not beer drinking.
When I got back, a big pint of blackness sat on the table. Wow. That’s what beer is supposed to look like, I told my friends. I wasn’t really pretending that I knew what I was talking about, it was more a statement that the colour was more satisfying to me than the colour of all previously-known beers. Then they told me what happened when I was gone – the beer had started brown and then cascaded upwards to form a rich, thick head. Ooooooo. I may hate nitrogen now, but I thought it was very, very cool back then.
I returned several times to this fine establishment, tasting many interesting beers along the way. Almost everything was good – even Moosehead, McEwan’s and Dos Equis. I didn’t vibe off the Young’s Old Nick, Samiclaus or Warsteiner, though. But the seed was planted. I had a lot of fun there, and I later decided to try every beer at my local liquor store in university. That didn’t amount to very many different brews, but the first one I bought was Blanche de Bruges, still a favourite of mine. I attended festivals, visited microbreweries, and continued exploring. I tripped over things like Kölsch, Altbier, Lambic and Trappist Ale, and each new discovery only encouraged me to keep going, to find out what else was out there. I kept a spreadsheet detailing all of this, including tasting notes. Sadly, this spreadsheet was lost several years ago. I bought the Pocket Guide to Beer and subscribed to the Celebrator. When I turned 21, I hit up the Archer Ale House in Bellingham, WA and had a dozen true world classics with a friend of mine. Mind-blowing.
The whole notion of life-long beer devotion was really solidified in the summer of 1998. I was doing a semester that fall in Finland, and had received a grant towards my expenses, which I decided I would use to go travelling. I’d never been to Europe before, and managed to be intimidated (something which today would only happen in the most squalid corner of Africa) so I decided I would start in the shallow end - London - and work my way up by rail. In the course of my research I discovered Ohhh My Head and emailed the guy in charge to see about getting some help with Sweden. You can see how these sorts of things might impact a guy’s future in beer.
Prior to my trip, I made a special trip to Seattle to buy Beer #1000. Ah, those were heady times. After that, a Cantillon Bruocsella, I figured I knew something about beer. Actually, I thought I was a beer genius and pulled the old “I’ve had a thousand beers so I know my shit” routine a couple of times. I was nothing but an ignorant, stupid kid and thankfully I outgrew that.
But at this point I was lost along the path to beergeekdom. One hundred beer ratings is a nice start, one thousand meant you’d arrived. Two thousand was something special, five thousand was a lifetime’s work and nobody other than Michael Jackson would ever drink 10,000 beers in their life.
Well, now I know there are scoopers who’ve cracked 10,000 beer ratings. I’ve tasted 5000 myself. How did that happen? Well, at a time when many raters start to run out of steam (once you figure you know everything, why bother tasting more?) I was rejuventated.
My pace on the first Iron Liver Tour that summer was closer to teetotalism than to the pace at which I operate today when on the road. But al the same, I visited famous brewing towns like London, Köln, Düsseldorf and Dortmund. I stopped by Brussels, Ghent and Amsterdam. I hit up Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki. Bremen, Münster and Hamburg, too. So I’d seen the likes of the White Horse on Parson’s Green, PJ Früh, Im Füchschen, Pinkus Muller, In de Wildeman, Bier Circus and the HopDuvel. I visited Cantillon, Carlsberg and a few weeks later Joutsan Sahti Oy.
I haven’t yet been back to very many of those places – just London, Stockholm and Helsinki. That’s eons for a beer writer. Thank God for imports. But spending over two whirlwind weeks in Europe dedicated almost strictly to beer, I entered the second phase of my beergeekdom – the lifelong addict, with eyes newly re-opened. Moreover, I discovered that I actually liked going places. I never really liked taking trips growing up. Boy did that ever change.
There were a lot of watershed moments in my beer-drinking career. That first Guinness. The day I decided to try every single beer in my local store. My first festival. Starting a beer website. But none stand out like the Iron Liver Tour, probably the single most life-changing event for me to date. Yeah, I paid for spending my grant before even getting to Finland with a month of serious poverty at the end of my stay there, but I skipped a few meals and took the train to Turku and Tampere to visit some brewpubs anyway.
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I searched the tap list. Guinness. A recognizable name, but barely. And I didn’t really know what it was, but it was from Ireland and word on the street was that they liked drinking, so I figured I’d give it a shot.
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