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The Evolution

Stages of the American Beer Geek
Features April 17, 2002      
Written by hennes

Fountain, MICHIGAN -

Phase One: Ummmm, Beer.

Your grandfather drinks Pabst or Shlitz or Blatz from cans. Your dad keeps MGD or Bud in the fridge. You get an occasional swallow, and even, with your friends, sneak a can now and again. As you get older you start to attend bashes where cases of Busch predominate. Beer is about getting drunk, spinning in bed, puking into the hood of your friend’s red hooded sweatshirt, trying to score. Maybe you go to college and there do keg stands of Natty Light or the Beast. Maybe at one fateful frat party, you are offered a Heineken or a Grolsch. If the thing isn’t skunked, you suddenly realize there is more to beer than trying to escape the multiple repercussions of a morning after.

Phase Two: Transition.

Your hip young uncle brings you a six of Sam Adams for your 21st. You get a six of Pete’s Strawberry Blonde for your date and figure, what the hell and get some Wicked Ale for yourself. You liked that imported German, Dutch, or Danish beer from the frat party so you go wild and try the "Dark" version. Something comes loose inside of you and you find yourself volunteering to be the one to buy the beer for your friends, at first getting cases of Labatt or Molson or Killian’s and then getting them Bud in cans while you sneak in a sixer from a local micro for yourself. You tour a major brewery and begin to wonder about how beer is crafted. Someone asks you if you’ve ever brewed your own. A synapse flares.

Phase Three: A Brave New World.

If you decide to homebrew, you discover a plethora of new styles, especially stout (absurdly cheap and easy to brew), and destroy the kitchen you share with your housemates as your batches boil over, as stoppers blow off carboys. You start to read about beer and find out about seasonal brews, seeking out bocks and fests when they are in season. Most importantly, homebrewing teaches you about ingredients and you begin to unravel the mysteries of the almighty HOP. WOW. IPA and APA bottles litter the recycling bin outside your house. Although you go through a brief Rheinheitsgebot fixation, the lust for creativity convinces you that fruit, spices, maple syrup can indeed go into beer. Maybe you aren’t into homebrewing. Maybe what happens is that you go abroad for a summer and have a Guinness in Dublin, a real ale in London, a pils in Prague. Maybe you discover the local brewpub and scheme to get Jed, the master brewer, to try a Scottish Ale. Whichever. You think Michael Jackson is God. If you reach this stage, you are lost.

Phase Four: So Much Beer, So Little Time

Although you thought Guinness was the end all of brewing, a homebrewing friend of yours offers you an Imperial and you have another epiphany. You start haunting the local liquor store till Bud, the owner threatens to get a restraining order. You offer to work part time for him at minimum wage - partly to pay for your beer addiction but mostly to be close to the beer. You convince him to stock a Belgian, because of the buzz in your new Beer! magazine. You try maybe a La Trappe, maybe a US bred Ommegagang, maybe some Unibroue. The earth moves. You’ve probably discovered RateBeer by now and you start getting funny looking packages from UPS. You tell the delivery guy to bring them around only when you know your wife won’t be home. He’s been on RateBeer too, he understands, and tears come to both your eyes as you reminisce together about those bottles of Stone Imperial that a gentleman from Arizona sent you. If you’re still homebrewing (you might not have time anymore - too much beer to find), you leave aside extracts and start going all grain. At least one room in your house, barn, garage becomes devoted to beer and beer accessories. Little goat charms from bottles of Celebrator adorn your Christmas tree. Sometimes you dream that you are a Belgian monk.

Phase Five: Nirvana

Suddenly, you realize that Michael Jackson is a babbling idiot. You start blazing your own trail through the beer festivals and save your money for trips to Europe. When choosing clothes for those European "vacations", the most important consideration becomes their ability to protect the bottles you know you’ll be bringing back in your luggage. You still think that Dopplebocks and Imperials and IPAs are decent stuff, but your sensitized palate now craves even wilder fare, and the lambics, saisons, huge barley wines, smoked beers, and experimental fare from Delaware or Kalamazoo, Michigan helps, but better yet are the moments in tiny Scandinavian hamlets or small Lithuanian towns when you find true happiness with beer styles most of the rest of America’s beer drinkers will never hear of, let alone be able to pronounce. You are one of fifteen people in the world who can tell the difference between a Dortmunder and a helles in a blind taste test, have 931 beers in your extra large beer fridge, and want to name your third child Fuggle.


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