Monday, August 9, 2010

My relationship with Liquid Bread

I can remember getting a sip of my dad’s beer at parties at my aunt and uncle’s house, probably before I was even 10 years old, and I have a picture of me “swilling” from an empty Michelob bottle. My mom told me stories of singing drinking songs at the Hofbrau house during her trip to Germany, and not wanting to drink from the stein of her large, hairy German neighbor in the famed beer hall. My uncle used to ask me to pick a number between 1-10, with any number inevitably resulting in him exclaiming, “You win! Now run and get me another beer!” I would scurry off to the fridge feeling like I won a major award. But my true love of beer developed when I studied abroad at Oxford University during college.

There has been much made of the shrinking of the pubs in England, but they are still a fascinating piece of history and remain a big part of English life. The local pubs were the most fascinating, with the older Englishmen sitting for a session of their favorite bitter or stout, playing darts and socializing, possibly with the owner’s dog lying on the floor. But the student pubs are the most fun, full to the brim until 11 PM with lively conversations and many a kicked keg. The actual colleges--like mine, Teddy Hall--even have pubs on campus. I loved trying all of the different beers, my favorite being Worthington Creamflow, maybe nothing special but made especially delicious in my memory the more time passes since it isn’t available stateside.

When I returned from my travels I went on a Rolling Rock/Miller Lite kick. As much as I appreciated the English pub ales and Belgian strong ales I had sampled while traveling abroad, I think I wasn’t quite ready and had to go through the obligatory watery American beer phase. Another possible contributor to this phase involved overindulging in a range of Belgians at Eulogy, a Belgian bar in Old City, Philadelphia, at my best friend’s bachelor party. I couldn’t stand the smell of even a Duvel for quite some time. A few years later I took a trip to Germany to visit a college buddy stationed there with the Army, and my passion for good beer was reignited. I had never had anything like a hefeweizen, cloudy and full of flavor yet easy drinking. It was eye opening. When I got home I tried most of the German imports in the local liquor store fridge before I entered the world of American craft brewing.

I had had some craft beers before, but two events a couple of years ago solidified my love for craft beer. The South Philadelphia Taproom, a beer bar near my house, has a Wheaties festival every summer, but there is no milk or spoons involved. This festival celebrates wheat beers, primarily made by American craft brewers. While some American wheat beers leave something to be desired, several were delicious and I was hooked on the craft brewing scene. I love the fact that American beer is no longer the laughing stock of the international beer scene. In fact, the local and independent spirit of craft brewers allows them to push the envelope further than many of their international counterparts. And what I love the most is that some great, affordable beer is brewed practically in my backyard, where I can see the beer being made. Touring Philadelphia Brewing Co., located in the old Weissbrod Hess building, that same summer had me totally in love with local craft brewing.

I could sing the praises of beer all day. As I am 50% Italian-American, there will always be some red wine in my blood. And my current drink of choice is the water of life, primarily bourbon but a fine scotch on occasion.  Later posts should delve into my obsession with classic cocktails.  But can wine or whisky boast the range, versatility, and complexity of beer? From a crisp, light Czech pilsner to a thick, oatmeal stout, to a sour lambic, with a range even within each style of taste, body, alcohol content, and price point, there is a beer for every person and every occasion. I want to learn more about pairing beer with food, but anyone can tell you the simple joy of beer with pizza or a dollar hot dog while taking in a baseball game. 

Beer is the drink of everyman.  I am everyman, and I love the drink.  Therefore, I love beer.

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