We strive to provide you with variety and novelty here at Hoosier Beer Geek. Consequently, we now offer you a new HBG feature, "My First Beer." In our My First Beer series, we'll each provide you with a tale of two beers--the story of our first beers and the story of our first craft beers. And because we love our readers, we invite you to submit your My First Beer story for posting to firstname.lastname@example.org. Stories including debauchery are a plus (sorry to disappoint you, but my stories don't include any of that).
On with the show...
My First Beer
"Here. Try this."
This was my father speaking, and I was 12 years old. While 12 is young for someone to try beer for the first time, it was not unusual in my family because I grew up being invited by my parents to have a nip of something during big family meals, especially at holidays. From the time I was 10, I was used to having a small splash of wine or a little champagne at Thanksgiving and New Years. It didn't hurt that my great grandfather had been a bootlegger during the Great Depression and was still making some sweet red table wine when I was a kid.
But my dad's offer was unusual because it didn't occur during a holiday. There Dad was out on the deck, barbecuing some steaks on a summer evening, holding a Stroh's in his hand.
"Take a sip," he said as he held out the can of lager to me--the vintage tan-colored can, not the late-model blue one.
Hesitantly, I took the beer from him and sipped. The first thing registering in my mind was "putrid wheat." My face crinkled in disgust. It was the same face that bar/bat mitzvah kids make when they take their first slug of kosher wine after reciting the kiddush.
"That happens to everyone the first time," he said. "Try it again. You'll get used to it."
Frowning, I raised the can to my lips once more. I managed to suppress the strong urge to make "the face" a second time, but my taste buds were still reeling. I thought that if someone had soaked a loaf of bread in some rubbing alcohol and then squeezed out the "bread juice," this is what it would taste like.
"What do you think?"
"I don't think I'll ever want that stuff again," I answered, clearly demonstrating my utter lack of clairvoyance. But then again, I was only 12.
My First Craft Beer
The craft beer industry was in its infancy, and I was in graduate school in The Region, my boyhood home and, at present day, the location of two fine breweries. Mom, God bless her soul, knew about this wonderful restaurant in Chicago that happened to brew its own beer. She wanted to know if I wished to head up there with her (yes, parental influence again). I was always eager to venture into the city, and I was in sore need of a break from my studies, so I took her up on the offer.
The restaurant/brewery was a fairly new place at the time (three years old). According to Mom, it was called Goose Island and was located on the Clybourn Corridor, a section of Lincoln Park that was going through a gentrification phase.
So, on a warm Saturday night that summer, we headed up the lakeshore to see what this place was about. I wasn't quite sure what to expect. By this time, I had developed a taste for beer (of course), largely due to my college days of drinking the classic American macrobrewery swill. But a few of my college friends and I were a little more adventurous than that, occasionally indulging in the limited number of imports that were available in the late 1980s, including Grolsch, St. Pauli Girl, and Guinness Extra Stout.
I suppose I expected to drink beers at Goose Island that were a lot like these imports. Once we arrived and were seated, we went right for the beer sampler tray. If memory serves me well, here was the lineup of the sampler tray--
Lincoln Park Lager
Hex Nut Brown
There were five of us, so each one of us took a sampler. Because it looked to be the most radical of all of the samples, I grabbed the Oatmeal Stout before anyone had a chance. I wanted to challenge myself right away.
I was in love after my first sip. I was expecting a beer much like the Guinness Extra Stout, but this was richer, not as dry, more like coffee and chocolate, and slightly sweet. I was already developing a one-track mind for malty beers because I didn't even try the others, and when the server returned to the table, I ordered a pint of the Oatmeal Stout, savoring it all the way to the bottom of the glass. The experience was similar to a first kiss--thrilling in its newness, leaving an indelible mark that colors my taste in beers to this very day.
Speaking of that indelible mark, a recommendation--please, please, please head up to Hot Shotz and get a pint (or two, or three) of Dark Horse's Tres Blueberry Stout while it's still on tap. I was skeptical about this beer because I don't think fruit and stouts mix all that well; however, the Tres is quite a notable exception to this rule (another notable exception: New Albanian's Thunderfoot Cherry Imperial Stout). The nose is full-on blueberry scone, and the dark chocolate flavor is enhanced, not overwhelmed, by the berries. Truly awesome stuff!