Brother Rat joins us from another blog, Principal John. He’s a long standing tasty beer drinker so we thought he’d have some insights on how he first got started. While some might argue that Principal John and Brother Rat are the same person, the story is much longer and deeper than this. Principal John befriended Brother Rat. The two meet from time to time to collect their thoughts, sip a bit of brew, and consider options for the times ahead…
This article is part of an ongoing series about “conversion beers” – the story of getting hooked on great craft beer. To see all articles, go here.
This is Brother Rat’s conversion beer.
When I came of beer-drinking age – albeit earlier than my mom or dad would have liked – I drank what might better have been called effervescent urine. These names bring back memories: Hamms, Schlitz, Pabst, Miller, Mickey Big Mouth, Old English 800, Michelob, and the Swill King, Budweiser. My friends and I found this stuff in our fathers’ ice chests, right next to Sweet Rose and Boone’s Farms wines.
However, my early quest for beer had little to do with a quest for quality. I wanted to push limits, be bad, and boast about paying the porcelain price. By these parameters, I succeeded. But, when it came to knowing beer, I knew nothing.
I was ripe for change.
Beer conversion, a close experiential cousin to river baptism, came in my sophomore year of college. I stumbled upon an unfolding (and later raucous) event in the flea-infested college town of Isla Vista. Del Playa Street was party ground zero where most events had lax open door policies. Some of my more random college experiences went down on this street.
On one particular Saturday evening, a couple of friends backed a dented Ford Pinto to the front door of our lean-to apartment and popped open the back hatch. Out rolled out a pony keg of Anchor Steam, a beer I had yet to meet. Then, a collective ‘woooooo’ went up among our little circle. “Where’d you find that? Oh my god! Righteous, dude!” On it went like that.
One part of that evening I do recall (the beginning) included my first sip of this beer. I expected what I was used to. So, when my lips wrapped around the edge of the plastic party cup, I got a surprise – a full hop nose – something that Pabst didn’t offer. Then came a second surprise. I took a gulp and backed the cup off. “Wow!” I remember saying. “Sweet, eh?” Sweet indeed – as in oh, my darling, where have you been?
That night I made my first stumble into a blustery realm. No way did I posit that Anchor Steam was the world’s best beer. I had no idea. Determining the ‘best’ of anything is a personal journey. Still, I had met an honest beer, San Francisco brewed and bottled in small batches and shipped to just a few places with pride and a respect for tradition. Good enough for me, then and now.
I’m more tempered in my pursuits these days. I drink American beer now and then without a hitch. I fit these beers into a larger beer universe. Effortless beers on one side and beers that try too hard on the other. In the end, beer is about honesty. On that day, I became a convert-without-bumper sticker. Now I know the difference and I can’t un-know what I know. A search for simple honesty – plain speech in conversation and from ale aligns me with beer drinkers wherever I go. Does it not?
Let me hear you say yes sir!