Amateur Hour: Confessions of a Reformed PBR Swiller
**Amateur Hour is our new (first) column, written by wordsmith Erik Baldwin. When Erik is not writing, he’s playing bass for Seattle band, The Beats, Man.***
For your average 18 21-25 year old, beer is more of a tool than a beverage. Its single reason for existing is to “enhance” the already chaotic experiences of being young. That is to say, it’s less about the drink than the drunk.
Macro-breweries are more than happy to oblige, with offerings priced somewhere between the shrapnel in your pocket, and what’s available between the couch cushions. I drank the Schlitz, the High-Life, and the PBR, and I loved it. It was easy. Soon enough, I even believed these beers were my preference. I sought them out, debating weather the extra 35 cents was worth it for Olympia over Rainier, scoffing at my snobby friend who sprang for a sixer of Henry’s.
The years went by, the hangovers became easier and more frequent, and I saw more and more friends drinking beer from glasses instead of cans. Wild, fearsome beers that smelled of yeast and grains, and lacked the familiar uriney hue that all my favorites shared. It was difficult to watch these people shell out 4, 5 or even 6 dollars on a single beer while I happily plopped down two bucks a pop to get just as drunk as they were.
They’d make me try their micros, talking up one characteristic or another. “It’s hoppy, but not overly bitter” they’d say, or “I’ve never tasted a stout this chocolaty”. Clumsily trying to decipher the relentless, overpowering flavors of these beers, I’d inevitably succumb to the objections of my underdeveloped palate. I didn’t know hops, I didn’t know malt, I didn’t know body or balance.
Then I moved in with Timperial Stout, the cellar-dwelling beer-meister responsible for shifting my paradigm. Everyday, watching him imbibe new and unfamiliar brews made me realize how much more there was to beer than a buzz. Our cupboards and fridge were flooded with IPA’s, Porters, Imperial this’s and Trippel thats. Sampling, tasting, and comparing, I cobbled together an appreciation for the subtlety of craft beer, and began to develop respectable preferences.
I started off slowly, of course, experimenting with rich, malty German bocks and lighter blond Belgians. Spaten Oktoberfest at Feierabend in Seattle was an early favorite. The wonky label and European origin made me feel like a real beer drinker, and the ridiculously mellow, smooth flavor made it easy to put away a liter or two in a sitting.
Things got really serious for me a couple of years back, when I tagged along to Sour Beer fest at Brouwer’s. Initially, the idea of weirdly fermented, out-of-control yeast strains contaminating my beer was slightly off putting, but oh, was I wrong. I’d never experienced a beer that didn’t taste quite like beer before. The sour ales had an odd, kombucha-like tang that I found immediately irresistible. The doors to beerland had been thrust open before me, and I was finally ready to stumble through, glass in hand.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy an ice cold Coors now and again, I’m no elitist. It’s just that my interests have shifted from quantity to quality.
I’m trying to learn as much as possible about the endless stream of delicious and clever beers brewed by maniac geniuses across the globe, and every now and again I’ll bring you an update on my progress, maybe make an amateur’s recommendation for an amateur’s palate. I might even start liking Porter this year.