Wednesday, May 6, 2015

my brief history of beer.

They say that beer is an acquired taste.

They would be right.

Life is so much easier when you’re a beer drinker – especially in college. I went to college in Morris, Minnesota: where, every Thursday night, you could buy cups of beer for a quarter. Sure, the beer was watered-down swill, but college students will drink pretty much anything if it only costs a quarter. As a non-beer-drinker, I missed out on that whole experience. You could get dollar mixed drinks, but it just wasn’t the same as Quarter Taps. Plus, that meant my drinks cost four times as much as everyone else’s. In college, that’s a LOT of money.

It was shortly after college that I made the conscious decision to acquire a taste for beer. I no longer wanted to be the fussy one who didn’t drink beer, and I wanted to be able to enjoy brewery tours and beer tastings. Plus, I was still poor after college, and going out for drinks was way cheaper if you ordered beer.

I have only spent about five years actively trying to enjoy beer, and I feel good about the progress I’ve made so far. My brief history of beer can be broken down into five distinct eras:

Leinenkugel’s Honeyweiss
My life in beer began with a Midwestern standard: Honeyweiss. Friends told me that this was a great beginner beer, and they were right: it wasn’t too beery, but it was enough of a beer that I didn’t feel totally lame drinking it. (See: the next beer.) Honeyweiss is how I found out that I am a wheat beer kind of gal. Honeyweiss led to a brief dalliance with Blue Moon, which I’ll still drink in a pinch. While I have moved beyond Honeyweiss, it brings back great memories of living in Minneapolis and learning how to drink beer. Yes, I was already 23, but you never forget the first beer you actually learned to enjoy. (I was going to say “you never forget your first beer,” but that’s not true at all. I don’t remember the first beer I ever had – I just remember the first one that clicked with me, and that was Honeyweiss.)

Michelob Ultra Cactus Lime Beer
This beer is fairly embarrassing, but I’m going to go ahead and own up to it anyway. My favorite summertime destination is, hands down, Lake Poinsett. There’s nothing like having a beer on the beaches of Lake Poinsett with your family and friends. That being said, before I was a beer drinker, I’d drink Mike’s Hard Lemonade. That’s all well and good, more than one Mike’s = gut rot city. They are SO sugary, and they’ve been known to make my teeth hurt. Beer does not give you those problems. I tried the cactus beer one day at Lake Poinsett, and I was stunned at how much I liked it. I actually went to the liquor store and bought a six-pack: I had never done that with a beer before. As the beer was Michelob Ultra, I endured ridicule from actual beer-drinkers. I don’t remember the last time I had a cactus beer, but I credit this beer with showing me how great it was to have a beer at the lake.

Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy
This is the beer that hit home for me. The balance between the beer taste and the lemony flavors was downright heavenly. I wish I could remember where I was and who I was with the first time I had a summer shandy, but I remember it being ice cold and exactly what I needed. Summer shandy is now the herald of summer, and this is the beer I drink on the beach. This is the beer I drink on a patio at a restaurant. This is the beer I drink during grilling season. This is the beer I stock up on at the end of summer so that I can continue pretending it’s summer well into the fall. This is the beer James and I had at our wedding, spreading the summer shandy love to our family and friends. 
Summer shandy goes great with Twins games...
...especially the away games!
There are a few other good shandies out there (surprisingly, Coors has a fairly delicious shandy), but no one does it like Leinenkugel’s.

Schell’s Schell Shocked
I have been to Oktoberfest in New Ulm three times – which also means I’ve been through the Schell’s brewery tour three times. 
 The first time (October 2010), I went with James, and I enjoyed absolutely none of the beer we were offered. The second time was with Mom, who drinks no beer at all. It was at that tour (I remember it well: October 2012) that Schell’s introduced their new grapefruit radler: Schell Shocked. 
It was FANTASTIC. So refreshing and grapefruity. I immediately began searching for it at liquor stores, but to no avail. It wasn’t until August 2013 that I saw Schell Shocked for sale. It was at Noodles and Company, and my family and I were in Sioux Falls, celebrating the fact that James and I (with the help of said family) had just moved into our new house in Luverne. Schell Shocked was on the beer list at Noodle’s and Company, and it was the perfect addition to an already fantastic few weeks. (We had also just returned from our honeymoon.) Since then, I’ve been able to find Schell Shocked fairly easily: even at the Luverne liquor store. The third time (October 2014) I went to Oktoberfest, it was with James, my brother Mitch, James’s brother Jesse, and Jesse’s girlfriend Megan. It was at this tasting that I discovered the magic of Schell’s Goosetown. I don’t love it as much as Schell Shocked, but I’m expanding my beer portfolio nonetheless.

You read that right. One of these things is most definitely not like the other. After my beer trials and tribulations, I was pretty convinced that I should stick to the lighter end of the beer spectrum. James is a dark beer drinker, and he would have me try his dark beers from time to time. And they were all terrible. He would get these pitch-black porters that tasted like firewood and meat, and he would savor it and its weird flavors. I planned to stay the hell away. Until one day, that is. A new restaurant had just opened in Luverne, which was cause for celebration: Luverne doesn’t get new stuff. James and I went to eat there, and he ordered a Guinness. Against my better judgment, I took a drink… and kind of loved it. I had expected to taste something like James’s gross meaty beers, but Guinness was nothing like that. It was smooth and flavorful, and I actually enjoyed it. (James says that the restaurant in Luverne is really good at pouring Guinness, which apparently makes a difference to its flavor.) Now, when James orders a Guinness, he orders one big enough for the both of us. I haven’t graduated to ordering a full Guinness to drink by myself, but this is some serious progress.


Ever since I put my mind to enjoying beer, I have been better able to enjoy the very things I set out to enjoy in the first place. We went to a beer festival in Luverne for James’s birthday last year, and it was a blast. I have finally learned to appreciate the beer at Schell’s: third time is the charm, I guess. I toured the Boulevard brewery in Kansas City, and while I learned that I don’t like Boulevard at all, I enjoyed having the opportunity to find out.
None of us likes Boulevard, as it turns out.
In my pre-beer days, I wouldn’t have given new-to-me beers the chance they deserved. I recently had a beer called Two Women from a small brewery in New Glarus, Wisconsin. Two Women is a new favorite of mine, and my dad (who went on the brewery tour and brought the beer back) passed on the knowledge from the brewmasters: everybody loves Two Women. And you know what? Out of the four of us drinking Two Women that night, everyone DID love it.

I am fully aware that I have a long way to go in my beer journey. But these five beers have shown me that I can do it. I can appreciate beer. Right now? That’s my American dream.

U-S-A! U-S-A!

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