I hated beer. Maybe it was because my first taste was at a family gathering when I was eight and included a cigarette butt discarded into the bottle. Maybe it was because hops didn’t make anything taste good. Or maybe I didn’t drink to get drunk, so I was more discerning as a drinker than my wilder cohorts.
I didn’t have my first drink of alcohol until I was 35. That was purposeful because I came from an extended family of heavy drinkers and didn’t like what that did to them. Also, I wasn’t entirely sure I wouldn’t become an alcoholic with my first drink. When I finally decided to join mainstream society, not only did that turn out to be untrue, I found I had quite a tolerance for it. Out of all the shots I tried over the next several months, only tequila stood out as a favorite. Trouble is, blood alcohol levels rise quickly with such tequila, so I had to space them out over a long evening. I hated beer and wine, and also sweet drinks, so that left only iced tea and water all night, in between shots.
I lived in the midst of Washington’s wine country at the time, not far from the Yakima Valley Wine Region, so I had a unique opportunity to try a drink I could actually sip all evening. Surely with all the varieties, I surmised, I could find one I could learn to like. I started my quest and followed the footsteps of many a wine novice, finding only a couple of sweet white wines I could drink – Riesling and Gewurztraminer (but good luck finding Gewurzt in a bar or nightclub). White Zinfandel was also tasty. As with most wine neophytes, I visited many wineries and tried more and more varieties. Eventually, my tastes changed and I began preferring dryer wines like Chardonnay and Merlot. I became somewhat of a wine snob but loved to visit wineries and try different vintage years of varieties, sometimes even meeting and discussing oenology with winemakers or winery owners. It was fun.
When I began playing in traveling pool leagues, I realized my original problem had returned. It only takes me around three glasses of wine over an evening to potentially become too impaired to drive. Sipping or not, drinking that amount of wine was a risk I wasn’t willing to take. Yet, some alcohol can be favorable for playing pool and being social. Enter beer. I realized that 12 oz. of beer had about the equivalent of alcohol content as 5 oz. of wine. I had learned to like wine, so I decided to learn to like beer, which also had the side benefit of lesser cost.
I tried a few common beers with little success, and light beers didn’t do it for me either. I was worried – perhaps beer really was the liver and onions of my beverage world. I talked to a liquor store owner and mentioned my problem. She asked if I had tried a particular brand of apple ale. I hadn't, so she hooked me up with a six pack and I tried it that night. That did the trick.
As with wine, I began visiting microbreweries while my tastes changed. Soon the apple ales began tasting more like Kool-Aid, and I graduated to light beer with lime, then without lime, then the world of varietals opened up. To this day I don’t like the hoppiness of IPA’s, but I’m slowly myself able to drink them. Now that we travel the country, I have been stopping at more and more breweries, enlarging my beer repertoire. I’ve found that draught beer is inherently better than bottled or canned, even with the same make and variety. My faves include stouts, bocks, Irish red ales, most European lagers and kolsches. However, I’ll drink just about any beer that isn’t a sour or too fruity.
Meanwhile, the pandemic put a kibosh on bars and breweries for an entire year. I had almost no draught beer during that time, so I’ve had to shop for interesting cans and bottles in supermarkets and liquor stores that carry them from a larger number of breweries. My pool playing and karaoke time also took a hit, so I’ve been drinking a variety of beers at home. I long for the day I can go to an establishment created for beer connoisseurs and try a half-dozen brands and varieties I may not have ever seen before. That will be soon, I hope.
Author, poet, photographer, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, sportsman,