Many people have a defining moment when life takes an unexpected step forward or when something happens that changes the future in a significant way. Can you have a defining moment with beer? I say yes, because I’ve had one.
When I was younger and used to hang around in clubs and bars, the way you do at that age, I was always looking for something better to drink, something that made me happy. I tried different selections, but they didn’t give me what I was looking for—what ever that was. I kept returning to beer, but the skies never opened, the angels with the trumpets never came down from heaven and played their tunes.
The beer selection in Karlskrona, the small town where I lived in southern Sweden, was mediocre to say the least. On a good day, I could get a McEwen’s Scotch Ale or a Bass Pale Ale. Good beer days were rare in my town, but for some reason, my curiosity was aroused. Perhaps it was the antiquity of beer or the stories of the oldest breweries or the fascinating details, like the importance of a particular water source to the flavor of Burton ales, but I began reading about beers even before I could find a way to taste them.
My job brought me to a Stockholm, where I knew there were some great beer bars with excellent selections. I had heard of a bar in the city that had at least 200 beers from Belgium and England, always two or three cask-conditioned ales perfectly stilled, tapped and served; lambics on tap that you normally only find in Belgium; beer aged in the bar’s own cellar and every beer served at the right temperature in the right glass. I hardly knew what many of these beers were, and had never been even close to tasting them. But I had read about them in books by Michael Jackson or Roger Protz. I had read about heaven and now I was about to taste it!
On a cold and dark November day, I set my foot in Akkurat Belog Bar for the first time. It was the afternoon and only a few late lunch guests were there finishing up their meals. I headed for the bar. The bartender asked me what I would like to drink, but I didn’t know what to say. What I really wanted was to get something warm into my cold body, like a hot chocolate. Was it appropriate to order something like that in a great beer bar? I didn’t know of a beer that could do the same job so I decided to head for something safe, and asked for the chocolate. But the bartender saved me. He pulled me a cask-conditioned Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. I had what I initially wanted, but in a new way.
And there it happened, the sky opened up, it started to rain, I could hear the angels playing their trumpets—I recalled hearing Van Morrison’s “Days Like This” on the radio during my moment of clarity. Everything falls into place, like the flick of a switch. My momma told me, there’d be days like this. I had unwillingly, and quite surprisingly, just had a beer epiphany!
This was the start of great journey in to the world of beer. Akkurat became my local, where the more knowledgeable regulars introduced me to new beer experiences. For a while, I wrote down every new beer I tried—when is easy when everything is new. I attended the Stockholm beer festival, volunteered at the Great British Beer Festival, and explored the 24 Hour festival in Antwerp. By the time the beer revolution dawned in Denmark, I was living just across the border in the Swedish town of Malmö, within easy visiting distance of Copenhagen.
Now, I live in the United States, which is like starting all over again in the new world of beer. Thanks to my network of beer connections, I now work in the beer world, organizing festivals where visitors who feel the same curiosity I did can taste and learn. I can watch the crowds and know that someone out there is hearing the angels and having their own, private beer epiphany.
Ola Nilbrink is the events and operations manger for All About Beer Magazine’s World Beer Festival. He moved to Durham, NC, in 2007 from Sweden and started to work for All About Beer Magazine in 2008. Ola has attended all of Europe’s major beer festivals and written about them in national beer consumer magazines.