Is it the Culture―or is it the Beer?
“Beer hunting” is a term inspired by the activities of iconic beer writer Michael Jackson, the Beer Hunter. My pursuit of all things beer was fueled in part by our friendship and his passion. I can say for sure that I was there at the beginnings of both the CAMRA efforts in England (I’m a life member―Membership No. 21,192; current membership is approximately 120,000) and America’s beer renaissance, which started in the early 80s. My beer hunting has never faltered and I haven’t taken a day off since!
Having played collegiate lacrosse in Maryland, I was fortunate enough to be hired out of college by the English Sports Council to promote the sport of lacrosse in England. Lacrosse was my ticket to international travel―which led to my discovery of worldly styles of beer and, of course, real ale! I was given my first CAMRA Good Beer Guide in 1983 in Manchester, England, by a lacrosse teammate who told me if I followed the guide I’d never be at a loss for a good pint.
I purchased shares of Young’s stock, because it came with an invite to the Young’s AGM which were legendary events. At my first AGM I learned about the “135 Club,” which was based on visiting every Young’s pub, having a drink, and having the publican/bar staff sign off on the printed Young’s brochure. Once you completed the tour, you were given membership to this exclusive club.
New members were asked to call the brewery and schedule their VIP visit. On the day of my visit, I arrived at the brewery, and was shown in and waited a few minutes. Then a Young’s staff member came to the reception area walked me up a few flights of stairs and straight into John Young’s office. The staff member said, “Mr. Chairman, this young man has completed the 135 Club tour and he is here today for his just rewards.”
John Young stood up, leaned across his desk and said “Congratulations, young man. Thanks for the support and welcome to Young’s.” As he began to sit back down, I spoke―obviously, with an American accent. He stood straight up again and asked, “You are an American?” I said, “Yes.” He said “Come with me,” and we walked down the corridor and turned into an office.
There stood a young Dan Kopman (now of Schlafly fame) and the chairman said, “Joe, this is Dan Kopman. He is working on our effort to export to America.” The he turned to Dan and said, “This guy just completed the 135 Club, he’s from America and you guys need to talk…” And that’s really how it started: preparation met opportunity.
Since 1983, there have been countless visits to breweries, taverns, pubs, beer festivals and the like. I have kept a beer journal since1985, filled with tasting notes, anecdotes, photos, sketches and at times philosophical meanderings. Over time, I have been fortunate enough to cross paths (and hoist a pint) with many beer industry icons, including the likes of Fritz Maytag, Bob Brewer, Father Theodore, Pete Slosberg, Charlie Papazian, Hugh Sisson, Sam Calagione, Jim Koch, Greg Koch, Frank Boon, Carol and Ed Stout, Greg Noonan, Pierre Celis, Allan Young, Jerry Bailey, Jim Dorsch, Dave Alexander, Volker Stewart, Bill Oliver, Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski. The list goes on and on.
One particular memorable encounter was with the late Don Younger. It was 1987. I was working for Young’s and made a sales call to see if he would carry the Young’s line on draught. Over a few pints he started to focus less on the products I could offer and more on the cask-conditioned real ale that Young’s was famous for. I explained that Young’s did not offer cask ales in the U.S. because the system for handling and caring for cask ales was not in place. But he persisted. I told him the beer wouldn’t travel well and that, by the time he got his hands on a cask, he wouldn’t be able to sell it. Don looked at me with a straight face and said, “Sell it? What are you talking about? I want to drink it!”
In the beginning it was about the pure experience of discovery―but once I tasted the beauty of the hop cone, understood the richness of malt character, appreciated the dynamic imprint and was intrigued by the mystery of the yeast strain, I was obsessed. I have been a part of the craft beer culture ever since.