My journey in beer began in the 1970s. During that decade and into the early ‘80s, the beer landscape was bleak throughout most of this country but especially in my native South Carolina. American beers were generally flavorless thirst quenchers and European beers were usually stale or skunked. Despite the sad state of the beer world, I enjoyed beer and I felt there was much more to beer than what I was drinking. I became what we now call a beer hunter and prowled the shelves of bottle shops looking for that special beer.
My red-letter day for beer was in 1986. While browsing through a shop in Myrtle Beach, SC, I found a beer with an interesting red, white and blue label with a tag that modestly proclaimed that it was “Voted best beer in America.” The beer was, of course, Samuel Adams lager. I bought a six-pack and I was astonished at this beer. The beer had flavor—much more than any than any I had tasted before. I did not understand the how or why but I knew I liked it. Sam Adams showed me what was possible with beer yet it perplexed and troubled me because the source of these flavors was a mystery.
I did not fully realize at the time but the craft beer renaissance in North America was underway and the appearance of Sam Adams signaled that the fruits of this renaissance were finally trickling down to the South. I eventually found All About Beer Magazine at a newsstand in the mid 1990s and that was my second beer revelation. The magazine opened the door to beer knowledge and the culture of beer. AAB led me to Michael Jackson and other luminaries of the beer world—I became a serious student of beer. I soon realized that as I learned the intricacies of beer and brewing I came to appreciate and respect this fascinating and complex beverage on a completely new level. I was hooked—beer and its culture became my passion.
I became a Beer Judge Certification Program judge and then an all-grain homebrewer, which gave me a totally new perspective on the creative process of brewing and an appreciation for the work of professional brewers. As a beer judge, I travelled to competitions in various parts of the Southeast and interacted with interesting people (and some genuine characters) who shared my enthusiasm for beer. This interaction intensified my passion for all things beer as I immersed myself in beer culture.
Garrett Oliver’s 2003 book The Brewmaster’s Table was my third beer revelation. In this masterwork, Oliver effectively demonstrated the possibilities of pairing food and beer in a way that had never been done before. The book raised the level of American beer culture several notches by bringing fine beer to the dining table. The positive effects of this book are still being felt today as more and more restaurants expand their craft beer selections and actually have printed beer lists.
From my study of the history of beer, I am convinced that we are living in the greatest age for beer in history—without a doubt, the finest beer ever brewed is made in North America and quite possibly just down the street.
I do believe seasoned enthusiasts like me have a greater appreciation for the exceptional beer now available than our younger brothers and sisters: We know where the beer world was and how far it has come in a very short time and that leads to my concern for the future. As craft beer matures, the special relationship between brewers and customers may be lost. Craft beer started as grass roots, anti-establishment movement that enthusiasts felt a part of. As the industry grows, it may loose that aspect and simply become a business. If that happens, it will be a terrible loss for all of us who have a passion for fine beer.
Gerald Jowers is an attorney practicing in Columbia, SC. When not practicing law, he is the Beer Columnist for Columbia ‘s Free Times newspaper, BJCP Certified Beer Judge, award winning homebrewer, and member of Palmetto State Brewers.
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