If you look deep enough into every beer lover’s history, you will find a single beer that led to a lifetime of love and dedication to grain, hops and yeast. I’m not talking about that first sip of Coors Light stolen from a father’s temporarily abandoned can or bottle. Rather, I’m referring to that one beer that turned the head, opened the mind and cracked a world of doubts, stereotypes and suspicions about the assumedly crude character of beer. Depending upon when you came of drinking age, your One Beer might be a very different offering, ranging from an Anchor Steam or New Albion Ale to a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout.
Sparking an attraction to craft beer is all about finding the ideal beer for the right moment. After experiencing a constant stream of fizzy, yellow, freezing cold monotony, it takes the gob-smacking power and appeal of real color, aroma and flavor to stop you in your tracks. As the internal cymbal crash within you signifies the breaking of long-accepted beer stereotypes, you end up happily poised with an exclamation point in a speech bubble above your head.
After a lengthy and near-monogamous relationship with Miller Genuine Draft, my own interest in better beer started with my first sip of the famed Guinness Stout. The polar opposite in terms of body, flavor and overall perception from the American-style premium lagers I grew up with, this gateway beer encouraged me to take my first brewery tour and then experience an impromptu jaunt through dozens of local and imported brands.
Next, I visited a new brewpub that opened in my college town and tried my first sampler, which unexpectedly led to my second beer moment. With the first taste of Court Avenue’s BlackHawk Stout, I quietly learned the difference between the ubiquitous Irish-style dry stouts and the sweeter but less popular export stout style. With beers from the Vermont Pub’s syrupy Wee Heavy to Capital’s malty Blonde Doppelbock to Summit’s pleasingly bitter IPA, my interest and beer experiences multiplied. And just when I foolishly think that I’ve seen and tasted it all, another beer comes along, like Sly Fox’s wonderfully hoppy German-style Pikeland Pils―a canned craft beer―and the process starts again from scratch.
That’s the funny thing about the One Beer: The experience is likely to recur in a series of beer sojourns enjoyed over an extended journey into craft beer. For every beer enthusiast, their drinking life is defined by a series of single beers and special moments. These moments happen in the right pub at the right moment, with warm weather and the perfect quenching accompaniment, with celebratory occasions with family and friends, and with stolen minutes of personal solace at the end of a long day, each accompanied by the One Beer.
These singular moments, defined by individual brands, serve as path markers for the evolution of a craft beer drinker, from the early days of inexpensive cases of beer to later travels to distant breweries and pubs. In an era where you can order extreme beers from eBay and some of the world’s greatest beers are easily available in your local store, it can be easy to lose track of where your interests developed. Losing this focus also causes disconnect with the overwhelming bulk of folks who don’t yet share our enthusiasm for the charming marriage of hops and malt.
As someone who can hearken back to that memory, I’m always trying to think about what One Beer could help deliver a friend or family member their first beer moment.
Andy Crouch is the author of the newly published Great American Craft Beer, from which this article has been excerpted, and The Good Beer Guide To New England. More of his thoughts on beer can be found on his website, BeerScribe.com.