Perhaps, as an enlightened beer drinker, you have a collection of like-minded associates who anxiously anticipate every new release or upcoming beer festival. Possibly, as a group, you adventurously sample each new draft or bottle that pops up at your local pub or eagerly gather up the latest six-packs and bombers to hit the shelves of your neighborhood stores. Then again, maybe you are like me.
Maybe you are the drinking buddy marching to the drip of your own tap, the barley wine in a room full of thin-bodied alcoholic beverages, the Cascade hop in the bale full of Fuggles. While I have, over the years, steadily sampled as many varieties of beers as I could get my hands on, my closest circle of imbibing buddies have systematically refused to budge from the mostly watered-down beer they have stuck to for the better part of a decade.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are those nights with the potential to continue deep into the wee hours of the morning, when I find myself sticking to the watery stuff because an abundance of heavier-bodied beers would not be the smartest way to go. Of course, the older I got, the less frequently those nights became and I found myself becoming more and more agitated at the general reluctance of my friends to sample new stuff.
This sentiment came to a head as I convinced a few of my pals to accompany my wife and me to a New York City beer festival held at the South Street Seaport. Nearly a hundred breweries, each serving several beers, were in attendance, yet my friends managed to park themselves in front of the Blue Moon tent for the vast majority of the night. Blue Moon, albeit a fairly tasty beer, can be found in nine out of 10 bars in New York City and certainly did not constitute the breakthrough in beer philosophy that I had hoped for. I decided something needed to be done. It was then and there that I developed my theory of the “Transitional Beer.”
I needed to find a way to gradually introduce my friends’ palates to better beers without going too far. The ideal transitional beer, I decided, needed to display the delicious and bold flavors that a beer is capable of showcasing without being overly aggressive, too ambitious or completely off-the-wall. In other words, it must have an interesting enough flavor profile to pique a neophyte’s curiosity without being so bold as to scare the newbie back to the realm of the taste-deprived.
Huge IPAs, deeply rich stouts, smoky rauchbiers and experimental spice beers, as delicious as they may be, did not fit my mold of the appropriate transitional beer. I threw together a quick list of readily available, no frills, sans bells and whistles, flat-out good beers that I had cut my teeth on when I began to delve into the world of craft beer. During our next few gatherings, I excitedly doled out Brooklyn Lager from Brooklyn Brewery, Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale, Sam Adams’ Boston Lager and Bluepoint Brewery’s Toasted Ale. Each was met with a less than enthusiastic response from my friends. My Transitional Beer Theory was being dashed, along with my hopes for a better-educated beer drinking social circle.
And then, all at once, a new year had dawned. Literally. On New Year’s Eve, gathered at a newly discovered neighborhood watering hole, my wife ordered a bomber of Unibroue’s Don de Dieu, a 9 percent ABV triple wheat beer. Intrigued by this massive, whimsically labeled, cork-topped bottle of beer, one friend dared to ask for a sip. Anticipating yet another unfavorable reaction, I allowed myself only the briefest sidelong glance at my buddy’s face. To my utter shock … a smile!
“Oooh, what is that?” he asked, coming as close to cooing as a 6 feet 2 inch, 230-pound guy can coo. Two more friends tried it. Two more smiles.
I was more than amazed. This was a beer so above and beyond anything I could ever imagine my friends drinking, it would not have been within my first thousand suggestions. Transitional beer? This was more like a metamorphosis beer! As much as I would have liked to take credit for these new developments, I could not. Nor did I care. The boys had begun to expand their horizon; the training wheels were off. I imagined that this was the way a proud parent feels watching his kid slug their first base hit in Little League or hammering out Beethoven during their big piano recital. Then, to my utter delight, my pal spoke the sweetest words I had heard since the day my wife said, “I do.”
“Bartender, can I try one of those?”