The place beer takes in my life has definitely changed over the years. It used to be a beverage, but now it’s a hobby that I carry with me in a lot of things I do. It comes with a dedicated following and a vibrant and enthusiastic community and fan following. I would never have thought I would find when I took those first few sips of my mother’s Coors Light.
1. Drinking macro
I wasn’t much of a beer drinker. When I was 17, I spent a year in Germany on exchange and I think I drank beer twice, (maybe three times, one of which was a sort of raddler — Beck’s and sprite). I didn’t like it.
Fast forward to starting University. I distinctly remember vomiting from the sickening, warm taste of the foam at the bottom of my glass of Labatt Blue that I had forced myself to drink during frosh week. It was my first drink of the night. When we went out, the drink specials were usually some macro beer half-pint for $2. TWO BUCKS! Back then, Rickard’s Red is what I ordered if I wanted to look like a “grown-up” with “sophisticated” tastes. I still didn’t like it.
(Here’s a picture of me at 20, out for a Shinerama Sucker Run. I’m the one on the left with the cowboy hat. There’s a straw in my drink and I’m pretty sure that’s rye and ginger, because that was my drank.)
2. Recognizing that not all macro is awful
In 2008, I moved from Ottawa to just across the river, in Gatineau. In our building, there was a dépaneur with a fairly large, macro-beer filled fridge. Still, when you have the choice between dépanneur wine, vodka-flavoured malt liquor or macro beer, the choice is obvious.
I started “discovering” what this store had to offer, which means discovering that Sleeman wasn’t so bad, and that Labatt 50 and Molson Export are respectable guilty pleasure. I would say this is when I actually started choosing beer. My tastes have changed since then, but I’d still jump at the chance to enjoy a Molson Ex with some pickled cheese.
(Or a Labatt 50 with some roasted chicken Old Dutch chips)
3. Stepping out of your comfort zone
In 2010, Chris and I took a trip to Toronto to attend Gamercamp and go see a sweet-ass Anamanaguchi show at Wrong Bar and I’m about 99% sure it was at that show that the craft beer obsession started. Chris went to get us a beer and came back with some Mill Street Tankhouse. It was different from anything we’d had up until then. It was hoppy, malty and delicious. It was exciting and inspiring! We spent the rest of that trip looking for other beers. On another trip a couple of months later, we found Duggan’s Brewery (the location on Victoria Street), and I tried their #13 Heffeweizen. I remember thinking it tasted like bananas, and finding it refreshing and flavourful (and I was actually heart-broken to come back a year later and find out that they had closed.) It was really these first few trips that opened my mind, and pushed me to try whatever I could get my hands on. It was also around this time that we started homebrewing.
4. Try everything once.
The following Spring, we attended our first Festibière in Gatineau. The awesome thing about this (and, admittedly, other) beer festivals, is that there are often quite literally hundreds of beers available to try, and the samples are usually affordable. It’s the perfect place to take a friend who “doesn’t like beer” because I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to find a beer they like. It’s also the perfect place to broaden your horizons. We attended a few Festibière festivals before moving to Toronto, and have attended Cask Days and other events here since moving here. It’s always really exciting, because in Ontario, I find you often feel like you’ve tried “everything” the local bar has to offer and these festivals give you a chance to see what else is out there without taking a giant, brewery-to-brewery road trip (though that would be amazing!)
(Another great way to do this is to try sample flights at your local bar. Sometimes, I prefer that to getting a full pint of one thing.)
5. Beer travel
Beer travel is the best.
Our last trip was to Belgium, and we spent a day at Cantillon Brewery getting our first taste of Lambic and Kriek, as well as learning about how these kinds of beers are made. The next day was spent touring the country-side around Brussels, trying different Lambics. We spent a night at the Delirium Cafe, browsing their Beer Book (the biggest beer list in the world.) In Gent, we went to a brew pub that only brews gruits. Even sitting by the by the canal drinking 50 cent cans of Jupiler, a Belgian macro, was exciting and foreign.
In some places, it takes more effort. Our next trip will be to Newfoundland and I know they don’t have a huge beer scene, but I know they have a couple distinct Newfoundland-brewed macros and a couple of brewpubs, and you can be guaranteed that these will be stops on our itinerary.
(One of the first brew pubs we checked out abroad was Pike Brewing Co in Seattle.)