Like many Americans (and probably other countries as well), my first drop of the elixir I've come to know and love was from a chug of my dad's beer of choice, which at that time in the mid-70's was Regal Select, a beer made by Maier Brewing out of Los Angeles and hasn't been made in decades, due no doubt to being out of business. But those first few swigs of that cold, sweet, tangy brew and seeing how it quenched my dad's thirst on that hot California summer afternoon, made it's mark right there as a beverage to savor. Fast forward 30 years and looking back at how I evolved as a beer enthusiast seems startling sometimes, from the places I've been, people I've met and beers that I've shared. I believe that this evolution is shared by many in one form or another, so I thought I'd capture those different segments and you can compare your journey to mine. While it will have similarities, I'm sure there are some parts that you've avoided completely. Maybe your order is a little different?
Stage #1 - Give Me a Red Hot Mama and an Ice Cold Beer
You're underage, at a party in high-school or out fishing with a friend on the weekends or doing whatever it is that we did while in high school to pass time where beer has a 99% chance of being present and accounted for. Your parents are away, your friend has an older brother... whatever. You have access to beer and you really don't care what it is because it's.... beer. Budweiser, Coors, Old Style, Pabst, Keystone, Olympia, Lucky Lager. You are completely underage and you have access to beer, so down it goes with no more thought of whether you were drinking Coke or Pepsi, 7-Up or Sprite. At this stage, beer is being consumed because you feel somewhat powerful for doing something that the law says you have to be 21 to be doing. But also, curiosity creeps in and you notice that... hell, there are several different kinds of beer out there, and you wonder if they all taste exactly the same. It's not a driving force in your life at this point, but you remember.
Stage #2 - Beer is Good
So you make it out of high school and move on into college and/or some get jobs. Having a job(s) mean that you now have money to buy beer,
and college means parties, parties and... well... more parties. While attending these parties, or you are perusing the local Gas 'N Go with someone who is 21, you notice that you see beers like Pete's Wicked Ale or Grolsch or maybe Beck's and Heineken start popping up. Of course at that age, since we already knew it all and came to the conclusion that "... because it's imported, it must be better than non-imported and it makes me look like I know a little something something." So instead of reaching for Budweiser or Miller, we reach for the Heineken or Moosehead and you feel like you can smell/taste something different, but it's not a good something different (later you come to know these as skunked beers or light struck beers). You shrug your shoulders,
not caring how it tastes, but care more about how it makes you look. So at this stage it's still beer for the sake of just drinking beer, but you notice differences.
Stage #3 - One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer
The calendar marks one's date of birth of being 21 years prior and the rite of passage that we are now legal to buy beer, wine, spirits, and who knows what else comes to mind in the U.S. A rampage of beer buying, whiskey swilling and cocktail making is done with enough frequency to make you look like you taught the members of Guns 'N Roses on how to party. But being the smart person you are, you start to enjoy the different beers available to you and you feel like exploring a little bit. Instead of plunking down your hard earned money for cheap swill, or cheap whiskey, you spend a little extra jingle for Anchor's Liberty Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Guinness. Your first foray into hops and bitter beer has your head swirling and you no longer care about how a beer makes you look but care about tasting this great beverage. People wonder how you can drink stuff like this because it's bitter (and make stupid ass comments about that damn "bitter beer face commercial" from Keystone). You have a few buddies/brothers who enjoy these fine libations with you, so it's easy to enjoy without the "what, you're too good now for Budweiser" comments.
Stage #4 - Beer Bottle Boogie
After growing and developing an appreciation for hops and bitter beers, you realize that there must be better beer of the same styles out there, somewhere in the great wide open. You discover that visiting brewpubs and bottle shops open up a brave new world to you. You start consuming and experiencing all that you can find locally, and when you find yourself out of town you see if there are any brewpubs around. At this point, you are like a wild dog trying as many new brews as possible. During your search on-line for new beer locations to scout out, you find places like BeerPal (and other beer-related websites that shall remain nameless) and to your surprise, offers you a chance at not only keeping record of how many conquests you've consumed, but what your opinion is of them as well. It's like having your cake and eating it too. Life couldn't get any better, could it??
Stage #5 - Lager Delirium
Through the friendships made on BeerPal (or your on-line beer site of choice) and the research done, you discover to your amazement that there are styles of beer out there that you've NEVER heard of. So it's now your main goal in life to acquire these beers with whatever means necessary so you can see for yourself what it's all about, good or bad. You might even begin to dabble in beer trading or even home brewing, both extremely addicting and quite rewarding ventures. So you are immersing yourself completely now in the craft beer world in all facets... trading, home brewing, traveling, going to beerfests and rating. Maybe you've made a few friends at breweries you haunt with some regularity, and in turn make more friendships with people on-line like yourself who love craft beer. The thought of drinking Budweiser again for the sake of drinking like you once did, seems so foreign to you. Like it was someone else who did that a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. You can rattle off beer-related statistics with ease, and you seriously think about naming your first-born child Cascade, Simcoe or Ahtanum. It's your goal to rate every beer in existence.
Stage #6 - Drinking Beer
The last and final stage in the evolution of the beer geek. Exhausted from trying all the new stuff that comes out, in trying to keep up with the demands of the craft beer scene you realize that... it's only beer. Deconstructing beer has lost its luster. While that is no longer of utmost importance, what is important is simply savoring it and enjoying it at your pace. There's a line in a movie that said something to the effect of... the young bull said to the old bull, let's run down the hill and bang as many of the heifers as we can. The old bull said... no, let's walk down there and bang 'em all. In Stage #6, you still want to try as many beers as you can, but are not actively looking for them. You realize that what you have access too locally may be just as good as what's available 1,500 miles away and even if it's not... it's okay. Beer is a beverage that's meant to bring people together, and most of the time it does. It's a very sociable beverage. At this stage, you also try to open the eyes of the Bud/Miller/Coors zombies that shamble around, refusing to even consider letting any other liquid past their lips that's not associated with those producers. When you are successful, it can be quite gratifying, and hopefully you've set another person on to Stage #2 or #3 of the evolution chain. But in the end, I find myself back to where my father was in the mid-70's, when he was drinking his Regal Select from the pop-top can. Drinking beer, because I enjoy it.