Like many boys growing up in Newfoundland and reaching legal drinking age in the mid 1980s, the only thing I knew about beer was that O’Keefe’s Extra Old Stock was six per cent instead of the five per cent that all the other big name beers were.
My knowledge grew to a small degree when I ended up in Jasper, Alta., in 1991 and was introduced to a whole new selection of industrial lagers, courtesy of Big Rock Brewery in Calgary.
Here, all of a sudden, were new beers from a small brewery that had some deeper colours and much deeper flavours; Traditional Ale and McNally’s Extra became favourites for me at my local haunts.
Then came the summer of 1992, when I found myself in the East Bay area of California pedaling around, working as a bike courier. I saw a whole new world, in more ways than one.
All of a sudden, I was seeing these newfangled microbrews around with funny names and labels on the shelves of stores I shopped in.
One day, I was completely blown away when I went into a small grocery store called Andronico’s and ran into their beer aisle. The sign boasted “900 beers from around the world.”
To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement.
Those days were what started me on a path of trying new beers in all the places I ended up in.
I led a transient life of working at ski hills in the winter and at any job I landed in the summer that got me to the next ski season.
Travelling light, I started to collect beer labels as a way to track what kinds of beer I’d tried along the way. (Photo albums didn’t take up too much space.)
What I didn’t realize in those days was how little I really knew about the wide world of beer.
As they say, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
With some of the more common styles, I knew what to expect when I drank one. But when it came to things like stouts, porters and lagers, I was interested but ignorant.
For me, the passive way I was trying new beers was not educational.
That all changed one day in a January on a stop over in New York City. I was out for a walk in Greenwich Village when, by chance, I saw a sign advertising 30 craft beers on tap.
When I entered, I was again overcome by a tap list I didn’t know much about and decided to try a cask ale. I finished that and looked at the bar, trying to see what I might like next, when I spied three guys sharing an interesting looking beer.
I stepped up and asked them what they were drinking,
“Ithaca Sour,” they responded.
It led to an evening of trying some interesting beer, and some really good conversation that included my first introduction to the Cicerone Certification Program, the equivalent to beer as a sommelier is to wine.
At the time, I couldn’t have guessed where that singular evening would lead, but I have to say my thank-yous to two of those men: Sam Merritt of Civilization of Beer and David Brodrick, owner of the Blind Tiger, the excellent beer bar I had stumbled onto.
I have learned much since that evening, and some of the results are there for any Newfoundlander to enjoy via the Newfoundland Special Order Beer Club and the offerings it imports for members, as well as a friendly and welcoming beer forum online at beerthief.ca, where people can also register for the beer club.
Mike Buhler is a certified cicerone.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org,
or through the website beerthief.ca.