Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

May 5, 2008

Beer Diary:

Evolution Of A Beer Dork

Much like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, Nigel rose from the evil influences of shit beer and became a certified Beer Dork.
by Nigel Tanner

"It takes beer to make thirst worthwhile."
Contact Nigel»
My name is Nigel Tanner, and I am a Beer Dork.

But I have a confession to make … I haven’t always been one.

It’s true. I spent the early part of my beer drinking life as an ignorant shill following the proverbial herd. Much like Brian the talking dog on Family Guy, who admitted that he had “licked his share of peanut butter” back in the day, I drank my share of B-M-C swill. While I’m not proud of that, I will say it’s made me more appreciative of the finely crafted beer that I now enjoy on a nearly exclusive basis. At least I can take comfort in the fact that I’m not a closet Bon Jovi fan, never watch “Deal or No Deal,” and don’t find Tina Fey attractive in an odd way. That would be, ahem … total nonsense.

Nigel’s beer drinking past is a sordid one, much like the reigns of Caligula, Henry VIII, Ivan the Terrible, and George W. Bush. I was 18 (nobody believes this, but I promise it’s true) when I took my first drink, as my parents weren’t drinkers and I didn’t really hang out with the rebellious crowd. I vividly remember my first nip of the barley soda; I was at a small party with a couple of friends the summer after high school graduation, and there was beer. Icehouse, to be exact. Nigel had two beers, and suddenly a whole new world opened up (as sad as it may sound, Icehouse is still a shit beer of choice, though it has little to do with that fateful first drinking experience).

Honestly, I didn’t really enjoy the taste. I was the typical post-adolescent ignoramus who thought that since everyone else was drinking it, it must be cool. As a college student at a state university with a well-known reputation for drunken revelry, I attended many house parties, and, upon turning 21, visited many of the local taverns. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I was a huge drinker; I knew a number of people who drank much more than I did, though I did typically go out a couple of times a week. Again, I didn’t necessarily enjoy drinking shit beer (this of course before I realized it was shit beer), but I drank because it was the thing to do and we were having the time of our lives and felt that it somehow had to involve drinking copious quantities of shit beer and liquor. How many college kids do you know that are craft beer connoisseurs? I’m sure there are some out there, but most are the typical cheap beer/mixer types, partially because of the widespread availability, partially due to budget constraints, and partially due to our friends in the advertising industry.

I remained a shit beer drinker for years, until my mid-20s when I began to try other brews, essentially with the premise of becoming cooler than I already was (I know … it doesn’t seem possible, but I’m always hoping to improve). I’m embarrassed to say it now, but those “cool” beers at the time included Leinenkugel’s for domestics, and shit imports like Heineken, Amstel, Corona, etc. I will say one thing about this period: while the new beers I was trying were in retrospect pretty awful, they did begin me on my magical journey towards beer enlightenment. Nothing is more conducive to experimenting with a wide array of previously unknown selections than an open mind, and moving away from the status quo of the Big Three is step number one. Granted, drinking beer that is actually good is probably the most important step, but be patient … we’re getting there.

Nigel has always been a curious fellow, so I often wondered about all of those beers with odd labels, names, etc. and what they might taste like.
A huge step was moving off campus, where the influence of shit beer and binge drinking was slightly less prevalent (key word being slightly, as I was still in school and thus constantly inundated with it). Stopping off after class or after work to pick up the occasional beer led to a bit of exploration. Nigel has always been a curious fellow, so I often wondered about all of those beers with odd labels, names, etc. and what they might taste like. Despite this curiosity, I tended to stick with selections that I was familiar with and initial exploration was slow but steady.

I eventually began sampling some “better” imports, led by the old standby, Guinness. While I still find Guinness tolerable, my evolved palate now considers it too weak and chemically, though drinkable in a pinch. My Guinness phase led to other Irish stouts and English ales, as the bright shiny cans with the CO₂ rockets in them fascinated Nigel. Beamish, Murphy’s, Boddington’s, etc. dominated my beer drinking days about six years ago, though this was a brief phase.

On the American side, while I deplore what Leinenkugel’s has become, I give them credit for helping me get started in domestic craft beer. Leinie’s Red and Honey Weiss became domestic staples, far better options than Miller Lite or Coors Light. I explored all the Leinenkugel’s flavors, from the summer quencher Berry Weiss to the stronger Big Butt Doppelbock in the spring, and ultimately settled on Northwoods Lager as my favorite. This being one of the more flavorful Leinie’s brews (that’s kind of like saying Nigeria is the most prosperous country in Africa) and the fact that its roots are very much Wisconsin, I wanted to try other Badger State selections. New Glarus Spotted Cow and Capital Wisconsin Amber were consumed during the next phase of my transformation, and while those two selections themselves are weak, they introduced me to two quality craft brewers. At the time, they tasted complex and flavorful, but that’s easy when the palate is used to drinking antelope urine.

It really began to snowball from there. As recently as four or five years ago, I knew virtually nothing about craft beer. Enjoying Spotted Cow and living in Wisconsin where New Glarus’ diverse lineup is omnipresent, I tried other offerings from them, Hop Hearty IPA being my favorite. I then tried Honkers Ale from Goose Island, another widely distributed craft beer, because I thought it “looked fun.” Honkers Ale being a good starter beer, I soon tried other Goose Island offerings, with IPA being my favorite. My curiosity made me explore as to why these beers were called “IPAs” and I learned that they were heavily hopped in order to preserve the beer on the long trip to India where they would be served to British soldiers.

The history of hops and brewing led me to my first “style of choice”: IPA.
Hops? Hmm … intriguing. My knowledge of hops was limited, but I did know that they were a basic ingredient in beer (I must embarrassingly admit that I, uh … didn’t actually know what a hop was). I read up on hops, learning the ins and outs of their role in the brewing process, and began sampling other pale ales and IPAs. This led me to my first “style of choice,” and I had a starting point when sampling new breweries. When I discovered a quality IPA, I tried other styles from that brewery. Once I had favorite styles and favorite breweries, I had the necessary standbys to fall back on as my exploration began to increase.

Roughly three years ago, I was fully entrenched in the world of craft beer. The consumption of shit imports and domestics stopped (with rare exceptions), and I’m now very picky as to what brews and brewers I will consume. I do still enjoy the occasional shit beer … I won’t drink anything but Miller and the instances of this are few and far between (Danish Princess and I enjoyed some Miller on opening day at Miller Park, for example). I will say the occasional foray into carbonated macro water reminds me of how lucky we are to have the array of tasty options made available by American craft brewers. I can’t completely rid myself of the past, but I do revel in the present, which involves drinking some of the world’s finest beer on a regular basis and sharing my thoughts about it via this fine web site.

Despite my official title as Beer Dork, my palate remains in a constant state of evolution. Each brew I sample brings new sensations to the forefront, good or bad, and I learn from each and every experience. It’s clear just by looking at my reviews: the early ones from a year or so ago were pretty basic, and I’ve tried to get more descriptive as I learn to sense different things and learn more about each beer, style, brewery, etc.

This brings me to a final point. I’m often asked how I can taste or smell the various flavors and aromas when drinking a beer. To bring this full circle … it’s evolution, baby. A few years ago I could drink any style of beer and rate it simply as “good” or “bad,” but I have now developed enough to sense the various intricacies involved in drinking a fine brew. Many novice drinkers may not yet be able to sense the nuances of craft beer, but it will develop with time as long as an open mind is maintained. And, perhaps more importantly … not everyone will experience the same things when drinking a craft beer. What is hoppy gold to Nigel may be too-bitter shit to someone else. That doesn’t make me anymore of a Dork than them; it’s all about personal preference. However, personal tastes cannot properly evolve without the willingness to sample new things.

Regardless of age, gender, or current beer IQ, it’s possible for anyone to become a Beer Dork.
Many of you familiar with my reviews may notice that I often use the same descriptors when analyzing everything from the pour, appearance, aroma, taste, drinkability, etc. This is intentional. I know not everyone out there is as big of a nerd as Nigel, so I want to describe any beer, regardless of style or quality, as simply yet fully as possible. Thus, many themes are repeated, as I hope that all readers, from novice Dorks to the snobbish Eddie Glick will know where I’m coming from. I try to picture myself a few years ago, and I realize that I may have been looking up a beer online trying to find out what it was all about without having much of a craft beer background; many of the descriptions found in various craft beer web sites, blogs, print publications, etc. tend to be too over the top.

A good example of this is my 2008 desk calendar … Nigel purchased one titled “365 Bottles of Beer for the Year,” and the author is taking excerpts from various books he has written. Not only are the beers reviewed far too wide ranging (American macros to tiny brewpubs to obscure imports to NON-ALCOHOLIC for God’s sake!), they are downright laughable. For example, today was Berghoff Red, and anyone unfamiliar with this shit Wisconsin pseudo-craft offering would have scooped it up cases at a time, as the verbiage utilized made it sound as though it was the Dom Perignon of beer. It’s a joke; no novice beer drinker would ever understand it, and no craft beer connoisseur could ever take the outrageous assessments seriously, regardless of how sophisticated the author attempted to sound.

The point I’m trying to make is that regardless of age, gender, or current beer IQ, it’s possible for anyone to become a Beer Dork. Nigel’s story may produce a smattering of yawns in the audience, but I think it’s one of many examples of someone who knew absolutely nothing about craft beer as recently as a few years ago, but was able to quickly develop a taste for finely crafted beer. If you asked 23 year-old Nigel what he wanted to be when he grew up, Beer Dork probably wouldn’t have been on that list (professional golfer, astronaut, and sanitation worker would have been at the top). However, these things just kind of happen, and anyone with an exploratory palate will surely be able to make the quantum leap from the shit beer shill to Beer Dork in no time. There’s hope for everyone.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

Beer Dorks News

Want to know how healthy the craft beer industry is? As always, look to Portland. Craft pioneer Bridgeport announces sudden closure, adding to a growing list of PDX casualties.
Did Anheuser-Busch Chicago offer their shit beer to Cody Parkey before his missed field goal? Because that may explain why he "accidentally" biffed it.
Chicago now has the most breweries of any city in the country. Other things Chicago has the most of: murders, mobsters, and Ditkas.
Trying to spin it positive, BA releases end of year graphic. Only 5% growth in the craft sector when nearly 1000 new breweries opened? That's a collapse waiting to happen.
R.I.P. Tallgrass... another casualty as the regional/national craft beer market continues to get squeezed.
Wait... Constellation Brands cut all of the Ballast Point and Funky Buddha sales staff? They merged it with their Corona/Modelo staff?? We're SHOCKED!!!
Pizza Beer founder crying about failure of company, blames everyone else. Reminder, the beer tasted like vomit. Try having better ideas or making better products so you're not a failure.
It's Bud Light so doesn't really matter, but we expect this beer to be sitting around for awhile.
Indiana brewery to open with controversial beer names to "get the conversation going". Translation: taking advantage of serious issues for free publicity.
Hundreds of amazing beers in Wisconsin and the Cubs took back the one everyone drinks just because it exists and people have heard of it. How fitting...