Editor's Note: Meet Jonathan Wells, Creative Loafing's new beer writer. We debut his monthly column, Beer All About It, in print and online later this week. Be on the lookout.
I’ll never forget my first time; I’m sure many of us won’t either. We were in my friend’s kitchen. I remember all of the sights, smells and tastes: the silky light brown color, persistent creamy head, hints of hazelnut, the sweet sugary aftertaste. As much as I wished to bask in the afterglow of that fleeting moment forever, I confessed to my friend, “I want more.”
So, we went to Moosehead. “Two Rogue Hazelnut Brown ales, please,” I cheerfully announced to our server. The only other time I was that excited to order a beer was marking my first legal purchase. That first Budweiser paled in comparison to the flavors present in this brown ale.
My lust for craft beer quickly accelerated. Sticking with one standby wasn’t my style; I had to try them all. I found my lips parting for Rogue, followed by Brooklyn, Highland and even Dogfish Head. I haunted the make-your-own six-pack aisles. I asked questions of anyone I suspected of knowing more than I did. If answers weren’t available, I took to the Internet. I was an insatiable information sponge.
There’s a saying I think I just made up: Once you go Craft, you never go aft." (In case you were unaware, aft refers to the back part of a boat, ship, or airplane.) Cute puns aside, there was an element of truth to that; a line had been drawn that I couldn’t go back across. I found the word “soulless” entering my vocabulary to describe beers that I once had an affinity toward. They tasted bland, boring, simply a means to an end. This new world of craft was exciting and varied, almost alive.
The human element to craft beer was the final puzzle piece that I sought, other people on the same journey as I, wide-eyed and entering a bold new world. What immediately became apparent to me was everyone’s interest in helping. Knowledge was not something to be hoarded, but instead shared freely. Out of market beers were also shared by those who traveled or traded to acquire them. I began to see other craft aficionados less as individuals and more as members of a community.
The absence of competition was intimidating at first, unbelievable. I was raised on commercials from Brand X touting its superiority to Brand Y, or overhearing opinionated drinkers say “you won’t catch me drinking Brand A, I’m a brand B man.” Maybe it’s all the same. You won’t catch craft drinkers drinking Macro. Brand loyalty isn’t what drives them though, so much as quality loyalty.
Everyone’s path to craft is different. A dear friend of mine made the jump from champagne to sour ales. Coffee sippers may prefer roasty stouts. My first impressions with certain beer styles may have been poor, but my palate continues to evolve. I am always learning.
Everybody’s first time is different. If you are nervous, feel free to ask a well-intentioned stranger for help. If it’s not love at first sip, try something else. Be promiscuous with your beer selecting. There’s no such thing as a person who hates craft beer. They’re just people who haven’t found the one they love just yet.