How many of you remember back in the “Good Ole Days” when you had your “Go-to-beer”. I’m talking back when craft beer was the crazy uncle trying to brew something in his garage and it ended up tasting like someone cleaned their socks in the water first. My dad was a PBR man so that was what I had for my first sips of beer as a young lad. Back then American Beer Drinkers were pretty much at the mercy of the big breweries advertising departments. Miller Brewing, Anheuser-Busch, Coors and Pabst were the big guys and they battled it out with each other using sports figures, sex appeal and comedy in their commercials, vying for our dollars anyway they could.
That was how “Light Beer” came about by the way. Two factors helped the rise of the vile drink: America and beer drinkers as a whole were becoming a wee bit more health “aware”; and more and more women started becoming income generators. These two groups fell victim to the myth that light beer is better for you. While truthfully is does have less calories per serving, if you’re drinking a six pack at a time it’s still putting the calories on you…. And you give up so much flavor!
This segues back to my original thought, which is that for years Americans were subjected to American Style lagers and a few Pilsners to sustain our beer needs. Ever since the repeal of Prohibition we have been subjected to the whims of government sticking their fingers in the beer barrel and limiting the alcohol and flavor of beer. It was only after Jimmy Carter signed H.R. 1337, which went into effect on February 1st, 1979, and legalizing home brewing at a Federal level that we began to see higher alcohol content and more flavors in our beers. But this was a very slow moving growth at first.
In 1981, an 18 year old version of me, left the US for the first time and traveled to his first military station in what was then West Germany. Up to that date my limited exposure to beer had been the more commonly known American brands. On Christmas Eve of 1981, I arrived at Hahn AB and after recovering from jet lag, I was invited to a small Christmas dinner with my sponsor, Waldo, his then girlfriend and his roommate, Ray. I have to admit I don’t remember the girlfriend’s name because Waldo didn’t date her for much longer after I had arrived. But I do remember that night. It was at the girlfriend’s apartment in the little town of Lautzenhausen outside the base. Waldo, Ray and I walked there. And I was introduced to both German wines (a topic for another day) and German beer. I can’t tell you what I had for dinner but I do remember enjoying the evening and when dinner was over Ray and I walked back through the town toward the base… But not without stopping at a Gasthaus or two… or three on the way. I became immersed in the German beer drinking culture that evening and spent the next two years learning more about German beers as well as those of other European countries.
I had lagers and pilsners that were better tasting and much stronger than I had ever had in the US. I drank from a glass boot (after learning the proper way to do so) and a Yard glass. I had Hefeweizens and Bocks and Dunkels. I discovered Belgians and Eise beers and that the French aren’t just good at making wines. I sampled beers from Denmark, Holland (the home grown Heineken is much better than what we get here), Sweden, Switzerland, and Italy. I found out that there many more beers to try than I could find and some beers could only be had at certain times of the year or in certain restaurants because they made their own. I discovered the best pretzels ever (as well as the chicken dance) and that ladies carrying several liters of beer in each hand was commonplace in the Hofbrauhaus in Munich. And that beer was an excellent ingredient in cooking and not just in beer-batter fish. I didn’t know it then but those two years laid the groundwork for my Craft Beer Enthusiasm many years later.
When I came back to the States beer was never the same. All the guys I was serving with at the base in North Carolina were drinking Budweiser, Busch, Miller or their light versions. I settled for Michelob as it was the only popular brew I could tolerate. Whenever I ran into other servicemen who had served overseas we would invariably talk to each other about the beers we could get overseas. One of my friends served in England and talked about the ales, porters and stouts he had. Another served in the Philippines and talked about a lot of different Asian beers. The one thing we agreed on was that most American beers left us wanting something else.
The truth is what we wanted was variety. Sometimes we would talk about local beers, beers that you could only get where you grew up. Little known breweries to the rest of the U.S. were local legends to us. One weekend two friends and I drove up to Maryland so we could by 2 cases each of Genessee Cream Ale and 12 Horse Ale. Why…. because we couldn’t get it where we were. And if we couldn’t get it then some of us tried to make it. My generation was the first to be able to do home-brewing since before prohibition.
That same desire is what drove home brewing to become the Craft Beer “Phenomena” of today. Variety is the spice of life. That isn’t just an old saying to get kids to eat all of the food on their plates instead of the just the one item they like. It is a veritable truth.
Most beer drinkers are creatures of habit. They want their “Go-to-beer” and nothing else. That’s what they like and that’s all they want. And you know what… there’s nothing wrong with. If you like a particular beer, then drink that beer. Sometimes the certainty and comfort we get from little things like a favorite beer or food or tv show can help us get through the difficult things that life throws at us.
Most craft beer drinkers are also creatures of habit. But it’s not the “Go-to-beer” they gain comfort from… it’s the experience of a new flavor or style of beer. If you polled craft beer enthusiasts I’m sure you would find they share some of the following traits:
- They don’t repeat a craft beer if one that they haven’t had is available, unless it’s a style they don’t care for.
- They like to travel. It may be to different fests, or breweries, or bier-gardens or simply a different place to try craft beer, but it still gets them out of the house.
- They do have their “Go-to-tap-locations”, places with rotating tap lists and other craft beer enthusiasts who share their zest for flavorful beer.
There may be other traits shared among them but I think these three are the biggies. But those three are also why Craft Beer is not a fad or “Phenomena” but is here to stay. If you closed all the craft breweries down, we would still make our own. So find a beer you haven’t had and enjoy the change of taste. Even if you have to have it out your favorite glass at home it’s still better than settling for the same ol’ same ol’!