Cincinnati’s Image: Finding the Future In Our Past

Roughly a week ago, Cincinnati Council Member Laure Quinlivan publicly asked a very reasonable question about our city’s image. Cincinnati’s image? To some, this seemed like kind of a silly question, because most of us already know what this city is all about: traditional values, tightly-knit communities, and a proud, rich history. Those of us living in the area generally tend to lean toward substance more than style, though, and overlook flash in favor of family and friends. So what’s all this business about an image?  Who really cares? We know who and what we are, and by and large, we’re pretty happy with that.

The question, though, was never about us. If you read my other blog, Puddintopia, you’ve probably heard me mention before that my father taught high school political science in the NKy for years. One of the first things he covered every year was a very simple, very crucial tenet:  those who succeed have a goal and a plan. Is there a goal for Cincinnati? Yes, I believe so; we need to find a way to bring growth to the region, economically, socially, personally, whatever. However we go about it, growth will be the key to our success. But is there a plan to affect that growth?

Um…well…

*crickets*

That, right there, is what the Council Member’s question was all about. In order to grow, we need to attract the interest of people, companies, and groups that don’t already realize exactly how great a place Cincinnati really is. This city desperately needs some PR, a bit of fresh marketing to the outside world. And it doesn’t seem to me that Harry’s Law is going to help much. So, yes, we absolutely need to think a little about our image.

With that in mind, then, what do we say and how do we say it to help people realize they want to come here? Well, sadly, you can’t lean too heavily on how great a place it is for its community and values. Those are reasons people will eventually want to live here, not reasons to come for a visit. You have to have a quicker hook.  Most people won’t take the time to get to know you unless you have a solid opening line.

We’re not going to change who we are though, no matter how much marketing we need. The image of Cincinnati has to be authentic; it can’t be all smoke and pyrotechnics followed by crummy lip-syncing. That’s just not how we do things. It won’t fly at the chili counters or ice-cream parlors.  So the real trick in developing a new image for the city is that you have to find a way to underscore the glories of our past while pointing to the wonderful potential of our future.

Is that even possible? I say, yes, absolutely. To accomplish it, all you have to do is put a big shiny spotlight on (wait for it) beer as part of our tradition.

And no, I’m not just talking about how much we enjoy the occasional brew with friends around here. What I’m really talking about is about how beer, and brewing, truly seem to be in our blood.

In the post I wrote last week, I suggested that we are currently in the “young stages of a beer revolution in Cincinnati, one emphasizing production as well as appreciation.” Don’t believe me? Well, Christian Moerlein, the company building that fancy Lager House at The Banks, is Cincinnati-based and owned by resident Greg Hardman. I’ve not yet met the man, but I’m pretty sure he agrees with me. Moerlein, which also brews historic Cincy brands Hudepohl and Burger, recently opened a new brewing facility in Over-The-Rhine, which is expected to be fully operational this spring.

Moerlein is just the tip of the iceberg for the modern brewing story in Cincinnati. Depending on who you believe, the Boston Beer Company is now the single largest American-owned brewery. Guess where they brew a huge proportion of their product every year? Yep, right under our noses. Mt. Carmel Brewing is doing good things on the eastern edge of town, fine people are making some excellent beer at Rivertown Brewing in Lockland, Red Ear Brewing is operating on Pike street in Covington, Great Crescent Brewery is a short hop away in Aurora, IN, and Dan Listermann is finally making beer for other people to drink at Listermann. Oh, and very soon, Cloister Brewing will undoubtedly be producing quality brews for thirsty people in Northside.

And that’s just the commercial brewing operations I know about. But wait, there’s more! Brewmaster Mitch Dougherty has been doing us proud at the Rock Bottom Restaurant Brewery on Fountain Square for years now, even earning a Bronze medal at the World Beer Cup and a Gold Medal at the Festival of Barrel Aged Beers. And let’s not forget that in Newport, our Hofbrauhaus was the first one ever in the United States, and they brew all of their beer on site.

You might have heard, the Germans can be picky about their beer; it’s worth noting that they picked us first.

When I look out across the Cincinnati metro region, I see a lot of people working hard to produce great beer, and more and more places showing off our appreciation for it. For instance, the Dilly Cafe in Mariemont has been named one of the top 100 beer bars in America. In general, it’s a lot harder than you’d expect to find a bar around town that’s not offering something for every craft beer lover. A decade ago, I’d walk into an unfamiliar bar and have to hope to find a friendly tap handle. Now, more often than not, I’m staggered by so many options that I don’t know where to start.

So, yes, we’re definitely a beer town.

I say, why not try to leverage that?

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Cincinnati was one of the greatest beer cities in the US. Since those golden days, there have obviously been some ups and downs. But look at where we are today, and then take a moment to consider the overall state of the US economy, especially in recent years (including the large-scale brewing industry). Through the recession, few industries managed to squeak by unscathed. Craft brewing did, though. The industry showed growth in 2008, 2009, and 2010, which is even more interesting when you consider that overall beer sales were down in those years.

Craft beer is a growing industry, and right now, this is a city looking for growth. At the same time, this is a city extremely proud of its history, and brewing quality beer is part of our collective soul. To me, this sounds like a perfect match, a match made in Over-the-Rhine well over a century ago.

Those who succeed have a goal and a plan. To promote growth, we need to enhance the city’s image to the outside world. Our skill in quality brewing and appreciation for good beer should be the cornerstone of that image. There’s no reason we can’t make Cincinnati the Great American Beer Town once again.

So support your local breweries! Because if we support them and somehow get this message to Ms. Quinlivan and the rest of City Council, those breweries can go a long way toward supporting all of us.

And supporting each other is exactly what this community is all about.

Pud’n

Take pride in your city

I found myself standing in the refrigerated case at the store recently, because, well, that’s where I often find myself when I’m not working, writing, tending to children, or sleeping in my recliner. I made the trip out in search of something hoppy, but instead found something completely unexpected. As I perused the shelves, I stumbled upon the Sam Adams “American Originals” sampler.

As it was earlier January at the time, I fully expected to find the “Winter Styles” sampler still prominently on display next to a stack of Winter Lager 12-packs. Apparently, though, the beer industry takes its cues from department stores, which means that the winter beers are gone as soon as the New Year’s ball hits the base of that pole in Times’ Square. What was I thinking, right? Having winter beers available for the bulk of winter is just, you know, silly.

And before anyone rolls their eyes or groans because they expect I’m about to launch into another thousand-word discourse on the next set of seasonal beers, you can relax. This isn’t about mid-winter or spring beers at all. You might still get a thousand words1, but it won’t be about that.

It’ll be about Sam Adams (the brand, not the patriot) and my very mixed feelings for the Boston Beer Company.

When I got my American Originals pack home, I broke it open and surveyed the offerings. Having tasted everything included by now, I’m comfortable saying that it’s my favorite of the Sam samplers. I absolutely love five of the six beers offered (I’m so-so on the White Ale, but I don’t hate it). Even if that wasn’t true, though, even if the pack included nothing but two precious bottles of Sam Adams Scotch Ale and ten more of motor oil (the petroleum product, not the beer by that name), I’d still be happy.

I love the Sam Scotch Ale. It has always been my favorite.  Admittedly, I’m not convinced it’s the same recipe as when I first began drinking it in the late 90’s, but regardless, I still love it.

Unfortunately, it’s also the first thing to get my ire up when it comes to the Boston Beer Co.

The fact is that, justified or not, I’ve always felt Cincinnati has gotten short shrift from Jim Koch and his beer company. He’s a native Cincinnatian. His father, according my extensive internet research (i.e, one quick “Google” search), worked in the beer industry in this city nearly all his life. Legend even tells that the base recipes for the Boston Ale, as well as Mr. Koch’s self-professed favorite beer, the Boston Lager, were both recovered from his father’s Indian Hill attic. And as I understand it, the beer brewed by the Boston Beer Company in the former Hudepohl-Schoenling brewery on Central Parkway makes them the largest volume producer in the city (at the moment).

Now, am I looking for Jim Koch to start wearing a button around that reads, “I live in Boston, but I heart Cincinnati”? No, of course, not. But one of things I love about this city is its heritage, its tradition for being the grandest beer town in the US before Prohibition destroyed everything. What I don’t want is for that tradition to be something we talk about only as local history. I want Cincinnati to be the greatest brewing city in America again. Thankfully, I’m not alone in that wish, but that’s another post. What really pains me, though, is that one of the largest American-owned producers of craft beer (perhaps the largest…there’s some debate) very quietly brews an awful lot of tasty beer in our hometown.

I don’t like that very quietly part.

I want the Boston Beer Company to have a more visible profile around town. I want brewery tours available2. I want a Sam Adams Brew House. They have one in the airport in Atlanta, why not one here?

Most importantly, I want to know why I can’t find six packs of Scotch Ale anywhere around town. And yes, of course that’s the thing that really gets me irked. I hate having to buy a pair of White Ales for every two Scotch Ales.

For all my complaining, you’d think I was ready to start making signs and picket the brewery. Honestly, nothing could be further from the truth. I have an immense appreciation and fondness for the Sam Adams brand, and a huge amount of respect for the passion, effort, and innovation Jim Koch has brought to American craft brewing. The Boston Beer Company has been keeping me content at bar stools for more than a decade, which is a fact underscored by both the thickness of my waistline and the thinness of wallet.

Beyond that, though, I firmly believe we’re in the young stages of a beer revolution in Cincinnati, one emphasizing production as well as appreciation. One that can show rest of the world what we all know already, that this truly is, and always has been, a great city.

Who better to lend support to that revolution than Jim Koch, Cincinnati native, and Sam Adams, brewer, patriot, revolutionary?

Oh, and did I mention I could also use some more Scotch Ale?

Pud’n

1 Looks like just a shade over 900. Oops.

2 I couldn’t verify they aren’t offered, because I couldn’t find a phone number for the brewery – anyone ever taken one?

Fortune favors the flavorful

I am a lucky, lucky man. For one thing, Tom and Carla are incredibly nice people who give me the opportunity to ramble on about whatever beer-related topic happens to be on my mind in their blog-space, pretty much whenever an idle thought escapes the tangled jungle of my head. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, they were kind enough to invite me to participate in a blind tasting of amber craft brews at their place last week along with a few other Hoperatives contributors.

Yes, it was pretty brave of them.

I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of the tasting; I’ll leave that and the grand unveiling of the results to our hosts. I will, however, say that the only thing I helped conclude was that I’m a pretty poor judge of beer. Sure, I can tell you that I enjoyed the heck out of each and every sample placed in front of me, and because they came up with a numeric rating system that even I couldn’t mess up too badly, I was able to objectively rate them all. In the end I considered it a pleasant surprise to find that my numeric ratings actually matched my taste preferences. Beyond that, well, let’s just say that if you ask me what kind of flavors and aromas I might have gotten from a particular beer, my answers most likely would have been somewhat vague. “Do I get cinnamon, clove, pine, or chocolate? Um…yes, uh…no? I do think I get some malt and hops, though.”

I’m not expecting my BJCP credentials in the mail any time soon.

My favorite thing about the entire evening, though, is that it didn’t really matter that I had no idea what I was doing. I was given the privilege of enjoying a very pleasant post-holiday gathering with a half-dozen or so other craft beer lovers that was full of sharing wonderful samples and great stories. Later that night, after I got home, I came to a simple realization about all of us who believe in better beer: we’re all pretty darned lucky.

When I say that, I mean that we’re lucky in ways that people who don’t share our enthusiasm will never truly understand. For us (well, at least for me…I probably shouldn’t speak for everyone), craft beer is more than just a beverage, it’s a common bond. It’s a pathway to new friends, great conversations, and a spirit of camaraderie you just don’t see a lot of places in this day and age. I found it a marvelous thing that I spent an evening with several people I’d never met, yet with whom I felt completely at ease. Ultimately, I even had to force myself to go home because after four hours of talking about nothing but beer, I still wasn’t quite ready to stop.

Now tell me, how often do you think a group of commercial beer drinkers gather to sample something new or talk about innovations regarding their beer of choice? I’d wager it’s about as often as someone actually identifies any hop flavor or aroma in that stuff that’s supposed to be quintuply-hopped brewed or whatever.

Yes, well, ahem.  I suppose I might be biased.

Now, I do have to admit that we have our own set of contentious topics; everything isn’t always sunshine and unicorns on this side of the aisle. Not everyone agrees that shoving the equivalent of a circus elephant’s mass worth of bittering hops into a brew kettle is a fantastic idea, and if you’re a fan of Reinheitsgebot, breweries like Dogfish Head, among others, probably cause you to make something that greatly resembles your mother’s frowny disapproving face on occasion. The best thing about being one of us, though, is that even when we do disagree, more often than not we’ll simply agree to disagree, clink our glasses in a toast to friendly debate, and amiably quaff a pint or two to celebrate each other’s opinions.

I wrote at the top of this post that I’m a pretty lucky guy. The fact of the matter is, I think we all are. Our shared devotion to better beer isn’t just about choosing a drink, it’s also about choosing a kind of family.

Personally, I’m proud to have chosen to be a part of that family, and I look forward to getting to know it a little better¹.

Pud’n

¹The next Hoperatives Happening is January 12th at Nicholson’s. I’m going to try to be there; are you?

A Visit from Gambrinus*

‘Twas the night before Christmas and long ‘fore the feast,
All was quite still, ‘cept the bubbling of yeast.

The mantle was covered with decorative steins,
waiting to be filled with craft brews divine.

Hoperatives were dozing in favorite chairs
and crackling fires were warming the air.

I sat at my keyboard, a post in my head,
but the words were not coming; I considered the bed.

When near the garage came a noise like a quake
and I dashed to forestall it, lest my children awake.

Away through the kitchen I ran like a nut,
as the pints of the evening sloshed in my gut.

I reached the front window and peaked through the blind,
breathlessly wondering at what I might find!

When, what did I see, looking out on the road,
but a horse-drawn wagon weighed down by its load.

The driver was crowned and surrounded by heralds,
’twas Gambrinus, I knew, with that load of barrels.

Like a thundering storm his mounts, they did race,
but he called out a “Whoa!” to lessen their pace.

“Now, Porter! now, Pale Ale! now, Lambic and Marzen!
On, Strong Ale! on Stout! on, Bitter and Weizen!”

“To the edge of the drive, to that garage door!
Now gallop on! Gallop on! Gallop on more!”

As the smooth flow of ale into a clean glass,
they charged to my home, across my front grass.

Right up to my doorway, that wagon did fly,
as the man drained his mug in the blink of an eye.

With a jump, he leapt straight from his perch to the ground,
Went right to his kegs and made no other sound.

I left the front window, and dashed back to my chair,
but somehow Gambrinus had beaten me there!

He was done up in finery, a crown on his head,
and I couldn’t but wonder if I slumbered in bed.

A keg on his shoulder, and bottles and jugs
hung from his belt beside his own mug.

His dark, droppy eyes looked a tiny bit glazed,
and he stumbled about, seeming partially dazed!

He hiccup’d, then straightened, and smoothed his fine robe,
and then idly scratched at one floppy earlobe.

He blew out his mustache, then patted it down,
put down the keg, and took cup with a frown;

He looked at the bottom of his wondrous stein;
but his was quite empty, so I offered him mine.

He waved me away, a command that I heeded,
then he chuckled and I saw why no offer was needed.

With the twist of a spout, like a gift just unwrapped,
in mere seconds the keg he had carried was tapped.

He gave me a smile, then turned with a wink,
and filled all our cups with a frothy ale drink.

After setting down growlers and bottles of beer,
he gave a loud hic, and in a flash disappeared!

I ran back to the window, to watch him depart,
but his team was away, pulling him and that cart.

Yet I heard him exclaim, as they galloped from sight,
“Better Beer gifts to all, and to all a good-night!”

Pud’n

*With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore, or whomever actually wrote A Visit from St. Nicholas

A Winter Wonderland

The rumor spreading like wildfire around Cincinnati is that Snowmageddon 2010 will be rolling into town overnight or tomorrow. As usual, many of the inhabitants of our fair city dashed to the grocery stores and quickly liberated them of entire stocks of bread, milk, and eggs, as if a plague of winter locusts had descended upon said refrigerator cases. You know, just in preparation for the off chance that everyone is trapped in their respective winter bunkers until the spring thaw (which is going to be a while, as it’s not even winter yet, technically). Myself, I don’t usually get too worked up about these things. I’ve got some canned soup, some beans, a bag of onions, a few packets of Kool-aid for the kids, and meat in the deep freeze. I figure we’re set.

Well, at least that’s what I thought until I looked in the fridge tonight and realized I was staring down the barrel of a few snowbound days with only four 12-oz bottles of beer on hand. I nearly panicked; this was suddenly an emergency.

Half an hour later, I found myself at my local grocery store, contemplating my beer survival options for the week. Eventually, I settled on a Sam Adams Winter Sampler 12-pack, which seems a pretty solid choice with Christmas a mere ten days away. Although I can’t for the life of me figure out why the White Ale is included in it, and it’ll probably be a few weeks or so until I have an occasion to drink the two bottles of Chocolate Bock. The bock is plenty tasty, but it doesn’t exactly fit in with a Friday night movie and popcorn.

Anyway, as I drove home, full of relief that I was finally ready for the White Death to descend, I gave some thought to how much I truly enjoy the winter seasonal beers. In the past, I claimed that the autumn beers were my favorite seasonals, and I still stand by that. In case you’re worried, no, I’m not going to ramble on about how much I enjoy the spring beers when their time comes rolling around. And the summer beers are dead to me and will remain so until someone finds a way to bring back the original recipe of Pete’s Wicked Summer Brew.

Where was I? Oh, yes, the fall beers. Indeed, they are definitely my favorite. Still, if I was pressured to name one drawback for them, I would have to admit that they can be somewhat similar.

That said, I find the winter beers absolutely wonderful too. Part of that is because they seem to be exactly what the doctor ordered when the wind becomes a frigid knife that cuts right through. That frightful chill can be at least held at bay, though, if not totally dispelled, by something malty and full of spices that warms you from within with a solid weight and depth of flavor. On top of that, I also love the winter brews because it seems to me there is perhaps a greater variety to them than some of your other seasons. Sure, your Old Fezziwig (I miss the days they sold this in big bottles perfect for sharing), your Moerlein Christkindl, and Sam’s Winter Lager share more than a few common notes and similarities, but then you’ve got wonderful things like the Goose Island Mild Winter, the Sierra Nevada Celebration, the Great Lakes Christmas Ale and a host of other things I’ve yet to have an opportunity to sample.

This time of year, there truly is a host of wonderful seasonal brews to enjoy. So I recommend we gather with our loved ones, build up a roaring fire, break out an abundant sampling of the best winter has to offer, and nestle in, snugly, until March. Winter is upon us regardless of what the calendar says, and no amount of shaking one’s fist at the sky is going to clear up snow or warm the air (at least in Cincinnati, that is). This is the time to make the best of the situation.

This is the time to share in the bounty of the season’s beers.

Because let’s face it, if a collection of better beer can’t get us through the holidays and past the next few frozen months, well, I daresay nothing can.

Now, I’m going to share a fire with my old friend Fezziwig and watching it snow.

Pud’n

PS: Better Beer makes a fabulous Holiday gift. Just a suggestion, in case, you know, you were wondering what to get me.

Accidents Happen

I probably don’t need to say this, but it truly is a wonderful time to be alive as a lover of flavorful beers. In fact, this might be the best time the world has ever known for better beer lovers. Yes, certainly, in our fairly recent past (historically speaking) we struggled through a dark time when much was lost and corporate conglomerates conspired to make our beer options uniform and driven by marketing rather than craft. But today, in the midst of a wonderful modern renaissance of beer, people like us have more options than have ever before been available in one place, at one time.

In the past, your choices would have been based on regional preferences and circumstances. There were a lot of breweries in Cincinnati in the late 19th century, but I bet there wasn’t a whole lot of IPA.

Truly, we are surrounded by an embarrassment of riches.

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to find yourself just plain embarrassed too, with all these wonderful options. No, I’m not talking about the time you unknowingly tried to shotgun a Sam Adams Triple Bock to impress your date or when you bought that shiny new sixer of Icehouse, certain that you’d stumbled upon a new craft-brewed phenomenon. No, no, even more embarrassing than that (well, maybe), is the dreaded Accidental Intoxication.

In this day and age, the better beer consumer has to be very mindful about what he or she drinks; it’s not difficult to unsuspectingly spend a few hours quaffing a reasonable number of pale ales, only to realize too late that hiding deep within that coppery amber elixer is enough alcohol to bring down a rabid rhinoceros.

And yes, it’s happened to me. A few years ago, one cold winter Friday night, I was feeling celebratory for some reason or another (look! the sun came up…we must celebrate!), so I picked up a 22 oz Arrogant Bastard and a six pack of Great Lakes Commodore Perry to go with my typical Friday night DVD.

I imagine a few people read that and immediately crossed themselves because they already understand what that combination can mean. For the rest of you, allow me to explain. The Bastard is 7.2% alcohol by volume, and the Commodore Perry is 7.5%. So, that night, I unwittingly planned to consume 94 oz of pretty potent potables – which was well above the norm for a Friday night at home.

Unfortunately, back then, I wasn’t in the habit of checking the alcohol content on a six-pack of beer, regardless of its style or origin. I figured that those fancy four-packs had the high-impact stuff, so as long as stayed away from those and anything labelled with the dread phrase Barleywine, I’d be fine.

My head disagreed with me the next morning.

I didn’t drink the entire pack of Commodores, but I did happily guzzle the Bastard and at least four of the six IPAs. I believe I stumbled to bed that night, somewhat alarmed to find that the world just wouldn’t stop moving.

When the Puddinette woke me the next morning – which was frighteningly close to afternoon – she was understandably…um…aggravated and at least a little concerned. She wasn’t a huge fan of the idea that I spent a couple of hours in my recliner the previous night watching a DVD and getting bombed all by myself. Frankly, neither was I; that’s not exactly model behavior of responsibility for a father with four small children. I was just as unhappy about the situation as she was, and dumbfounded to boot. And as an added bonus, there was an unpleasant pounding between my temples serving as a constant reminder of my foolishness.

It wasn’t until a week later that I put all the metrics together and realized my mistake. It was good to find out that the incident was entirely accidental, because I was beginning to worry that my tolerance had suddenly become equivalent to that of the ditzy college cheerleader from a teen comedy movie.

From my experience that night (and the sad day after), I learned to find and read the ABV % on a six-pack before swinging it up on the check-out counter. It was also the last night The Commodore was invited to a quiet evening at la casa de Puddin. Sure, I realize now that he’s the kind of guy you have to enjoy in careful measures, but I don’t think the Puddinette’s altogether ready to forgive him yet.

So as we head into the Holiday party season, I’d like to offer all of the believers in better beer out there this simple public service announcement: while you’re minding your P’s and Q’s1 at the company party or dear Aunt Mildred’s, take a lesson from my cautionary tale in Accidental Intoxication and make sure to also mind your ABV’s.

Nobody wants to be the guy with a lampshade on his head.

Especially now that everyone has a cell phone with a built-in camera and instant access to social media sites world-wide.

Pud’n


1 Who knows why that’s a beer reference?

Thankful for Better Beer

Thanksgiving. Turkey day. It’s one of the best food days of the year; for me, it’s usually one of the best beer days as well.

I’m sure you’re probably thinking that I mean that in regard to the day-before-Thanksgiving’s unofficial position as the “biggest party day of the year.” Let me be quick to point out that that particular ship sailed for me a decade or more ago. I’m in my late 30’s now and I’ve got four kids. The last thing I need on Thanksgiving Day is a hangover the size of a Butterball.

No, for me, the reason Thanksgiving is a great beer day is about exposure, not excess.

Because I’m occasionally stubborn as a mule and get crazy ideas, The Puddinette (that’s my lovely wife of 10 years, btw) and I have made it a holiday practice each year to invite both of our families to our place for the Big Feast o’ Plenty. And since we’re having everyone over, I proudly offer a selection of Better Beers for our guests to enjoy.

Yes, I probably should get something light and fizzy, too, but my mother always told me never to get chintzy with guests.

Last year, I picked up a six-pack of Great Lakes’ Edmund Fitzgerald, their highly prized Christmas Ale, some Guinness and Sam Adams Light. I figured that would cover just about everybody one way or another, and in all likelihood, there’d be a few bottles left for me to enjoy later, after everyone headed home.

Imagine, then, my surprise to be hurrying to the only local liquor store I expected to still find open at 9:57 pm on Thanksgiving night, fervently hoping to get there before they locked the door. The stock in my cooler had been raided mercilessly throughout the day. Not a bottle remained. In fact, you could hear crickets chirping in the ice bath within.

Even more surprising was the fact I was pleased to find that my beer had completely vanished.

If you’re anything like me, there have been days in your life when striving for Better Beer has been a test of patience. Always a rewarding test, mind you, but a test nonetheless. I’m surely not the only person in the world that’s been labeled derisively as a beer snob at some point. And even if, like me, you’ve chosen to cling to that moniker with intense pride, sometimes the mocking still stings a tiny bit. I’m also certain that many of you know how lonely it can be at the grocery’s beer case as you carefully consider your options among meager choices while a cluster of friends waits impatiently at the exit, with an on-sale 30-pack of something relatively tasteless in their hands.

Believing in Better Beer is not always for the weak of will.

When I reached into that empty cooler last Thanksgiving, I felt a little vindicated for the years of weathering audible sighs and good-natured ribbing because I refused to drink beer I didn’t enjoy. The vacant cooler wasn’t the best part, though. That came earlier in the day when I noticed one of my guests pulling an Edmund Fitzgerald from the ice. “I have to be careful not to drink too many of these,” he said to me. “With the darker ones you’ll feel it pretty quick. But even so, I’m always glad to hear we’re going to Puddin’s house, because I know you’ll have some good, tasty beers.”

Admittedly, in the long run, putting up with a little shenanigans from people who just don’t get it about craft beer is, well, eventually its own prize. I mean, ultimately, you do get to enjoy the beer. But when an opportunity comes along to spread your love of Better Beer without pressure or judgment and it results in a great experience for everyone, well, now that’s a day to be pretty thankful for.

I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to offer my guests this Thanksgiving,* but you can bet your last Christmas Ale I’m going to have a few more bottles on hand than last year.

In fact, I might even set aside a private little stash for later.

Pud’n

*Why, yes, I am taking suggestions. That’s what comments are for!

Beer in the days of Puddin

It’s our distinct pleasure to introduce our newest contributor. He writes his own blog about life, the universe and everything that’s one of Tom’s favorites. When he wrote this piece about the changing of the seasons as marked by beer, Tom nearly became a stalker in order to convince him to contribute here when he could. Please join us in welcoming him, and get ready for a treat.

Greetings and salutations, fellow lovers of Better Beer. If you’ve never heard of me, and most of you likely haven’t, my name is Puddin (rumor has it I’ll occasionally answer to Jason). For the record, I’m Hoperative #24, although I’ve done little but lurk about around here, unseen and unheard. I’m sure many of you are probably curious how I ended up taking such pride in a nickname so clearly meant to be insulting, and that’s…well…a long story. The wonderful people who created and control the fabulous Hoperatives machine have been foolish enough to give me a little time and a little space to ramble about, so I’d best not waste it going on about nicknames.

Indeed, let’s talk about beer. I like beer, a lot.

My first memories of beer go back to my maternal grandfather, an old-fashioned, conservative German who was…um…frugal, and who was never once (that I witnessed) without a can of Pabst in hand. Well, with either that or the occasional something cheaper, if he could find it. I pestered him from the age of four to let me have a little drink, a tiny sip to see what it was like, and at some point during my formative grade-school years he did just that. I can’t accurately describe exactly what I thought or felt at the time, but I’m pretty sure it was plainly written on my face. In fact, I suspect I very much resembled the twisted up, wrinkled mug of those old guys from the Keystone “bitter beer face” commercials of the 90s.

I swore that day that I would never again allow such a terrible-tasting concoction to pass my lips, and wondered at the undeniable cruelty of the people who devised it. My grandmother chuckled, told me it was an “acquired taste,” and assured me that some day, I would drink beer again.

Grandmothers are generally very wise; mine was no exception. In my sad defense, I can count the number of cans of Pabst I’ve tasted since on one hand.

By the time I was preparing to graduate from college, I’d indeed grown to, well, if not exactly appreciate beer, at least put it to good use on occasion. I did all the horrible things college students are expected to do, with the usual cast of infamous and inexpensive suspects, including “The Beast”, “‘Nati Light”, and occasionally even the “higher end” light beers. Admittedly, I didn’t care for any of them too greatly, but they got the job done on nights when bourbon was maybe a step too far.

During the very chilly fall of my senior year, two good friends of mine and I began a weekly Thursday night ritual we called “Beer Night.” Beer plus video games in someone’s basement, making fools of ourselves. December then rolled around, and we found ourselves prepped for an exciting Beer Night adventure with tickets to see Nine Inch Nails at Hara Arena in Dayton. One of us nobly volunteered to drive, leaving me and the other guy free to do what college dudes are supposed to do before going to a concert: the pre-concert application of (comparatively) cheap alcohol. As we stood at the refrigerated case at the liquor store, my friend said to me, “we could get the usual (a 12-pack of something light and fizzy), but that’ll get us there quicker. Plus, it tastes a whole better.” He pointed to a six-pack of the Christian Moerlein winter seasonal from that year.

Sadly, I don’t remember exactly what that brew was named. It was a long time ago, and the fact that I remember anything about that night is still something of a miracle. Plus, that was a completely different incarnation of Moerlein. What I do remember is having a revelation as the warm, dark malt, the winter spice, and the delicate hint of hops slid across my tongue.

This was what beer was supposed to taste like. This beer had flavor, this beer had body. This type of beer was something I could truly enjoy.

That marvelous beverage, a distant relative of the beers of my grandfather, instantly earned my devotion.

A few years later I completely gave up drinking most “corporate” beer. If I didn’t truly enjoy the flavor of it, I reckoned, I was only consuming it for the alcohol. I’d gotten old enough by then that I wasn’t just chasing a good buzz anymore. Also, there are better, tastier ways to get blitzed.

I remember those few first steps along the Path of Beer Enlightenment very well, and very fondly. Not only because that young, wet-behind-the-ears version of Puddin was glad to be introduced to the tasty glory of craft beers, but also because to me, that night represented my initial turn toward a little maturity and a greater appreciation of the world as a whole.

While my trek toward maturity wasn’t nearly as successful (the Puddinette still hopes that someday I’ll stop acting like a 13 year-old), craft beer has taken my taste buds on an extensive journey from Cincinnati to California, Canada to the UK, Poland to India, the Far East and beyond. It’s a journey I’ve enjoyed every second of, a journey I hope never ends, and a journey I’m lucky and proud to be taking with each of you.

One night 15 years ago, a dumb college kid accidentally became a fervent believer in better beer. Today, there are roughly 230 Hoperatives out there, which means 230 other believers in better beer, with 230 unique stories of dedication to it.

This story is mine. What’s yours?

Pud’n