Beer carries so many wonderful associations for Aleheads. Everyone remembers the first beer they ever had, or the first time we cracked a brew that’s become a particular favorite. And a beer you had at a particular occasion of note can often bring you right back to that moment when you consume it again many years down the road. Given how often we Aleheads tend to be involved in beer consumption, many of our memories may include the imbibing of a great (or not-so-great) beer. And so this week’s Conundrum should be easy: What is your best beer memory?
The rules: Tell us the memory, and what beer you were drinking.* You must remember the occasion yourself (i.e. you cannot report on a memory that someone else had to tell you about the following day). And this should not be your favorite awful beer memory (that will likely be the subject of a future conundrum).
*Note: A beer doesn’t have to be good for a memory to be good.
SIR MAGNUS SKULLSPLITTER
Best beer memory? That is tough. I don’t think I can rank them in such a way that would determine which was “best.” However, I do remember my first true Alehead experience. While it’s impossible to say if it is my “best,” it is certainly one of my favorites. (cue fade to flashback)
Over a decade ago, I was but a young Scot braving the cold, cold tundra of New Hampshire. I spent my days deep in study, and I quietly passed my nights reading a good book while sipping a fine 18-year-old single malt. It was about this time that I was approached by two young lads, who introduced themselves as Brother Barley McHops and Mr. Slouch Sixpack. While I was unclear why a Belgian monk would be cavorting with one such as Mr. Sixpack, I decided to give these fellows a chance and see what adventures they might discover.
One fine weekend, Barley suggested that we travel down to his home in bucolic suburban Boston, where we could find a magical place known as Kappy’s. Apparently this “Kappy’s” sold all of the finest ales, and Barley suggested we bring those brews back to the McHops Monastery (Massachusetts Edition) for sampling and general carousing. Being accustomed to Scotch and the occasional glass of fine wine, I was unfamiliar with the quality of tastes available to a true Alehead. Slouch and I agreed to let Brother Barley choose our brews, and he chose well. After a quick stock-up tour of Kappy’s, we arrived at the Monastery and retreated to the basement to sample our chosen quaffs.
Given that this was many beers ago, I cannot now recall every single one of the beers we tried that night. In fact, given that it was my first experience drinking beer with an ABV above 6%, it’s amazing that I really remember much of anything from the night. I do remember that it was the first time I had tried the Young’s Double Chocolate Stout (which, of course, is a wonderful beer), Orval (obviously fantastic beer) and the Samuel Adams Triple Bock (wow was that terrible). It was also the first time that I had a chance to sample my namesake beer, the Skullsplitter from Orkney Brewery. I remember thinking that it tasted like peat, and not in a good way. I’ve actually been meaning to revisit this brew, though, as I’m curious to see how I would like it now that I have developed a slightly more refined beer palate.
From this evening, a true love of all things ale was born. I have drank many wonderful beers since then, but I will always remember that first sip of Young’s Double Chocolate fondly. To this day, I simply cannot drink any chocolate stout without remembering the basement of the McHops Monastery and a weekend spent drinking quality brews with two complete jackasses. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank one “Elway” — whose slush funds paid for it. Ah, the good ol’ days of drinking on someone else’s dime.
BROTHER BARLEY MCHOPS
Thank you, Magnus for that trip down memory lane. Mr. Sixpack and I used to make somewhat frequent treks to the McHops Monastery North (a humble locale ruled over by Gramps McHops with an iron fist…and by “iron”, I mean “marshmallow”). But that first trip with Magnus was certainly the most memorable. On that jaunt, we also sampled a Young’s Old Nick (I believe the first barleywine that young Magnus ever tried), Harpoon Winter Warmer (of course), Sam Smith’s Winter Welcome, and the late, lamented Otter Creek Hickory Switch Smoked Amber Ale. Beyond that, my beer-soaked memory has faded like Magnus’s…
As for me…I have two memories worth sharing. The first, as is often the case when it comes to Aleheads earliest beer memories, involves my Pops (the aforementioned Gramps McHops). Gramps, as I’ve noted in the past, was not exactly the finest disciplinarian in the world. Like the Baron’s kind-hearted Dad, Gramps’s general outlook on life is that everything his children does is the best thing in the history of ever. As such, he wasn’t so good at establishing or enforcing “rules” (which I certainly appreciated). When it came to alcohol, Gramps was very strict about drunk driving (probably a good thing), but otherwise he let me make decisions for myself. That lax attitude ended up leading to a strong bonding ritual between Gramps and I as we would make regular pilgrimages to the local package store and Gramps would let me select a smattering of craft brews to sample with my peers on the weekends. While most of the Aleheads’s Dads weren’t particularly strict in terms of curtailing their progeny’s alcohol intake, I suspect Gramps is the only one who actually drove me to the liquor store on Friday afternoons to pick up that weekend’s suds when I was a Sophomore in high school. What can I say…he’s a good man.*
*Oddly, considering my own predilections, Gramps is actually not a drinker at all. He loves to sample any beers I recommend, but he rarely, if ever grabs a beer of his own accord. This was actually a huge bonus for me in my teenage years because I knew that I had an eternal designated driver waiting for me at home. It’s less helpful now that I live 1200 miles away. Although, knowing Gramps, he would still pick me up if I called…it would just take him awhile.
I discovered so many wonderful brews because of Gramps’s munificence, but my favorite memory was, naturally, our first trip together. I had some friends coming over (including Doc) and sheepishly asked Gramps if he could buy a sixer of beer for us. To my surprise (in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised at all), he not only agreed, he said we could go together and I could pick it out myself (I’m sure he regretted that moment in later days since once that seal was broken, I abused his generosity to no end). We drove down to the store and I was bewildered by the massive variety of options in front of me. I knew, even at that tender age, to avoid all products made by the unholy triumvirate of BudMillerCoors. The Boston Beer Company was the biggest craft brewer in MA back then (and the biggest in the country now), so I decided to be a homer and grab something from good ol’ Sam Adams. I found a lovely-looking sixpack of their Golden Pilsner…a brew you won’t find on the shelves these days as it has long since been retired. It’s not a style I particularly enjoy…and I’m sure if I drank it today, my jaded tongue would be bored to tears by it. But back then, with my novice Aleheads palate still learning its way, the beer tasted like ambrosia. I’m sure the fun of picking out the brew with Gramps was part of it. And I’m sure the “illicit” consumption of said brew in my basement with good friends was part of it. But I can honestly say it was the best beer I’ve ever drank…and the beer itself was completely besides the point. That brew started me on a path of craft beer appreciation that I’ve never strayed from.
*As I write this, it occurs to me that the Golden Pilsner may have been the perfect gateway beer to my becoming an Alehead. Up until that day, most of the beers I had taken swigs from were of your standard crappy American pale lager variety. The Golden Pilsner was basically just a much better version of that style. Had I selected a stout, IPA, or Belgian brew, my inexperienced taste-buds might have revolted. But because I selected something that tasted like an improved version of what I assumed all beer was supposed to taste like, it made me feel sophisticated and “successful” in my purchase. Thus, the floodgates were opened.
The second memory has less nostalgic connotations, but was equally memorable. Doc and I went to Ireland after our Freshman year of college with the goal (like all American college students traveling to Ireland) of drinking ourselves across the verdant countryside. After our long-ass flight to Dublin (and with no real plan in mind), we disembarked, somehow wandered over to the Guinness Brewery, took the Guinness Hop Tour, and parked ourselves in the beautiful taproom in the lower levels of the Guinness Museum to grab a free pint. I’ve probably consumed more Guinness than any other beer on Earth (and it’s definitely been as important a brew on my personal beer journey as any other), but that was far and away the tastiest pint I’ve ever quaffed. Essentially straight from the source, smoother and creamier than what you get in the States, and with my mind addled by a long flight and little sleep…that beer was absolutely incredible. It was also, I should point out, the beer that converted Doc from an Alehead Acolyte to a true Alehead Apostle. So that’s gotta be worth something.
LORD MASHTUN COPPERPOT
It will surprise none of the Aleheads that know me to hear that Lord Copperpot was a tad late to the beer bus. In fact, I missed that bus by several years. So I ask you to travel back in time, about 9 years, to meet a younger Lord Copperpot as a freshman in college. He was certainly smarter then than he is now, and he had much more hair on his dome.
But he’d never had a beer before.
That changed one glorious winter night. As the sun went down on a Friday, you could see the clouds roll in, feel the biting cold on your ears, and smell the coming storm. Snow would certainly be falling that night, and all over campus, the emails swirled announcing that a snowball fight on the Green would happen later that evening.
After dinner, a friend of mine and I went to a random dorm party that was being thrown by some complete douchebag. I remember hating this guy the first time I met him. Just an awful human being, really. But hey, I was invited (no idea why) and he had free beer at the party. Moreover, for some primal reason I wanted to break my beer hymen that night. My first was a can of Coors Extra Gold. I could have done worse, I suppose.
Anyway, because I am a spiteful man who is not to be trusted, my buddy and I stopped in for a few minutes, grabbed a beer, then stuffed a few more beers into our jackets while nobody was looking, and bolted. Ha! We showed that douchebag! The victors ambled through the snow and downed 3 cans each on our way over to the green. As we drew closer, we could hear the screaming and shouting of the largest snowball fight I’d ever seen.
The adrenaline from the fight, coupled with the buzz I had going from the Extra Gold, made that evening one of the better experiences of my college career. Because just ask my friends…it was pretty much all downhill for me from there.*
*Editor’s Note: Yes it was.
DR. RIPPED VAN DRINKALE, III
I like stories. I remember quite well the trip to the Guinness Hops Store with Brother Barley and bellying up to the old bar in the basement (Which has now been replaced by a fancy skytop bar). I wholeheartedly agree that this one experience changed me over from a casual fine ale drinker to a professed beer snob. Not because it’s the best beer in the world, because it’s not, but because from that day forward I started to open my mind and try anything that was set in front of me. The best part about the Guinness Hops Store back then was that you received two “Tokens” upon entering, each good for a half pint of Stout (Or a full pint if you cashed in two). As most tourists were simply there for the experience and didn’t particularly care for more than a half pint, it was only a matter of minutes before our hands were full of leftover tokens. With all that free drinking going on, I started to question why my ancestors left in the first place (Oh, right, famine). Anyway, I don’t want to tack onto Barley’s memory too much so I guess I’ll share one that’s solely my own.
I’ll take you back to a month or two after I graduated college, when the Mrs. and I were embarking on a whirlwind adventure of backpacking through Europe on $40 a day. With roundtrip tickets to London in our hands and a 3 month Eurail pass, we set out on a course that would take us all over Western Europe, parts of Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and the British Isles. At this point my beer education was high in some regards, but lacking in others. I appreciated many styles and had sampled some interesting brews from all over the world, but I still mostly stuck with what I liked. Pilsners, Brown Ales, the occasional nitro Stout, that’s about all I was buying those days. The only reason I bring up my limited tastes in beer at that time is to emphasize just how amazing it was when I stepped through the doors of what may be the best beer bar in all the world. Located in the medieval city of Bruges in Northwest Belgium, the Brug’s Beertje cafe is a little hole in the wall that has over 300 Belgian beers. Seriously, 300 Belgian Beers, most with the appropriate glassware that came straight from the brewery. The first choice for the evening was made completely by picking the coolest glass that was sitting behind the bar. Now the Pauvel Kwak isn’t a particularly great beer, although it has its merits, but the fact that the traditional serving is in a miniature yard glass, complete with stand, makes it very cool indeed. After that I went straight to the Cantillon Kriek, a cherry Lambic from the greatest Lambic brewery the world has ever known. Up until that point I had never experienced being punched in the face by a beer, so this was quite an experience to a young beer drinker that had no idea what he was getting into. I haven’t a clue what happened after that point since we stayed all night and drank everything in sight, but I’m sure we had some tasty brews and I’m sure I was happy with every sip. I should point out that the Mrs. and I stumbled into the Brug’s Beertje based on a recommendation from Brother Barley, who had visited a year prior, but I’m sure he’ll mention something in the comments.*
*Editor’s Note: Actually, I’ll mention something right here. Holy shit, I love that bar.
I have so many wonderful memories involving a number of the Aleheads, and this Conundrum has been a great way to revisit a few of them. I believe I was actually present at Lord Copperpot’s snowball fight, though we didn’t encounter each other directly that evening as far as I know. Fortunately we’ve shared more than a few beers and memories since. I’ve also been lucky enough to visit the McHops Monastery North and partake of Gramps’s kind and generous nature, and have even managed to survive an evening or two with Sir Skullsplitter and The Commander. I’m pretty sure Slouch Sixpack actually killed me a couple of times, as I’m really not up to his standards of hardcoreness, but it was completely worth it as there really aren’t a lot of better fellows to tip back a few brews with. I may even get to record a new memory or two this weekend, as I believe the good Professor is making a trek out my way. As for Ripped and Sudsy, I’m hoping I’ll get to grab a beer or two with you boys next time I wander out toward New England.
As for my best beer memory, I don’t think I could ever narrow it down to one. But certainly one of the top few has to be an occasion when I was in NYC my junior year of college for a singing engagement with an a cappella group when I was an undergrad. My whole family had flown in as well, and after a triumphal concert we all went out to the Russian Tea Room for a celebratory dinner. Not only was the meal flawless, the service superb, and the company as good as one could ask for, but as an added bonus that evening was my first exposure to the glory that is Chimay Blue. I’d had a few Deschutes and Magic Hat beers to that point, but I distinctly remember stopping in the middle of the conversation and just staring at my glass in disbelief when I had my first sip. That was the moment when I stepped across the line from being a guy who drank beer to a guy who loved beer.
We’d love to hear some of your great beer memories too, dear readers, so post them as a comment if you’d like to share! And, as a bit of a post-script, if you have ideas for future Conundra feel free to let us know! You’ll of course receive full credit if we end up using one of your ideas.
Now get out there, work on making some bad-ass new memories, and…