Nathan Berrong works at CNN's satellite desk and this is the first installment of his beer column. Drink up.
I just popped the cap off of a Terrapin Coffee Oatmeal Stout (or a “Wake 'N' Bake” to the beer savvy) and poured it into my favorite glass. I’m hoping it will give me some clarity and inspiration to write about one of my favorite topics – beer.
I can talk about beer for hours. I can talk about how beer always seems to taste a little better if you’re around good people or how some of the most respected beer in the world is brewed by Trappist monks, whose entire life consists of silence, prayer, and brewing phenomenal beer. I can go on about how certain beers taste better if you try them years after they’ve been bottled or kegged and how you haven’t really experienced a good stinky blue cheese until you’ve washed it down with a creamy stout. I can muse on how I don’t remember what the inside of the Basilica of the Holy Blood looks like, but I can distinctly recall the look, the smell, and the taste of what I had to drink at 't Brugs Beertje, one of the most renowned pubs in the world, also located in Bruges.
I can talk about beer, not because it tastes so damn good (which it does), but because of what it brings out in me. It incites adventure, in the form of traveling to beer destinations and creativity when I try new and different styles and end up being inspired by them. It fosters community, as nothing quite brings people together more than a shared brew and motivates as I’m always ready to cut the grass or climb into the attic when I know a beer is waiting for me upon finishing.
Apart from adolescent partying, I didn’t really start to drink beer until my late college years. While my friends were buying the cheapest beer possible, I was drinking “classier” beers like Guinness and Bass. Not only was I making a statement with my juvenile “I’m different than you” snobbery, but I also genuinely liked the beer I was drinking. I didn’t have to develop a taste for it like my friends did with their watered-down lagers; the beer I was drinking was already good. What started out as a statement of originality ended up turning into one of my biggest passions in life: drinking good beer and helping others discover it.
It might sound a little silly to those not familiar with the good, or "craft" beer culture of today, but I am passionate about beer the same way people obsess over wine, Nascar fans get psyched for the next Sprint Cup Series, or my wife delights in finding that perfect antique piece for our home. Everyone has a hobby and mine is beer. I plan vacations around beer. I collect beer glassware and (unopened) vintage beer cans. I even have this crazy dream that one day I’ll make a career out of it. But for now, I’ll just talk with you.
Good beer, is almost like a precious little secret that only a select few know about. That “select few” accounts for less than 5% of all beer consumption in the United States. The other 95% is the beer you see in Super Bowl commercials, in grocery store aisles, and at college frat parties. Ya know - the brands that everyone knows about, even the teetotalers. These brands do not need a megaphone.
I want to talk about the other kind of beer, the kind that could use a little exposure. The “secret” beer. As is the case with most secrets, some people want to keep it a secret, and some people want to tell everyone they know. I fall into the latter, because when it comes to beer, the more people that know about the complexity, the flavor, and the diversity of it, the better for all of us.
The craft beer industry is booming right now. The Brewers Association, the most reputable source for beer-related information, lists 1,753 breweries that were active in the US in 2010 – the most ever since the late 1800s. While the overall volume of beer sales fell by 1% in 2010, craft beer volume was up by 11%.
These craft beers include beers that ferment spontaneously in open air which give them a desirable sour taste, Quadrupel style beers that taste like caramel raisins, Russian Imperial Stouts that look like motor oil, Double IPAs that will destroy your taste buds - in a good way and Rauchbiers that smell more like bacon than beer. I’ll write more about the 100+ styles of beer in the future, but for now, this should be a good starting point. Or rather, stopping point.
As I finish up this introduction, I’m simultaneously finishing my last sip of my favorite beer, the aforementioned, Wake 'N' Bake. It must have worked, because now I have an empty glass and the first installment in my column.
I’d like to know what you think. Leave a comment below and let me know what your favorite beer is as we explore this vast world of beer together.
Peace and cheers to you and yours!