How I learned to love craft beer

True story: I didn’t begin regularly drinking until I was 29 years old. Not at all coincidentally, that was my foray into the world of professional writing.

Also a true story: At age 14 or so, some friends and I managed to purchase a crate of beer from a location in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn that shall remain nameless. We downed so many brews on a scorching summer day that the resulting hangover made me vow to never drink again. Hence, the age 29 thing above.

Founders Nitro Oatmeal Stout

Pictured: Founders Nitro Oatmeal Stout, a remarkably smooth craft beer.

So, yes, my relationship with beer was a complicated one until very recently. It was a devil’s brew that brought teen me to a condition that I considered near death. But even after giving beer a second chance in 2003, I still didn’t love it. Or even like it. Everyone around me downed Budweiser, St. Ides, Michelob, or some other swill. But I kept at it, sampling things here, sampling things there, because I figured that there was a reason otherwise sane adults returned to the stuff.

Thankfully, living in New York City gave me the opportunity to discover liquid gems. Frequent visits to beer halls, such as Brooklyn Brewery and Paulaner NYC, introduced me to quality beer. I had yet to learn the term “craft beer,” but I knew those establishments carried suds that were above the common ones you’d find in your local corner store. And they had cool names! Ale! Bitters! Lager! Pilsner! Porter! Stout! I tried them all, and slowly eliminated the awful ones (usually the  hop monsters) from my taste catalog. I became literally and figuratively intoxicated with the discovery of new beers and breweries. In fact, whenever I step into to a bar, the first thing that I order is something unfamiliar. Listen, I’m about that beer life.

It wasn’t until I cracked Jeff Alworth’s The Beer Bible that I discovered why I became so enamored by craft beer. As I sat reading, often late at night, I found myself hanging on his every word as he walked me through the history of beer. Alworth’s descriptions of the brewing process, ingredients, colors, flavors, and heads made me realize something: beer drinking is a truly sensual experience. Your eyes react to the color as it’s poured, and the resulting head. Your nose catches scents as they rise from the glass. Your tongue snares the taste and aftertaste. Your tongue registers the feel.

That may sound odd, but when you down something as silky as Southern Tier’s Imperial Pumking, the liquid glides over the tongue with a richness that you just won’t get from a lower-class beer. It’s a “mouth feel” that once experienced, takes beer drinking to another plane of existence. There’s no other consumable that dazzles those four senses as sexily as craft beer. Pizza, one of my former favorite edibles, doesn’t come close.

I must admit that I’m a borderline beer snob, and I see myself traveling that road as I discover new breweries, styles, and flavors. I even went so far as to order a set of beer glasses, because I read that drink wares’ shapes can enhance aroma and taste. It may or may not be true, but I’ll take the chance with the beer glasses, as I simply want the best possible pour.

And, lastly, I can’t discount the freshness factor. Though I genuinely enjoy exquisitely made beers based on the brews’ merits, I must acknowledge the joy that comes with participating in any new, exciting activity. A craft beer aficionado, at least this one, enjoys the deliciousness and the thrill of the hunt.

And as a New Yorker, with access to hundreds of bars, it’s a splendid chase.

R.I.P. Harpoon Chocolate Stout

The Barcade chain receives a heap of well-earned attention for keeping the arcade scene alive in a world where home video game consoles produce graphics, sound, and gameplay that we couldn’t have imagined in the 1980s and 1990s, but it doesn’t get enough props for the other part of its portmanteau-powered moniker. Barcades, as a whole, are rather impressive bars that boast a surprisingly robust craft beer selection.

A week ago, a friend and I visited the St. Marks Place Barcade, because I had a hankering for a cold one after reading Jeff Alworth’s The Beer Bible.  The establishment’s beer menu read as quite delicious, but it was Harpoon Brewery’s Chocolate Stout that caught my eye. The brew’s official description is one that no person of drinking age could resist.

A chocolate stout is a beer with a noticeable dark chocolate flavor. This flavor is created from the use of darker, more aromatic malt that has been roasted or kilned until it acquires a chocolate color. Harpoon Chocolate Stout is brewed with an abundance of chocolate malt and a touch of chocolate.

I had to try it. And after downing a sample served by a perky barkeep, I ordered a glass. And after ordering a glass, I was in love.

I’ve had the opportunity to taste just three chocolate beers in my lifetime, and Harpoon’s joint is easily the best of the lot. The first chocolate beer was so bad that I should  remember its name, but I don’t. The second was DuClaw Brewing Company’s Big Baby Jesus, a tasty 6.2% chocolate-and-peanut butter porter that fell just short of greatness. And now this.

I thoroughly enjoyed Harpoon Chocolate Stout. It’s one of those beers that dazzle the senses with its inky flow, chocolate scent, smooth feel, and, of course, rich taste. The cocoa beans-and-roasted-malt combo is potent one that hits the tongue with a jab and cross—there’s no question that you’re drinking a chocolate-based beer. The chocolate flavor is an immediate one, unlike Big Baby Jesus’, which has a flavor that sneaks up on you. Still, it’s not overwhelming. Harpoon Chocolate Stout isn’t a liquefied candy bar; it’s a beer through and through. Sadly, Harpoon Chocolate Stout is no longer with us.

Maybe the beer is simply too good for this world.

I intend to make my return to St. Marks Barcade sooner than expected to salute a wonderful beer. I would pour out my next sip for the gone-too-soon brew, but that would simply be a waste of valuable drops.