Craft beer Twitter can occasionally be a cesspool of bad-faith arguments and hype worship, but at it’s best it is a great community of passionate beer fans having interesting and engaging discussions on a variety of topics. One thought-provoking series of recent Twitter threads discussed how you started on your path to becoming a beer geek, the people, places, circumstances and, of course, the important beers. In different articles over the last 6 years writing on Hoppy Boston I’ve touched on various parts of my journey from a college kid swilling Natty Light to hardcore beer geek and beer writer, but I’ve never recounted the whole story. After replying quickly to the following tweet from @afrobeerchick, I thought it would be a good opportunity to rehash the key pieces that got my journey to beer nerdom started.
I was always kind of a nerd in high school, high honor roll and more nights studying and playing video games than attending parties. Things changed when I landed at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. At Bowdoin I met a bunch of other people who had academic goals and interests but also liked to party and drink beer. While Natty Light and Bud Light were the staples of college parties I was always interested in exploring other beers when I had the opportunity. Whenever I had a few extra dollars to spend I would obtain some better beer. Unfortunately, I had no idea what constituted better beer, so Killian’s, Bass or Newcastle were regular choices. My tastes evolved from there as I started trying and apprenticing new beers. My friend Tim spent summers working on an island off the coast of Portsmouth and introduced me to Smuttynose, so I quickly fell in love with Old Brown Dog and Shoals Pale Ale. The Maine beer scene was still in its infancy, but beers by Shipyard and Geary’s also became staples of my college beer fridge. The seasonal releases from Sam Adams were a revelation, I loved how well each complemented the season of its release. When @ourdoreen made this weeks #LetsBeerPositive topic formative beers these were some of the first that came to mind.
After I turned 21 I became the primary keg-purchaser for my college rugby team and for the off-campus house where I lived with a group of my friends, so I made frequent trips to Brunswick establishment Uncle Tom’s Market. From the chipped paint to the worn-down floors and dusty shelves Uncle Tom’s was very much a seedy convenience store. In addition to supplying the majority of kegs to the Bowdoin campus, their wares featured a perfect shopping list for a college-aged frat boy, with dried meats, gag gifts, porno mags, solo cups, and ping-pong balls. But don’t let the Budweiser sign that hangs out over Route 1 fool you, Uncle Tom’s Market also features an incredible selection of craft beer, especially by early 2000’s standards (yep, I am old). On many keg runs I would also grab a 6-pack of something good for my own enjoyment, Uncle Tom’s introduced me to beers from Sierra Nevada, Saranac, Harpoon, Magic Hat, and many others. On parents weekend we would special order a keg of Geary’s Pale Ale. My friends and I were such good customers that Tom and his nephew Dan, the co-owners, would let us know when they could get us specials (usually beer that was just about out of code) allowing us to keep nicer beer on draft at the house. We never minded grabbing a few cases or a keg of Octoberfest in November/December if we could get it for half price!
My craft beer journey took another step forward when I graduated from college and moved to the Boston area. In addition to trying all of the new beers available at the local package store, my roommate Colin and I bought a homebrew kit and started making our own beer. The products of our tests ranged from decent to so bad that a group of guys in their early 20’s dumped it out, but the experience taught me so much about beer styles and ingredients. Colin went to medical school and I started graduate school, so we gave the gear away, but I kept the books and when I finished my PhD my girlfriend at the time (who is now my wife) got me some new homebrewing gear as a gift. I don’t brew much anymore, my time is limited with the young kids, I don’t drink enough to justify making 2 cases of beer, and my palate has gotten really good at differentiating between pretty good and great beer (and the beer I made rarely surpassed pretty good). That being said, homebrewing was a major part of my journey and education as a beer drinker, and I highly recommend that every beer geek give it a try at some point.
In graduate school I was overworked and underpaid, but quality beer was the one luxury I allowed for myself. I also lived across the street from Sunset Grill and Tap, famous at the time for having the largest selection of beers in the area. Trips to Sunset introduced me to beers from around the world and many styles I had never tried before. I had my first pint of beer from Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project at Sunset. In addition to trying everything I could at Sunset I frequented the local bottle shops and started to focus my drinking on the local upstarts that were starting to emerge at the time like Night Shift, Notch and Jack’s Abby.
This journey continued as I finished grad school and entered the working world, and was aided immensely by the bump in paycheck. I tried what I could, and read a ton about beer styles and ingredients, and started following local beer blogs. One night I was having beers with a group of friends at 5 Horses in the South End, one friend asked for a recommendation and I took stock of what he liked and picked something for him. Soon after I was doing a similar favor for others at the table and one of my other friends suggested I start my own blog about beer (she had written a wine blog off-and-on for years). A couple weeks later Hoppy Boston was born.
That is my story, from college kid drinking swill to full-fledged beer geek and beer writer. Now I will throw a similar question to you all. What were the key events that led to your growth as a beer fan? What beers blew your mind early on and made you want to learn more? Feel free to comment here or on my social media feeds!