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Monday, February 4, 2008

Benefits of Beer Proselytization

Seventeen years ago, I worked at a small start-up pharmaceutical company in Ft. Washington, PA. One of the friends I made there was a young chemist, Tom Lawler. Tom was a good guy, and we got along well, but Coors Light was where his beer world began and ended. I decided to open his eyes to the variety that was available -- which wasn't really all that much, in 1991, in the Philadelphia area.

The first cracks in the wall were Yuengling Lager and Killian's Irish Red (which was a significantly beefier beer in those days). Tom took to them, and we ran around in Berks County, drinking Yuengling and eating the local Pennsylvania Dutch chow. We grabbed a new toxicologist at the firm, Les Gibbs, a Bud man, and broke him in on beer variety, too.

We toured the Yuengling and Lion breweries (talk about back in the day...our first Lion tour featured scrounging up some hardhats, and duckwalking under tanks in the crowded old fermentation hall). We took a day off work to go down to the old Dock Street brewpub at 18th & Cherry for May Day, when they released their bock and had a farmer bring three goats into the city.

The high point while we were at Greenwich was probably in 1993. (Warning: long and rambling reminiscence ahead.) Eight of us did "The Long Ranger Trip," a three-day journey into New England, where we visited New England Brewing (where I first met Phil Markowski), New Haven Brewing (where we had a very funny and profane tour and walked away with an unexpected free case of each of their beers...those were the days) the Hartford Brewery (where the beer tasted like there'd been a cleaning solution incident, except the alt, which was good), Northampton Brewery (where one of our gang got a quick French lesson), Commonwealth (a sadly missed brewpub that was all about cask ale), Harpoon (we sucked down a lot of Oatmeal Stout on the tour, during which it started snowing heavily), Cambridge Brewing (where we had one of the coolest yards of beer I've ever seen; a dark beer floated on top of a lighter one, and the dark spiraled down into the light), and then a harsh run up a very snowy I-95 that ended just short of the Maine border where we finally gave up and ditched it for the night in a hotel. We'd planned to visit the Portsmouth Brewery and Gritty McDuff's and Geary, but the three hours it took us to go fifty miles up I-95 convinced us otherwise.

The next day we made the 11 AM tour at Catamount, did some drinking at the Inn at Long Trail (still a favorite stop; we dropped off about half the guys here, they were going to stay and ski at Killington), took in the self-guided tour at the old Long Trail brewery (and bought lots of stuff from the powerfully cute woman in the hospitality room), and then finished up in Brattleboro at The Latchis (back when they were still brewing; we were terribly gruffty and rough for the white linen dining room, but the waiter was extremely gracious about it) and the last stop, appropriately, was McNeill's (as rough and gruffty as we were, but friendly, and the beer was excellent).

As you can see, the beer education process had gone well. The point of this whole long post was last night, when I was over at Tom's house for the Super Bowl. The three of us -- me, Les, and Tom -- stood in his barroom, where beer posters lined the overhead, and his "shrine" of Yuengling collectibles and antiques sat proudly below the plasma screen. Each of us was holding a glass of draft Tröegs Nugget Nectar from the sixtel he'd reserved for this occasion, served on his two-tap home draft system (Miller Lite on the other tap, he's a reasonable man). That's when Tom gestured at the shrine, and held up the beer, and said to me, "You know, this is all your fault." We clinked glasses and grinned.

The pleasure of having turned someone on to the fuller joys of the broad spectrum of beer was gratifying. Getting invited to a party where there was draft Nugget Nectar was a nice side benefit as well!


Anonymous said...

I must say, Lew, that it's a good thing I am not a Mormon or a Jehovah's Witness, because I have been proselytizing beer for a couple years now and have had a lot more fun in the process and have not had one door slammed in my face. Devine providence has only ensured good fermentation on my homebrews and a more descriminating palate when I choose to "sample" someone's craft.

Anonymous said...

Lew like you I have taken the reins and done this [serious social beer education] as everyone..haha nobody escapes my better beer "lecture!"

But this is me, part of my ways...whether its about music, beer, food, or coffee...I'm a born zealot/advocate!

Deuane said...

Great post Lew...ahhh that prose about your run up to New England brings back some fond memories of doing much the same thing!

I thought I was so cool having visited some of those far flung micros!

I was infected with the microbrewery visiting bug after being out west in 1993! During that trip I hit Anchor, Widmer's, Pike and Wynkoop....

The beginning of a lifelong sickness I fear!

I try to do a bit of "beer sermoning" myself at times...;-)

Anonymous said...

Profane? New Haven? Was Ron Page there at the time?


Good stories Lew.

Lew Bryson said...

Gotta be careful on sermons, guys; you don't want to just piss people off. I find the way that works most often is to find beers that confirmed light beer drinkers can handle -- a helles, a lighter hefeweizen, or yeah, Yuengling Lager -- just to get them to try something different. Once you've cracked the brand loyalty, you get the wind blowing through the cobwebs of their beer-drinking brains, and they can start to think about trying something else. I still say: it's about variety, not quality.

Loren, this was not during the Ron Page era. Brewer was Blair Potts (it amazes me that I remember that off the top of my head, and that I heard he left brewing because he had a hops allergy), and the profane guy was then-partner Jim Gordon.

And Deuane, you were cool to have visited those breweries in 1993!

Anonymous said...

I like the stories as well, but I gotta share this one with you.

I had to take my deposit bottles back to my local beer distributor (NY) on Super Bowl Sunday. It was 12:30 (they open at noon), and it was sad. I have more beer in my basement than they did in the store that day. And what they did have doesn't count (in my opinion, anyway). 36 pack cases of Coors Light was ALL they had there. I didn't eben bother to ask any questions, beacuse the answer would be..." comes in on Thursday..." AAUURRGGHH!!!!

A quick side note, a local bistro has Hennepin on draft(YAY) and the owner told me that he's looking for some good beers to rotate in...needless to say, I got him a list the other day... we shall see...:)

Lew Bryson said...

You know... I looked back over that post today, and realized that, rambling though it was, the wonderful thing about it was how much from that trip came back to me, unbidden, without checking notes or looking at pictures. I could go on and on about that trip, it was just magic. That's some of what I miss today; this kind of trip's almost too easy now. I can hit that many breweries in a day if someone else is driving, and never leave the state. I love the beer...but I do miss the adventure.

MicMac said...

Lew, my Englishness means I need help with one of your references - your friend had a "french lesson" - can you define this for me? My over-active imagination is doing fine without help, but I am still intrigued. Cheers, MikeMcG.

Lew Bryson said...

I'm afraid it was just what it was: a short, albeit condescending, lesson from a waiter on pronunciation of a couple French terms on the menu. At which point our boy said, "Yeah, okay, bring me one of them. And another porter."

MicMac said...

Ha! oh well, OK - I still enjoyed the piece muchly.
ObBeer (as we used to say on rfdb etc - just finished a sh*te-ly long brewing day (I'm locuming at a new local micro, I'm still getting used to the plant, so long brew days . . .) came home to a lovely bottle of Williams Bros (Fraoch heather Ale fame) 'Joker' - really nicely put together 5%abv hoppy pale ale - good packaging, freshly bottled, a classy beer. Mmmmm.