The Session #15: How It Started

It seems to have become a tradition for me to post my contributions to The Session a day or two late. (Or in the case of last month, not at all – which is too bad, since the topic was an interesting one that I would’ve liked to have tackled if I had the time.)

So in that spirit, here is my delayed answer to the following question as posed by this month’s hosts, Boak & Bailey:

We’d like you to write about the moment when you saw the light. At what point did you realise you were a beer lover / geek / enthusiast? What beer(s) triggered the conversion? Did someone help you along your way, or did you come to it yourself?

In short; how did you get into good beer?

I actually touched on this topic a bit in my very first post to this blog back in July, 2006, where I wrote the following:

My interest in good beer […] started when I was going to school in Waterloo at a time that coincided with the start of Ontario’s modern craft brewing culture. Waterloo was at the epicentre of the scene in the early days, with Brick, Sleeman and Wellington all located in the area. It didn’t take me long to realize that there were better beer options than Labatt and Molson, and I’ve spent the following two decades – and the last few years in particular – exploring the world of microbrews and craft beers as much as possible.

Expanding on this: I attended the University of Waterloo from the fall of 1987 to the end of 1988, at which point I decided that I enjoyed working more than I liked school, so I dropped out and convinced my employer to bump me up from a co-op student position to a full time employee (and incidentally, I’m still working there 20 years later).

As noted above, the first wave of Canada’s modern craft brewing scene was just taking off at this point, and a lot of the action in Ontario was centred around Waterloo and surrounding towns and cities such as Guelph and Cambridge. The Brick Brewery was located quite close to the campus, so some of the first beers I drank at the school were their lagers – although to be honest, I wasn’t an especially discriminating drinker, so I’d be just as likely to be seen pounding back Black Label or Molson Golden (the latter being the preferred brand of my next door neighbour in the dorm who I split a case with each weekend).

The first time I remember drinking a beer that seemed unique from the others in flavour and quality was during my final term when I was at my favourite hang-out, Phil’s Grandson’s Place, and the bartender recommended I try this new beer they’d just gotten in on tap called Sleeman Cream Ale. Compared to every other beer I’d had up to that point, it had a darker golden colour, a fuller body, and a slightly richer flavour. Certainly nothing exciting compared to what I drink today, but at the time, just the fact that it was noticeably different – not to mention pretty tasty – was enough to make me take notice.

Once I’d made the permanent move to Toronto, I continued to dabble in new beers fairly often. I still drank some mainstream brands, like Black Label (pretty much the official beer of Queen Street at the time, thanks to one of the earliest examples of viral marketing) and Molson Dry. But the micros of the day – Upper Canada, Conners, Creemore Springs, Formosa – were also regulars in the rotation. And hell, the very fact that I had a “rotation” and didn’t stick with one brand made me pretty unique.

This casual sampling continued for the next ten years or so, but then a couple of things happened in the late ’90s and early ’00s that caused my interest in craft beer to really spike.

First, in 1998 I read an article in Eye Weekly about the Belgian-style wheat beer Celis White, which Brick had just started brewing for Ontario on contract. Since Hoegaarden wasn’t yet the ubiquitous brand that it has since become, I was completely unfamiliar with the style, but the description of a beer brewed with spices and orange feel intrigued me, so I tried it, loved it, and ended up consuming a lot of it that summer. Soon after that, I somehow stumbled across The Bar Towel, which was a pretty quiet site at the time, but still lead me to beers and bars that I’d never heard of before.

And then in 2000, I went to Montreal for the first edition of the electronic music festival MUTEK. The last couple of days happened to overlap with Montreal’s renowned beer festival, Mondial de la Bière, so I headed down to check it out one afternoon, and proceeded to have my mind blown by the variety of beers available. That was the moment that I decided this beer thing was really for me.

In the years since then, I’ve discovered RateBeer, became the news editor at Bar Towel, written about beer for various places, started this blog, gone to numerous beer festivals and events, and tasted and (mostly) enjoyed over 2100 different beers. I’ve also met some fantastic people – brewers, drinkers, writers and bloggers – all of them amongst the friendliest folks you could ever hope to meet.

So that, in my usual long-winded and roundabout fashion, is how I got into good beer. You can find out how it happened for a bunch of other people (all of whom are more punctual and organised than me) by checking out the round-up of this month’s Session. I’ll do my best to be more on the ball when next month’s edition rolls around.

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