As I stared at the long list of bottled beers at the Epic tap-less taproom, my mind drew a blank. I was stunned by the sheer volume of beers and only 30 minutes in which to drink them before they closed the place down. I have never seen so many beers available at a taproom before. My friend Blackmer and I bellied up to the bar where the above-average looking bartender stood chatting with another customer. This was no ordinary taproom, this was a tap room in Salt Lake City, Utah. What was once a notoriously barren desert of craft beer (due to a strict 3.2% law with a religious bent) now has a couple cactuses and, boy, are the cactuses flowering – at high gravity nonetheless (only because they have to; the law states that if a beer is above 3.2% it has to be in a bottle, so that’s a nice loophole).
The man sitting at the bar next to me, a business man also staying at my hotel but for a trade show, was also clearly very knowledgeable about beer, suggested I try their Copper Cone Pale Ale, saying it was one of the best he’s ever had. He asked me what my favorite IPA was – not just beer, but IPA. This is not the first time I have encountered this question but it was the first time I was hyperaware of my lack of beer knowledge in this particular situation and my desire to not only seem knowledgeable but interesting in my beer tastes. Anything I said wouldn’t have resonated with him, he doesn’t know Surly Furious or the Rush River Bubble Jack – or maybe he does, but he wouldn’t have truly understood what they meant to me on a deeper level, as a proud Midwesterner; he was clearly intimate with the beers of the West, and I was dumbstruck, paralyzed by my own inability to commit and be judged outside of my flannel comfort zone. I avoided the question, saying I would gladly take his recommendation but I sat tentatively on the edge of my seat. What had I gotten myself into?
The sad truth is I am honestly used to knowing more about beer than the majority of the people around me, and even if they have a strong opinion that I would fundamentally disagree with (I don’t believe in hopped-stupid beers and I firmly believe that Fulton is a good brewing company), we’re on the same page. Naturally I am one page ahead of them, or so I like to think, but that page is definitely in the chapter known as ‘Minnesota and other upper Midwest breweries.’ It was at that moment, as I took a bite into the best prosciutto and Gruyere panini I’ve ever had (it even had honey on it, what?!), I realized – I have become too myopic in my beer crusade. If I cannot even commit to a universal, or at least national, IPA that I genuinely enjoy, I am doing something wrong.
The real kicker is, however, the realization that I am ignorant of other awesome beers out there, making me the most insufferable beer snob akin to only those who reside in Portland, complacent with their local beer selection and ever-so-gently reminding you that no, craft beer from Portland is the best. I only really know my local beers, and as I said in my Growler magazine article, my favorite anytime beer is the Summit Oatmeal Stout (don’t even go there, I already recognized in said article that it is a silly choice, but I’m just being honest). If I am to be the craft beer lover and advocate I pretend to be, I need to do more in the way of higher education; as we all know, education doesn’t end in school, it’s everything you do all the time – good thing I drink beer all the time, so that part is easy. But the hard part is going out and seeking things you haven’t tried before and not just putting beers from the coasts on a pedestal as the end-all-be-all, an attitude that I attribute to my reactive Midwestern beer myopia, which in a way is almost just as bad. It is exploring all the styles, beers and breweries you can get your hands on to get a better understanding of the larger context, and more specifically, the ability to just shut the hell up and pick a favorite IPA that everyone knows and can relate to. So, watch out, America – this beer snob is about to get a much-needed beer education.