At 30 years old, puberty is about as far from my mind as Pogs, Boys II Men, Doug, Shaq’s horrible movies and chasing girls around the playground. Now I have bills, P.O.S., Archer, Shaq’s basketball commentary career and trying not to get restraining orders from chasing girls. Even with these legitimate adult distractions, lately I feel like I’m in a new form of adult puberty. Beer puberty.
Regular adolescent puberty was bad enough; who doesn’t remember that awkward period between childhood and adulthood? As boys transitioning to men, all sorts of crazy changes start happening. Voices creak and crack like an elephant walking over 100 year old wood flooring, feet grow way too fucking fast for their own good and hair sprouts on faces, legs and junk. Worst of all, uncontrollable erections start popping up like Whack-a-Moles at the most inconvenient times. Yes, let that imagery sink in. Simple pleasures like silk boxers can turn one young man into a fucking Chuck E. Cheese game.
Now think back to when you first started enjoying craft beer. I bet your tastes now are miles away from where you started. I bet you enjoy a few beers that you couldn’t imagine drinking when first learning about the wonderful world of beer. In my opinion, this is the voice cracking, hair spouting, boner popping equivalent of beer drinking, and it is a continual process. A developing palate in the presence experienced beer drinkers can be equally as awkward as middle school when there were kids with pubes as thick as a rain forest and you’re just as bald as the day you were born. First times discussing beer can be a trip stumbling through terms, processes and flavors so terribly it’s just like wanting to go stand in a corner to hide a surprise chubby. Take it from me, the majority of us have far from glamorous beginnings.
I was kind of a late bloomer on beer. It wasn’t until my second semester of college and had gone to a couple of keg parties before I started choosing beer over Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice. My go-to beers were Busch Light and anything in a 40 oz bottle, but hey, at least it was beer, right? Fast forward four years to a fateful evening when the most robust brew I would drink was Guinness, and I had a major pube-sprouting moment for my palate. I stumbled into Founders after a long night at some dive bars and, in a booze induced life choice moment, ordered a pitcher of their imperial stout. A full choir must have been hiding in their back room because once that stuff hit my lips Beethoven’s 9th erupted while hair as thick as hop vines, tough as steel wool and black like the beer I just put in my mouth immediately erupted out of my chest, armpits and testicle satchel.
Craft beer had hooked me, but I quickly found out I didn’t get that funny-pants feeling from all of it. Due to an incident in college that involved a lot of puking and subsequent dry heaving during a math final, I held a severe loathing for whiskey for many years. Consequently, beers aged in bourbon or whiskey barrels were immediately rejected (read: vomited) due to the flavor. This combined with general ignorance caused me to write off an entire sub category of brew. I honestly thought I would avoid this style of beer for the rest of my life.
Without warning (and a little help from a whiskey-loving band mate), I actually started not hating whiskey and therefore, began accepting beers with those flavors. The more I tried, the more I started being able to separate and enjoy plain oak aged beers from their whiskey and bourbon counterparts. Then, I went a little crazy and obsessive like any good pubescent. It was like discovering porn. I made it a point to try just about every barrel-aged beer I could find at last year’s GABF. A few short weeks after that, a wonderful gentleman at Pints Pub in Denver gave me the confidence in my own palate to recognize beer aged on plain oak. Now I’m exploring barrel-aged beer styles other than imperial stouts. My current favorite is a whiskey barrel aged rye from Boulevard Brewing that is off-the-charts delicious. The recent realizations about my palate is strangely liberating, and I get the same feeling of wanting to shout about them from the top of a mountain like when I got my first chin hair.
But I don’t have a mountain, I have a blog and I want everyone to take away this: If you’re getting into craft beer, maintain an open mind. We all go through a certain amount of palate development and there’s no need to be ashamed or embarrassed about what you enjoy. That beer you spit out today, could be your favorite beer tomorrow. To me, beer is about having an open mind and celebrating the number of different experiences you can have by unique combinations of essentially similar ingredients and no one should ever make newbies to this world feel insecure about their choices. We can all recognize the growth we’ve gone through and appreciate our ability to evolve even as drinkers together.
An open mind and a few beers can make anywhere an adventure.