I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was a young lad living in (or rather close to) Peoria, IL. I had recently graduated college, and I was enjoying a booming career in radio broadcasting.
Though to be honest…I use the term booming very liberally (and with a great deal of sarcasm)…as 70 hour work weeks for $16,000 a year is not exactly what most would consider successful.
At any rate, I was full of piss and vinegar and ready to take on the world. More than anything though...I was thirsty.
It was during this time that I really found an interest in beer. I had done my fair share of beer drinking prior to this, but that was your average college stuff…the cheaper the better. Forget about taste. Buzz was all that truly mattered. And what our beers of choice lacked in body and character, we more than made up for with quantity.
One of the places I would often visit during my time in Peoria was Old Chicago Pizza. The food was good. The atmosphere was decent. The beer list was massive. They had things from breweries I had never even heard of. Shit, they had beers from countries I hadn’t heard of.
As an incentive to get you to drink more beer, they offered patrons the opportunity to take their beer tour. They would give you a card, and they would keep track of all the different beers you had tried. Drink them all, and they would place your name on the prestigious “Hall of Foam” – a plaque located just outside the Women’s restroom. It was a challenge I was down for.
With the Hall of Foam as my new life’s ambition, I began tearing through the beer list. Visit after visit, never drinking the same thing twice. It was all about the points and free shwag along the way. Before long, the beers really started adding up. I got a free shirt. A free pizza. A free mug. A free hat. The incentives kept me coming back.
The thing is though..I didn’t really like too many of the beers. They just weren’t in my wheelhouse. I was excited to try new things and expand my palate, but I was going about it all wrong. I was closing my eyes, dropping my finger down on the menu, and the closest beer I hadn’t tried would be my pick.
I didn’t know yet what I liked. I waded through a lot of beers that simply weren’t for me just to get my name on a plaque at the back of the bar. But then it happened…love at first taste.
One night, the world of craft beer simply opened up to me. I was introduced, by sheer fate, to a beer that truly stood out above the rest. Not because the others were inherently bad, but because at that moment, this beer was speaking my palate’s language.
That beer, my freinds, was Flying Dog’s In Heat Wheat.
It was beautiful. Smooth and malty with just a bit of sweetness. I loved the slight haze. It was uhhhhhhh-maaazzzee-ing. And how could you not love that label?!
It was the first time that taste wasn’t the only thing that mattered to me. The feel of this beer in my mouth was outstanding. Full but rewarding. The aroma was simply delightul. Slightly spicy and fruity. The bubbles floating amidst the slight cloudiness were enchanting. This beer was not just a drink…it was an enjoyable experience and an absolute pleasure to all my senses.
I didn’t know that beer could be that good. But at that moment, for the first time in my beer drinking life, I knew what I liked….and I understood that “what I liked” was what truly mattered. Craft beer was no longer a mystery. Flying Dog was my road map and flashlight within the world of zymurgical awesomeness.
From there, I started to dabble with other hefeweizens and wheats. I didn’t love them all, but I found that I disliked fewer and fewer. I learned to respect and appreciate the differences…the tiny nuances…that made each one unique in its own way.
Instead of drinking one beer than jumping onto the next, just to rack up more points, I shifted my strategy. I slowed my pace, and instead of jumping from type to type, I focused my attention. If I liked a beer, I would order a second and maybe even a third. If I didn’t, I would make my mental notes as to why, then move on.
I moved away from the Peoria area before ever getting my name etched into the Hall of Foam, but in retrospect, I have no regrets. My new found appreciation for quality over quantity was all the reward I ever needed. My eyes and tongue had been opened to a whole new world.
As the years have passed by, I have been more than happy to continue my journey into craft beer. From appreciative drinker, to homebrewer…and with any luck…to brewmaster. And while my palate has continued to evolve during the course of this journey (some might call me a bit of a hop-head these days), I still occasionally like to pop open my old fave and reminisce.
Flying Dog. You were my first true craft beer love. Thank you.