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Confessions of a beer snob

I’m a bit of a beer tourist and a beer snob. I would like to be more of a geek than a snob, but I almost invariably alienate when I’m attempting to inform. This is in part because I’m a self starter.

My first sip of beer was when I was 18. A friend was imparting to me the virtues of beer and he insisted that I drink a bottle. I took a very small sip and said, “That tastes like watered down water.” I didn’t try beer again until I was a few years older. I don’t really regret being turned off by bad beer when I was 18. What were the odds of being exposed to anything of quality in Hibbing, Minnesota in 1987 anyway? Probably the same as when Bob Dylan lived there, the same as when I lived there, and the same as now: almost zero. But the next time I tried beer was in Phoenix, Arizona in 1995... watered down water. But I stayed with it this time and realized that all of these thin, yellow, watery drinks had something good deep down inside of them, not anything good enough to keep me drinking them, but good enough to keep on searching for better beer. Knowing that even an adventurer can cover ground more efficiently with a guide, I searched for information, since there was no one to be found within my group of beer peers who had any interest in anything but the comfort of blandness. I veered toward the darker beers, and even one day felt ready for a Guinness (oooh, it’s so dark!). The first time I tried it, I had to use a straw to drink below the creamy head. By the next time it had become my favorite beer. The third time I had it, it was light and refreshing and I took some with me to Mexico for the beach. After my first Guinness, I realized that I could think beyond the sensory disturbances of any beer if I drank in a more thoughtful way. Never again would I “drink below the foam”, but I would appreciate the completeness of every beer or discard its blandness and move to a better vantage point.

My first foray into true beer snobbery was a successful one. Spring of 1999 at the top of the Stratosphere in Vegas: I described the beer I hoped to find ...a beer unlike any I’d had before. I gave a long and complex ode to the beer I hoped to find. It wasn’t elegant, but the point seemed to have been made to the waitress. Whatever the case, my description of an unknown beer was the best I could do, but it was proof that I was a budding beer snob.

The bottle she came back with was Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale. I thought it was a joke at first, some sort of novelty beer, but it was exactly what I was asking for. I tried it and found that it was even better than what I was asking for. I realized that someone out there had not only brewed the beer I imagined, they had made it even better than it was in my imagination. The next night I was back there having another AB. When I arrived home in Phoenix, I had to go looking for this beer. Not being able to easily find it anywhere made me ask for it and tell others to look for it, request it at stores and to search out others of its ilk. It was painful waiting for local stores to call and let me know it was in.

A while back I was having a beer with Fred Kraus (he was buying) of Oak Creek Brewing in AZ, and he was describing his first tastes of Anchor Porter and Anchor Steam in the mid 70’s in the same way I described my first taste of Arrogant Bastard. He actually said, “it just knocked my socks off”, but I believe the sentiment is the same.

By now my own adventures had been accompanied by the helpful assistance of a full complement of Michael Jackson books. It didn’t take me long to find a whole mind-boggling spectrum of beers from around the world. Belgium was outstandingly represented in the mix. But then everything stopped, the world wasn’t keeping up with my demands. I could no longer go into a bar (even one with 40 + taps) and try something new. I could rarely eat at a restaurant anymore because the beer list wasn’t interesting enough. I would walk into a bar and feel transported back to high school by the poor quality and/or poor selection. I couldn’t drink that urine in high school and I’m not drinking it now!

Now I’ve been brewing my own beers for quite a few years. I’m such a beer snob that I refused to do a simple extract brew as my first beer. When I drink bad beers, I can often identify where the problems lie and confidently say, "I can do better than this!"

When I go out to eat, the polite banter between me and the waiter/waitress quickly degrades when it is time to order drinks. “What beers do you have?”, I ask. The list is given. “What other beers do you have?” “do you have anything else?” “nothing left over from a party or event?” (that one has worked for me in the past) “are you ever going to get anything good to drink?” etc... I know that sometimes they might spit in my food and get me all disease-y, but that is the life course I have chosen. It is the way of the beer snob and I can never turn back.

--Thomas Ale Johnson