Beer and I have had a long and loving relationship, sure there have been fights and we have hurt each other but through our years together we have had more good times than bad and we always kiss and make up.
My very first beer was a Molson Brador, I traded a sweet Dogtown skateboard for a twelve that my friends and I split before the school dance. I don’t remember enjoying a single sip but we made short work of the beer.
Up next was Labatt 50. 50 (or Cinquante as I prefer to call it) has been with me my whole beer drinking life, I don’t drink it exclusively as I did but I still have a bottle once in a while. Choosing 50 for me was a bit of a nod to my enjoyment of doing things a bit differently. My friends were mostly Canadian and Blue guys (it was North Bay) but I wanted something a little different. 50 was an Ale not a lager I would boast, that and it was safe at parties because no one else wanted it. I drank a lot of 50 and never really strayed until the mid 90s when we discovered you could buy beer at the LCBO.
The main draw of beer at the LCBO at the time was that you could get big beers. Oh we looked cool with tall cans and 750ml bottles. This is when I first set my eyes on Chimay. It was a beautiful tall bottle with a cork and an old world label. We had to have it. It was a sunny saturday afternoon and we sat in my future in-laws living room over looking the lake and popped the cork. We poured the beer out and we were horrified by the sediment. After a few sips we declared that this was the worst beer in the world. We poured most of it down the sink.
A big moment in Beer and I’s relationship came when the first english pub opened in North Bay. The Bull and Quench opened our eyes to Guiness, Smithwicks, Bass… and a whole world of new beer flavours. We were on our way. We were no longer satisfied with domestic beer, we were import snobs.
In 1996 I took a trip to Montréal to visit some friends that were going to school there. Much of the trip is a blur but what is clear to me are the beers that made me realize good beer could be made in Canada. We were lured by the clever names, interesting labels, and let’s be honest the high ABV. La Maudite changed everything for me, quickly followed by La Fin du Monde. These beers had a complexity that I enjoyed and packed a kick. When I returned home I could not find these beers in my hometown but the seed was planted. I had to seek out new and interesting beers.
1998 is a big year for Beer and me. I had recently moved to Ottawa so the LCBO selection improved but the biggest jump was the time my wife and I wandered into Pub Italia. The Beer Bible blew my mind. Beers carefully presented by region, by style, by taste… This is when I started to realize that this could really be serious. This is where I rediscovered Chimay and the error of my 18 year old palate. This is where my taste buds where bombarded with tastes and sensations they had never experienced. We spent many Saturday nights in Pub Italia and any visitors that even showed a glimmer of interest in beer were brought to my church.
My relationship with beer is currently in a locavore phase. I drink Ontario brewed beers with a few others that come my way, even some macros. I only first heard the term “Craft Beer” 4 or 5 years ago, before that we used Microbrew. I have tried many “microbrews” over the years and my current beer intake is almost exclusively craft and more specifically Ottawa Craft Beer. So technically my first “craft” beer was probably a Chimay or a Unibroue but my first beer I had that was sold to me as a craft beer was Heritage Dark. It was decent brew and it really made me pay attention to the burgeoning beer scene in Ottawa. The scene is Ottawa is completely different from where it was when I moved here and light years from the scene my initial love of beer came from.
All the phases of my relationship with beer from the “let’s get wasted on 50” to the “what imports do you have?” to the “What’s local beers do you have?” have helped form me into the beer drinker that I am today, so if you want a simple answer as to how I met craft beer well it isn’t simple. I have looked for well crafted brews for a long time and now it not only has a name but a community.