430 New Beers in Two Years.
17 February 2016
My first experience with beer was quite formative. I was 5 and was standing in front of my father’s kegerator with a dixie cup. Before you quickly judge my parent’s abilities, I must note that there was a lock on the faucet. I was able to muster out a bit of foam which I did sip. The [Miller] MGD made such an impression on my young taste buds that I refused to touch beer, even after I turned 21.
Something happened when I was 25 that changed my perspective. I was out with a friend and a pitcher of Sam Adams Octoberfest was ordered for the table. This particular beer opened my eyes and I was hooked. I kept to beers that I knew, mostly wheat beers and the seasonal offerings that are commonly found. It had such an impact that I had Sam Adams Octoberfest on tap at my wedding. The groomsmen all received personalized ‘Maßkrug’ 1L glasses.
From there I stuck with what I knew. The occasional Hoegaarden and regular Sam Adams where all I needed. Something happened shortly after I entered parenthood. I found myself really enjoying that beer or two to unwind after the kids were asleep. Economically speaking it made sense to build a kegerator. Plus it was a fun project and I enjoy making things. I started with Sam Adams 1/6 barrels and very quickly moved to 1/4 barrels from local breweries like Capital Brewery and Milwaukee Brewing Co. These beers were the run of the mill IPA, or the entry-level “beer geek” beer. I eventually settled on Karben4’s Fantasy Factory which I enjoy so much that I build a second larger kegerator when Karben4 decided to only supply the Milwaukee market with 1/2 barrels.
While I had a decent beer always on tap, I was slowly trying new beers. Mostly staying close to the “IPA” style of beer. The hoppier the better. It wasn’t until I inadvertently purchased Bell’s Hopslam that I opened the door to a whole new level of beer geekdom. I continued down this path and developed new favorite breweries like Bells, Southern Tier, Avery, 3 floyds, Oskar Blues and so on.
The tipping point happened two years ago today. I got my hands on some 3 floyds Zombie Dust and for some reason decided that day was the day that I would download untappd and log the different beers I try. This changed everything. I was able to easily record what I tried, and also how much I liked it.
My rules for the last two years on untappd (and until I’ve ran out of new beers):
1) Always try something I’ve never had before when given the opportunity
2) Only repeat purchase for beers I truly enjoyed
3) Annual release beers count as new beers for each year
While earning badges and gamifying the world of craft beer can be considered dumb — it helped change my perspective. I decided from that moment that I would always try something new when possible. I structured my dinners out or my beer purchasing around this mantra. In two years time I have drank or sampled 430 different beers.
This experiment helped me learn new things about myself and expand my own horizons. I learned that I love Belgian beers. I also really enjoy a dark stout in the colder months. I’ve acquired a taste for balanced beers and the hop intensity is no longer my measuring stick. I feel more open minded in general.
This journey has been fun and I’ve tried to not take it too seriously. I’d like to go to festivals, brewery tours, or special release days at breweries. I’ll just need to wait until the kids are older until I get that much time off for my hobby.
I can take what I’ve learned and enjoyed in a few more directions. I’ve always considered home brewing, although I do not have the time for it now. I could try to get into more international beers or styles I’ve not fully opened up to yet (Sours, Barleywines, Saisons). I could also learn more about how to grade a beer more academically rather than a simple 1–5 scale. I don’t know if any of those will further my enjoyment of this hobby though.
I’ve been inching towards developing more of a collection and dipping into the ‘bottle share/trade’ scene. There is a tipping point I need to cross first where I acquire more than just a bottle or two of the desirable low-production beers. Otherwise I simply would not have anything to contribute.
When I say I don’t take this too seriously, what I mean is … While there are the rare “perfect beers” out there that are highly desirable, the important thing to remember is that the best beer is the one in you hand. Enjoy it and be happy.
Originally published at www.jonschwenn.com on February 17, 2016.