Why I have a thing for beer

Enjoying a brew at Upright Brew House, a New York Craft Beer Bar in the West Village, Manhattan.

When I picture a beer drinker, I picture an overweight, gross, obnoxious, bearded, loud, body-odour-y man. I am almost all of that except, female underweight (as of yesterday, I am at the cusp of normal weight).

I was about to turn 23 and never drank before in my entire life. I may have had a sip of wine at weddings but nothing that had an impact on me where I thought about it every day.

As an amateur photographer I was exploring the city with a friend and tried a somewhat distressing photography project that could have landed me with a fine or a little jail time, get pecked to death by falcons, or falling over the edge of a 40+ storey rooftop. After that experience, we decided to review the pictures we shot, over a beer. I thought, “sure, why not?”

We entered Thirsty and Miserable, a grimy, hole-in-the-wall bar in Kensington Market, where we were greeted by a surly young lady. The bar had no Heineken, no Stella, no Corona. Still dazed by the falcons and almost dying, I sputtered out the first menu item: Péché Mortel by Dieu Du Ciel.

This brew was black as night. It smelled like coffee. “I like coffee!” But like whoooosh, I was hooked in by the complex taste journey it led me from sip to finish. I went back the next day by myself to try another. By the end of the week I was ecstatic to discover that beer has a heart and a soul.

I began to scour all the niche bars in the city and ordered without reading the menu. I calibrated my bartenders with my favourite beer of the moment, and asked them to go on an adventure in the cellar to find me the next greatest brew. I obsessively studied beer more intensely than any calculus exam: I took classes, read books, creeped on forums, attended numerous brewery tours and festivals, tasted flights, and scribbled tasting notes in little notebooks by candlelight.

At Bar Volo, one of my favourite bars in Toronto.

After amassing all of this knowledge, I have become somewhat annoying to my peers. While I am filled with trivial information, the feelings and experiences that beer as afforded me has been something bigger. I dove into the depths of beer land for a few reasons:

Being in the moment. The term ‘craft beer’ has been tossed around by so many breweries that I feel that it has evolved into many subgenres that are too hard to keep track. To me, craft beer is something you could never consume more than once. It is small-batch and available for a very short amount of time. Craft beer has a creative, experimental process, and different each time it is brewed. That emphasizes the idea that you need to pay attention to what you’re drinking at that moment. Put away the electronics and shut up. Be one with the beer and truly focus on the little things that are happening in your mouth.

Patience. Some beers are best enjoyed bottle-conditioned or aged, particularly the Belgian ones. I like that I could open up one now, and open up another a year later and try to taste the difference. It’s like seeing your favourite band perform when you were 16, and again when you’re 26. Has the beer changed, or is it you, that has changed?

When beer entered my life, it took me by surprise. I could’ve been sucked into the world of coupons, Breaking Bad, pottery, eating contests–anything! But beer? If you told me that I’d be able to tell the difference between a lager and ale when I was a wee girl, I wouldn’t believe you.

There will be moments when you think you know yourself, and so sure of your preferences. But something or someone will come along and totally pivot your so-called path. And that completely unrelated thing or activity will lead you to all sorts of interesting places and people that will lead to experiences you never once considered. All it takes is a “sure, why not?”.