It was by coincidence that my coming of legal drinking age was also marked by the birth of craft and regional breweries. I remember when Samuel Adams Lager was still considered David among the Goliaths that had dominated and decimated the beer industry for a couple of decades.
Back then I thought that Samuel Adams was bitter and heavy. What I did not know was that bitter equaled hops and heavy equated to the use of two row barley used in traditional Lagers when compared to the “light bodied” American Style Pilsner / Pale Lager (Budweiser, Miller) which used six row barley in addition to other grains.
There are scores of beers that I remember, some that I have enjoyed more then once and several that I wish I had never ever tried, but they are all memories. Yet none of these memories, some clearer less associated with pounding morning after headaches provide me with the same joy as the first time I drank one the the following beers described below.
Tiger Beer (Singapore – Pale Lager):
I remember drinking this beer like it was yesterday despite the fact that it has been 20 years since I first drank a Tiger. I recall sitting in a hawker center in Singapore with other expatriate college students at night. It is summer and Singapore is hot and humid. We ordered our food, most likely nasi goreng and mee goreng, both which are hot and spicy. We then have Tiger Beer delivered to our table. The litre bottles arrive at the table with a thin coating of ice, the mark that the Tiger Beer will be cold and refreshing to counterbalance the spicy food and the even hotter evening. Tiger Beer is best serve cold in my opinion and is excellent with spicy hot food or just relaxing on a hot and humid evening. The beer is crisp, refreshing and finishes off very nicely. The only downside Tiger Beer being served in litre bottles was that in order for it to be enjoyed before it warmed, one either drank the bottle quickly or shared each bottle among friends.
Hoegaarden White (Belgium – Wheat):
There once was this very trendy bar off of Orchard Road that was located in a renovated shop house (row house) in Singapore. In the back section of the bar were these raised platforms where you could sit cross legged or with your back against the wall with your legs tucked under small tables and sitting on hand knotted rugs. It was a very cool experience and so very foreign to the university bars where I drank at Virginia Tech. I was there with some colleagues (a mixture of Americans and Singaporeans). The bar was very upscale and even by Singapore standards at the time, the price of beer was expensive. I remember reading the list of available beers which was quite extensive. I selected the Hoegaarden White for the description on the menu intrigued me. The beer was served with a glass and a slice of orange on the rim. I recall pouring the beer into the glass and was initially concerned that the beer was off for I had never drank a beer that was so cloudy. In my innocence I asked if the beer was okay. My one colleague assured me that this was normal for a wheat beer. After twisting the orange slice into the beer, I took my first tentative sip. After a steady diet of cheap American college beer and then the finer ice cold Southeast Asian lagers that summer, I was amazed that a beer could be so light on the tongue, packed with such a complexity of flavors. Although unfiltered wheat beers are not considered my beer of choice, I still have many fond memories of that first Hoegarden White that I drank in Singapore. The beer opened my eyes to the possibilities that there was much more to beers then I had previously experienced.
Dogon Millet Beer (Mali – Millet)
While serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in The Gambia, West Africa, I traveled to Mali with some of my fellow volunteers. We were visiting the Dogon Country and were exploring the different villages, village ruins and cultures which make the Dogon people very unique among the peoples of this part of West Africa. Many of the Dogon’s are animists and had not converted to Islam. I recall in one village stopping after a particularly long trek up the cliffs being offered a calabash bowl of millet beer. At the time I was sick with Giardia, but the chance to try a local beer even if brewed under very dubious conditions was far more important then any possible additional sicknesses I could experience. Having been afflicted with Giardia, nothing could be much worse. What I remember was a cool (relative) liquid that reminded me of beer, but was much more tart (not bitter – no use of hops) then I had experienced. It was refreshing and was exactly what I needed that hot afternoon. I do not remember if there was any residual carbonation or the level of alcohol, but in retrospect I consider myself very fortunate to have had the experience of drinking Millet Beer in a small village literally hundreds of miles from electricity and plumbing.
Czech Beer (Czech – Pilsner & Lager)
If I could remember one specific beer from the Czech Republic that I drank a few years ago while working on a project in Hradec Kralove I would specifically mention that beer. Czech Beer to me is like pizza, I have never met a Czech Beer that I did not like. More to the point, I did not drink a draft Czech Beer that I did not like. If you are a lover of lagers and pilsners, then the Czech Republic is your mistress. It is like being a child in a candy store. In retrospect, I believe that there are a few elements that make the beers from the Czech Republic superior. It is probably a combination of all of these elements and are simply my own personal thoughts. It must be a combination of the local ingredients (hops, barley, yeast and water), the inherent pride of the Czech in brewing beer, the long history of beer in the Czech Republic, the optimum climate to produce a lager, the exactness of the mechanics in producing the right amount of carbonation for a draft beer and the competition among breweries in a culture where beer is synonymous with their lives. If you ever have the chance to visit the Czech Republic, then sit back and enjoy the local beers and all that they have to offer. You will forever be changed by the experience.
Shiner 101 (U.S.A. (Texas) – Pilsner)
It had been a couple of years since I had worked in the Czech Republic and was sitting at home with no beer in the house. I went to Spec’s in Houston and was looking through their nice selection of beers when I came upon Shiner 101. Over the past few years, the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, TX introduces a annual beer. In 2010 the beer of the year was Shiner 101. I read the label of the beer and knew that I had to try this beer. It was described as a Czech Style Pilsner. No other marketing or advertising requirements were required. I purchased the chilled six pack, brought it home and an hour later there were four empty bottles. I was in love with Shiner 101. I am not a poet of beer being able to describe the flavors, aroma and experience in detail like many others, but this beer was as near to perfection as was possible. Over the course of the Spring and Summer of 2010, I would purchase Shiner 101 by the case, something that I have never done in the past. Sadly, with most special offerings, the brewing of Shiner 101 ceased and has not been brewed since. The Shiner Brewery offers a variety of lagers and ales, some available in six packs and others only available in a selection six pack, but in my opinion, nothing will ever compare to the Czech Style Pilsner of the Shiner 101 which was perfect for the Spring, Summer and Fall seasons of Houston, TX.
Summer Pils (U.S.A. (Texas) – Pilsner)
The first time I drank Summer Pils from Saint Arnold Brewery was after having unsuccessfully stood in line for a beer festival in Houston last summer. After having given up hope that we would ever gain entrance, my friends and I gave up and drove to a bar in mid town where we sat outside and the first beer we purchased was a pitcher of Summer Pils. The first mug and even the second mug when down like liquid honey after standing in the hot summer sun of Houston for a couple of hours. Saint Arnold Brewery brews a pilsner that is made for the hot, humid long lasting summer of Houston, TX which extends from April to October. Summer Pils is not the best pilsner that I have experienced, but it is a well crafted and a consistent year to year brew to be the “go to” beer in Houston for our long summers. Summer Pils has the right balance of ingredients that invites you to drink this beer and to be enjoyed again and again.
In retrospect, when I look at the list of beers that I remember so well, I cannot help but wonder if the majority of my most memorable experiences with beer is heavily influenced by the climate and weather. I have been living in hot and humid environments for the past two decades and it is only natural that my fondest memories gravitate to beers that are best suited to the locale in which I was living at the time. I am confident that I will continue to experience beers in the ensuing years that will be just as memorable as a impression as these six beers.