What is the mark of a good beer? Is it hoppiness? A balance between flavors? The ability to fill the racks of a beer pong game guilt-free? These are all relevant, but seemingly frustrating questions. And yet, us serious beer drinkers continue to punish ourselves with the search for answers, because we are ALL in pursuit of the next great experience. I call it an ‘experience,’ because when you get down to brass tacks, that’s all this stuff is. Food. Libations. Snacks. Treats. They all trigger experiences. Sometimes, those experiences suck. Sometimes, they are sublime.
Several years ago, I was visiting my grandparents in Claremont. It was another exceptional visit. We discussed the goings-on of my studies and other simple, but entertaining things. My dad, Greg and brother, Dylan watched sports in the living room, while my sister Kasey texted her friends furiously. Later, the discussion of drink arose.
My grandfather would often playfully chastise my brother for enjoying beers with more “pedestrian” flavors. Or, as he might have said, “No flavors.” This night was no different. Dylan went on about Corona, or Stella, or some such brew. Grandpa Steve laughed, and brought up the superior flavor of Stone IPA. He claimed that Stone is an exemplar of REAL beer. Two questions I had that night: What the hell is Stone? What the hell is IPA? Those questions were answered swiftly after Grandpa returned from the refrigerator with a glass to taste Dylan on.
Dylan took a sip and immediately puckered-up in disdain. Eventually, the glass circulated to me, a new college student with no understanding of beers. Back then I’m sure I was still trying to argue the merits of Boone’s Farm, or Mike’s Hard Lemonade. It tastes really good, bro. Seriously, it’s not just for girls. Seriously.
The first sip of Stone IPA hit hard. It tasted like a permanent marker-infused draft of tree bark tea. But then, after ruminating on the taste for a moment, the tree bark tea evolved into a strong, but delightful blend of earthy flavors. I mark that night as my metamorphosis from a Bud Light-soaked caterpillar, into a craft beer butterfly soaked in microbrew. There was just no going back after I discovered the amount of taste and power that lies inside a bottle of good India Pale Ale–particularly, a Stone IPA. Everything else became mediocre, dull even. Needless to say, my love for wine coolers was smote to the ground.
Now, even Grandpa Steve is what I would consider an “equal opportunity” beer drinker, enjoying a variety of lights and darks. To this day though, I have not heard him speak about a beer as frequently or hold in such high regard as Stone’s IPA. Therefore, because of his passion’s affect on me, and because of that fateful night, I’ve fallen into a pretentious habit of constantly comparing my beers–my IPAs especially–to Stone’s variation. Sometimes, this habit is reductive, but their bitter is just SO damn delightfully bitter! I can’t help it!
I’m hoping that this post will serve to orient you, to give you some background as to where, when, and why IPAs became so dear to me. So, if you were expecting a different sort of post, never fear! Consider this post an appetizer, a taste of things to come! After all, I live in North Park, San Diego–a town with at least two microbrews within walking distance!
As always, keep calm and drink on.