Seven years ago I bought a notebook called 33 Bottles of Beer.
On the front cover, where it said “Date Started,” I wrote: Nov. 7, 2011. Brutal IPA is the first entry. I sampled it at the Rogue Brewery outside Portland, Oregon. I gave it 3.5 stars and it cost USD$2.00. My notes were basic. “Easy on the throat. Not that hoppy.” I didn’t even finish the flavour wheel.
It’s the fourth entry — dated Nov. 8, 2011 — that marks the point that I fell for craft beer.
The beer was Abominable (A-Bomb) from Hopworks Urban Brewery. I sat perched by the bar with my girlfriend (now wife) with a tasting flight. The manager wanted to know where we were from (Toronto). And he wanted to know what the craft beer scene was like at home. I probably said non-existent. He rattled off a bunch of places we had to visit. I interrupted, telling him we were only in town for another day. That’s when he concocted a plan.
He told me to call him later that afternoon. If we had limited time in Portland, there was one brewery we had to visit. I wrote his phone number down. Afterward, Jess and I set off, remarking at his friendliness and passion for beer.
Jess wasn’t feeling great that afternoon. But she encouraged me to follow through on the plan. I met him at Deschutes. I’d never seen a place that dedicated to beers that didn’t taste like Molson or Labatt. Sorry Mill Street and Steamwhistle. My guide knew almost everyone behind the bar. We tried new and exotic brews — many of them called IPAs. The experience was great. We had a few pints and talked shop. Soon I had to meet Jess for dinner. Brandon’s pregnant wife arrived and shuttle me back to the hotel.
That experience stuck with me. Beer could be more than Coors Light or Labatt 50 or Bohemian. These were beers I used to drink. Beer could have flavour and you could become a connoisseur and make friends with people who loved beer too.
Less than a week later some friends invited us to the soft launch of a new brewpub on Ossington Street. The name of the place was Bellwoods Brewery.
A lot has changed since then. You can buy craft beer in Loblaws. I don’t love bitter IPAs anymore. In Canada, craft brewers are all about sours and wine/beer combinations. Bellwoods now has two locations and is always packed.
I’ve sampled craft beer in Finland, Portugal, Argentina, Brooklyn and Croatia. But I still haven’t finished my book.
My goal is to complete 33 Bottles of Beer before 2019.
11 beers to go.