Monday, August 27, 2012

A Beer Evolution

One of my favorites- June 2011
Beer.  Its the universal elixir.  I'll take a quality glass of red wine over a beer on most days but a good beer can be hard to resist.  I'm not talking about the watery mass produced brews most Americans associate with beer; Budweiser, Miller, and Coors- brands that are quintessentially American and served as "imports" in every part of the world except America.  Bucking the trend of most women I know (yes, this is a stereotype, so for that, I apologize), I prefer a dark beer to a light one any day.  In fact, the darker the better.  My favorite from my college years is Black Cat Stout from the Northampton Brewery in Massachusetts.  When I do drink beer I would enjoy it for what it was but never really thought about how it was made or the science behind its production.  And then I met Glenn..........

Driveway brewing- Norfolk VA circa 2006
One of the first things Glenn told me about himself was that he was a home brewer.  This fact didn't necessarily impress me but I had a vague idea of what it meant.  Or so I thought. (In hindsight the full-sized chest freezer that had been converted into a keg-o-rator that dominated the kitchen should have been a clue).  I quickly learned that when Glenn said he was going to brew a batch of beer it would be an all day endeavor and I had better find something else to occupy my entire Saturday.  Brewing for Glenn is serious business.  I didn't completely understand the brewing contraption that took up a good part of our garage (and later got a permanent built-in spot in the remodeled garage).  What I did know was that when it got rolled out into the driveway, all of the men from our neighborhood descended upon our house in Norfolk like moths to flames.  (The same thing happened in our Washington D.C. neighborhood to a lesser extent).  I could stand at the kitchen window and watch as the men would reluctantly answer their ringing cell phones to explain to their wives (who also had a full view of our driveway from their windows) how Glenn needed their "help" and they couldn't possibly return home.  Admittedly, I was grateful for this "help" since it saved me from having to go outside to hold the hose or assist in some other mundane task.  Of the neighborhood "help", one man was truly legitimate.  Kevin has since gone on to establish O'Connor Brewing Company.  His brewery took off after we moved away but from what I've seen and heard, it is a success.

Paying homage to Sam Adams- Boston September 2006
Whether we are traveling or dining locally, a menu that includes a wide selection of beers is always popular.  If there is a local beer on tap Glenn is always willing to give it a try.  In Norfolk a favorite restaurant was Cogan's Pizza where beers ranging from local brews to PBR and everything in between was always on tap.  I think it was here that, much to Glenn's delight, I fine tuned my beer preferences and truly started enjoying a wider range of beers.  When visiting family in Maine we discovered St. Andrews Brewing Company, a very local Mid-Coast Maine favorite.  Like many regions in the United States, Maine is home to numerous micro-breweries that offer a variety of unique yet quality beers.

Old school in Copenhagen- July 2012
We don't necessarily plan our vacations around cities that are home to breweries (at least I don't) but we have been known to tour those that fit into our itineraries.  When in Boston we toured the Sam Adams Brewery where we sampled a variety of beers that included Glenn's favorite- the original lager- and his least favorite- the cranberry lambic.  (Sam Adams is such a favorite that we shipped numerous cases to Albania with us and stock up on it whenever we visit an American military commissary.  Glenn doles out these precious bottles selectively so being offered one means you are truly a special guest). A trip to Acadia National Park included a visit to Bar Harbor Brewing Company where blueberry infused beer is on the menu- it was much better than I had anticipated.   A trip to Copenhagen wouldn't have been complete without a stop at the  Carlsberg Brewery where Sidney's response to the thousands of beer bottles on display was to sigh deeply then state "so much beer".  (He is definitely his father's son).

Our move overseas required Glenn to leave his brewing equipment behind.  I think this was the hardest part of our move since Glenn not only enjoys drinking beer but he loves brewing it as well.  Without his equipment he hasn't been able to brew since we have been in Albania- the closest we have come is to attending a raki burning- but he has been able to find beers that are surprisingly good.  We were both shocked to learn that Albania has its share of homegrown breweries.  Our favorite local beer by far is Korce E Zeze (dark Korce) from the Korce Brewery.  While good though, I'm not sure it is in the same league as those from international breweries.

So how is a beer lover to cope?  Unfortunately, most of our travels throughout the Balkans do not provide opportunities for great beer consumption.  Occasionally we will discover something exciting but all too often the import selection revolves around the mass produced American beers we won't even drink when we are back in the U.S.  While we're open to local suggestions, we're realizing that in order to experience really good beers, we must head north.  So it should come as no surprise that upcoming travel plans for the fall include trips to the Czech Republic, Austria, and Germany.  Apparently if we can't bring the beer to us, we'll go to the beer.


  1. I am not a beer drinker, but from what I understand from my sister and brother in law you MUST try Belgian beer. There's a brewery in Bruges that my father and sister toured when we were there!

  2. I continue to enjoy your accounts of the Brown family adventures - both the words and the photos!
    It is very refreshing that both sides of my family have good taste in beer and ale by a very overwhelming margin. Sue and I were thinking of you during our recent road trip to an Amry reunion in Southport NC - as we were traveling through PA we stopped to purchase a 6-pack of Yuengling, remembering it best from your wedding reception. Although we just wanted the 6 pack the proprietor said "Oh you must be from out-of-state - here in PA we can only sell by the case at retail liquor outlets - around here you would have to purchase a 6 at a tavern." We bought the case.
    Glenn's taste with the Sam Adams line is exactly mine - and Sue's. If we get a mixed case at Christmas we always have the lambic left over. We give it to a friend who used to be a home brewer - with all the micro availability here these days he says he doesn't have to any more.
    I remember the "bad ol' days" when Michelob was exotic. Tried a bottle of their "Ultra" last year and found that the first taste was the best and it got less enjoyable as I worked to the bottom of the bottle!