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My Beer Backstory

A lot of people will tell you that beer is an acquired taste.  Well for me, it was acquired pretty darn easily and fairly early in life.

When I was a kid, we would hold family parties three times a year; Memorial Day, July 4th and Christmas.  My dad had four brothers and two sisters who were all married and several also had kids.  The point is that these were pretty big affairs.  If there was one family tradition it was that no one left hungry so there was a lot of food and even more beer.  There was only one beer ever served - Genesee Beer in 12 ounce deposit bottles.  It was pretty much family tradition that it was OK for the older kids (by older I mean teenagers) to partake in a beer or two.  I pretty much fell in love with the taste of beer after about my first sip.  Two things happened when I was a senior in high school in 1977; I turned 18 (which was the legal drinking age in New York at the time); and I got interested in beer can collecting because a couple of my good friends had already gotten into it.

The first bar I was ever a "regular" at was Walt Slattery's Horseshoe Tavern.  One thing you didn't need to go to Walt's was to be of legal age.  If you were tall enough to look over the bar, you were OK by Walt.  If you weren't tall enough I think Walk had a stool behind the bar that you could use.  I was never a big underage drinker.  I'd be lying (with too many people who know the truth still around) if I said I never consumed an alcoholic beverage before turning 18.  I visited Walt's a couple times prior to my 18th birthday.  Most of my friends in high school were somewhat "regulars" at Walt's.  My fondest recollection of the Horseshoe was 35 cent 16 ounce Genesee Beer drafts.

I have to give credit to a place called the California Brew House for really getting me interested in the whole beer scene.  Located on West Ridge Road in the heart of Kodak Park in Rochester, NY, the Brew House claimed to have "250 different beers".  It was not a false claim and if anything somewhat conservative.  My associates armed with our newly minted driver's licenses often ventured to the Brew House to sample some of the out of town beers and leave with the empty cans.

There was no shortage of beer in the dorms at the University of Buffalo from 1978 to 1981.  This was the peak of the "Animal House" era and keg parties were a regular event.  It was while I was a student at the University at Buffalo that I first ventured across the border to visit the "Brewer's Retail" in Fort Erie, ON.  The domestic brewing industry was in horrible shape, at least as far as interesting beers.  There was something almost magical about going to Canada.  The beers were different in that they were certainly more flavorful and yes, stronger.  My two favorites quickly became Molson Export Ale and Molson Brador.  In those days Brador came in at about 7% ABV which far exceeded anything from the United States at the time.

When I first joined the Coast Guard in 1983 the alcohol culture was still very strong.  It was when I was stationed aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Ironwood that two significant events happened.  The first was that I was somehow introduced to my first micro - Anchor Steam.  I had frankly never even heard of it.  Anchor had been around for a long time but it was never distributed on the east coast (or at least near my home).  The second thing was that I was introduced to home brewing by a fellow crew member on the Ironwood, Andre Turner. Andre was a quartermaster and we often stood watch together.  Andre was a beer lover and we often battled crushing boredom on long watches discussing beer.  Andre convinced me to try home brewing.  I bought my first kit from an outfit called William's Brewing in 1986.  I have been a customer of theirs since.

When I returned to the lower 48 I continued with occasional home brewing but my collection stayed pretty much in boxes and as far as beer, my "favorite place" in Louisville was a place called Donohue's Beer Depot on Northwestern Parkway in the Portland neighborhood.  The beer of choice - Old Milwaukee served on draft.  At home it was pretty much Budweiser.

Like a lot of malt aficionados I went through through a microbrew phase where I eschewed all "bad" beer and would only drink micros.  I was dangerously close to becoming a beer snob.  That phase for me was from about 1993-1996.  Don't get me wrong, I still love micros and won't turn one down.  Of course, the term "micro" has mostly been replaced with the term "craft beer".

For quite a while when the kids were young and I was very busy with my Coast Guard career, I didn't pay much attention to the beer world at all.  I mostly drank non-descript American Adjunct lagers and for the most part my collection was dormant and sat in boxes in my basement.  Unlike a lot of my breweriana collecting friends, while I wasn't adding to the collection I also never got rid of it.  I've spoken to many guys who now regret the decision to not keep at least a small portion of their collections that was particularly of interest to them or held some special memory.

About 10 years ago I got interested in the whole culture of malt liquor and 40 ounce bottles.  This actually revitalized my interest in all things malt.

Recently I have become fascinated with the whole craft beer scene again.  It's not the micro scene of the 90's.  There are literally thousands of craft breweries.  If I had the resources I would make it my life goal to visit everyone.  Wouldn't that be a road trip to remember (or not).

Today I drink what I want to when I want to.  I now enjoy the full spectrum of malt beverages.  I personally don't care what anyone else thinks about what I am drinking.  Most of my collection is on display in my garage and I am even adding cans in a couple areas.

As you can see, beer has been a part of my life since my teens.  While I love drinking it, what I love just as much is talking about it.  The brewing industry in the United States has been a huge part of our history; and an influential part at that.  This is not taught in our schools as I am sure if it was it would drive the neo prohibitionist crazy.
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