Beer O’Clock is a new thing I’m trying on the blog, because I do happen to like a good pint now and then, and because the Venn diagram between SF/F fans and beer aficionados is bigger than you think. Every now and then, I’ll blog about different styles of beer, homebrewing, stuff I’ve liked, whatever I think is fun and educational. Enjoy!
As of this writing, my Untappd account tells me I’ve sampled 608 distinct beers since I signed up in January of 2014. I’ve always liked a quality pint, but it’s really only since adopting Untappd that I started spreading my wings more, trying new things.
Yet even before then, I imagine I’ve tried at least 300+ more than that since I became of legal drinking age. I’m also an occasional homebrewer, I’ve taken classes with Garrett Oliver — the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery and the editor of The Oxford Companion to Beer — and I was on the homebrewing panel at DragonCon last year. If I already didn’t have too many hobbies, I’d consider getting my Cicerone certification just for kicks.
But why, you might ask? Why all this enthusiasm for something that comes in a can and is most commonly associated with rowdy sports fans and public intoxication?
Because good beer isn’t that. It’s not the domestic yellow fizzy swill you get in a can from the likes of Budweiser, Coors and Miller. That stuff is homogenized and processed to within an inch of its life. Like most industrial food products these days, the ingredient lists for these beers are supplemented with corn solids to make them cheaper to mass produce. (You can get a six-pack of Bud Light for an average of $7, whereas most craft beers start at $9-10 per six-pack.)
Beer got its reputation from these mass-produced swills and the behaviors of a small handful of customers whose goal isn’t to enjoy a beer, but to imbibe as many as possible to get as drunk as possible in as short a time as is possible.
Good beer has no corn. It’s typically barley, hops, water and yeast in a wide array of varieties and combinations. Some beers use wheat, some will add honey, still others add various spices to the mix. Yes, there are yellow fizzy craft beers too — Bud and its ilk are half-assed derivatives of German/Czech pilsners, and the real deal is a revelation in comparison. There are also amber beers, red beers, orange beers, brown and black and even wine-purple beers.
Good beers can come in cans these days, which is awesome. It also comes in longnecks and champagne-style corked bottles and magnums. Good beers can have an alcohol-by-volume of around 4%, as much as a Bud Light, or as high as 10%, 12% or even 20% — any more than that and it’s more of a barley liqueur. Wine, by way of comparison, typically has an ABV of 12-16%.
I firmly believe well-crafted beer can hold its own at the table just as well as fine wine. (Click here for an interesting showdown between Garrett and a sommelier in a food-pairing contest.) There’s a ton of different flavors available depending on the style of beer — coffee and chocolate and caramel from stouts and porters, pine and citrus from IPAs., a snappy bite from pilsners, a soft bit of spice from witbiers. Mix and match to taste.
And beer is a very affordable luxury, too. That $10 six-pack of top-flight craft beer — or even the $12-15 corked-and-caged champagne-style bottle — is still going to be less expensive than your typical mid-list bottle of wine, where $20 per bottle can still prompt question marks as to quality. The most I spent for a for a six pack of beer was $60 — but that $60 was for a six of Westvleteren 12, widely considered one of the two or three best beers in the world, and only available from a single small monastery in the Belgian countryside. Totally worth it.
If you’re looking for a good intro to beer styles and homebrewing, I would humbly suggest picking up a copy of Ad Astra: The 50th Anniversary SFWA Cookbook, in which I wrote a few pages of beer-related fun. And check back under the Beer O’Clock tag now and then for more.