Liquid Amber

Back in October, I called local beer man Marty Jones of Oskar Blues fame (left) to talk about the Great American Beer Festival. When Jones asked me what kind of beer I preferred, I felt slightly ashamed to admit that, actually, I don’t like beer.

He was beside himself.

“We’re going to have to do something about that,” he told me. But then came the holidays and busy times for both of us, so it wasn’t until April 2 that we managed to get together (along with managing editor Jonathan Shikes) at Falling Rock Taphouse for an official Beer Summit, during which Jones and Shikes would re-introduce me to beer after almost a decade of drinking only red wine and, occasionally, a fruity, girly drink like a cosmopolitan, mojito or margarita.

We sat down at Falling Rock and Jones began his interrogation. “What don’t you like about beer?” he asked. It was a tough question to answer. I just never seem to be able to finish one without gagging a little bit. “I don’t like the bitterness,” I offered. That, and the fact that it just doesn’t seem to go down very smoothly. Jones noted that many mass-produced beers don’t have a lot of flavor, so the makers try to mask the lack of tastiness with an excess of carbonation. Made sense to me.

He went up to the bar and came back with three “gateway beers”: a Belgian white (Hoegaarden), a New Belgium Mothership Wit, and a specialty New Belgium brew, Johnny’s Voodoo Ale (spiced with yerba mate). I sipped the Hoegaarden first, and, to my surprise, didn’t gag. The Mothership Wit was also drinkable, and I actually liked the Voodoo Ale. “These are all very smooth,” I said. “I can actually finish them" (above).

“You want to try something a little maltier?” Jones asked, heading back toward the bar.

Sure, why not?

He returned with a glass of Spaten Franziskaner Hefe-Weizen (Germany), explaining that it was a Bavarian-style brew with notes of clove and banana. I sniffed it experimentally. You really could smell the banana, and again, it was smooth. Then we tried a Belgian-style double, Mauritius Eight. Not bad. This was followed by two more Belgian brews, Lindeman’s Pomme and Lindeman’s Framboise. The Pomme tasted heavily of apple -- Jones described it as a beer/apple Jolly Rancher fusion, and that was an extremely accurate description -- and the Framboise of raspberry.

“What are your favorites so far?” Jones wanted to know. And, girly-drink drinker that I am, I had to admit that I was partial to the Lindeman’s Pomme. “But that’s cheating, isn’t it?” I asked. Jones and Shikes agreed that yes, it kind of was cheating -- the Pomme tastes more like apple juice than beer.

So we got into some more “serious” beers. Jones brought back Alaskan Amber, which was scarily dark, but very, very smooth. I liked it! I really liked it! “I bet I could finish one of these,” I said. After that, I tried some Oskar Blues brews: Dale’s Pale Ale and the Old Chub. The Dale’s was quite drinkable, and the Old Chub had a savory smokiness to it that immediately made me think of a perfectly-cooked, high-grade filet. I don’t think I could handle more than one Old Chub per sitting, though -- it was pretty heavy. Jones was obviously delighted by both of these thoughts.

Then we got into some more complex brews, like the Avery Maharaja (I loved the way it smelled; the taste was something I need to work on acquiring). But by this point I was feeling kind of swimmy; my tolerance for alcohol is low on my best days, and we’d imbibed quite a bit (above), so it’s possible I’m leaving a brew or two off the list. We closed off the session with the Westmalle Trappist Ale and a Cantillon Gueuze, which I was rather partial to; it had a sour bite to it that was very enjoyable. We soaked up the brews with some fries and wings, and then it was time to go.

I thanked Jones for proving me wrong: The truth is, I do like beer. I was just a repressed beer snob, one with expensive taste. I probably will continue to avoid sucking down a Bud, Coors or even a Corona, but I probably will head back to Falling Rock, with a friend in tow, to drink some more of that Johnny’s Voodoo Ale, the Alaskan Amber and the Gueuze (below), my three favorites (not counting the Lindeman’s Pomme). Perhaps after I’ve acquainted my palate with more beer, it will appreciate beer more. And I will actually drink the beer Jones handed me to take home -- some Oskar Blues Old Chub and Dale’s Pale Ale -- instead of stashing it for friends to drink when they come over, like I did with the bottles of Miller that a guest left in my fridge.

I think I might need a friend to share the Old Chub with, though. – Amber Taufen