feels like the first time

self portrait with Secession

The recent opportunity to try Westvleteren 12 (thanks, David!) got me thinking: what makes a beer memorable? There are objectively great, world-class, special occasion beers – like the Westy – and then there are your personal favorites, and the overlap (or lack thereof) is interesting.

One of the greatest beers I’ve had was Singha lager over ice (!) in a bamboo-bedecked open-air bar on a humid-ass night in Buriram, Thailand after spending the day in the ruins of a Khmer temple. Let’s be honest: if you’re reading this, a rice-intensive pale lager probably isn’t what you’re going to ask for on your deathbed – me either – but that night it was unbeatable and I’ve never forgotten it.

So the Singha experience can’t really be revisited. But I did have the chance to try a personally significant beer again for the “first” time – Secession Cascadian Dark Ale from Hopworks or Portland, OR.

I first had this from its source, at a formative time, with some good buddies, and just as the Black IPA vs. CDA vs. American Dark Ale nomenclature fracas was bubbling over. I hadn’t had it since but remembered it as one of my personal favorites of … this style.

But I saw some fresh bottles on a business trip and snatched them up. The subjective factors of people, place, and emotion can be tough to separate from the experience of actually tasting a beer – how would Secession fare on its own after all this time?

Black with amber-red edges and a sand-colored cloud of fine uniform bubbles. Dank citrus standing in front of gentle roastiness (mild chocolate, Peace Coffee light roast Guatemala). Pine sap, tangerine, cedar, spice, cola nut, Swiss Miss cocoa, a suggestion of sandalwood. Tall flavors give way to a round, generous finish where the malt finally makes itself known. Citrus/pine and cocoa in dynamic balance on the way out.

Holds up. Really well. I’d drink it again. Wish I’d had more room in my suitcase.

How about you? What are your most memorable beers, everyday or otherwise?

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29 thoughts on “feels like the first time

  1. Keep up the great blogging.

    I have enjoyed micro brewed ales since 1995, but never took much effort in distinguishing the subtleties of these fine bevies. Your descriptions make me want to learn more. Do you post on any other sites with beer notes. I guess a good way to learn and build your palet is to taste a beer and read other’s tasting notes.

    P.s. I miss your BTV exploits. You helped me get inthe game. I watched all 60+ episodes in 3 days, then went and bought my first kit. Love it.

  2. I would say for special occasion beers Both Three Floyds Dark Lord and Surly Darkness for the home town enjoyment are up there, not as much due to the taste (Which is incredible) but because of the occasions that I had them first. The Dark Lord was a shared bottle while hanging out at 3am in line for the Darkness. To me those are beers to enjoy with others. In that Imperial Russian grouping I would toss Stone Brewing’s in there for general availability. Something to be enjoyed with good company.

    For the more normal beers, I would say that Unibroue’s La Fin Du Monde, Serra Nevada’s Torpedo IPA, Weyerbacher’s Blithering Idiot, New Glarus’s Spotted Cow, Fat Squirrel, and New Belgium’s Fat tire as well as Snow Day. For most of those the first couple of times I had those beers are tied in to very important memories for me. They are all great beers on top of it but who and when I tried those with makes them all the better. From memories of comrades in arms in the Army introducing me to them or trying them with me the first time to friends in the civilian side of things drinking with me and where we were at the time. Those memories are as precious to me, I would even dare say more precious than the beer’s themselves. There are other memories with more of the American adjunct lagers but they do not stand out as much. I suspect that to be the fact that their scent’s and flavors are not as distinctive as the micro brews are.

  3. Not sure the exact time frame…but it had to be in the latter 80s. 87-88 or so. There wasn’t much of interest to drink local to my digs at that time … but you could get Samuel Smiths. I recall my first bottle of ‘The Famous’ Taddy Porter. It was black. It had some undertones of chocolate and coffee and molasses. There was a creamy head to deal with and a level of carbonation that was unlike most beers I had quaffed to the point. A fizzy, american lager it was not.

    This was the beginning of a significant shift in what I considered beer.

  4. I will rarely pass up a Fat Tire. It was the first beer I ever really had. I had tasted beers before, never liked it. But I was playing poker & smoking cigars with some friends my while I was in college and a buddy brought some Fat Tire. He handed me a bottle and I loved it. I always think of the good times when I have that beer. Its a fine beer, but far from the most flavorful out there. I wouldn’t even name it as one of my favorites, but its impossible to separate the emotional attachment, so I still love it. I have similar feelings with Yuengling Lager as well.

  5. My first real experiences drinking beer were on a trip to Europe I took back in 2002. I was going through a lot of German cities and decided that I was going to drink a local beer in every one of them, even though I didn’t like beer. When I got to Munich, and had an Augustiner, I finally found the first beer I really liked. So that beer always sticks with me. I think it was just a Weissbier, but I’m not positive.

    Other than that, I moved to Austin, TX right after that and so wound up developing a taste for Shiner Bock. I was a grad student, it was cheap, and it wasn’t Coors Light.

    Have to agree with the above comments about BTV. I miss it so. I really really enjoyed your exploits and you got me in the game too. I’m starting my third batch of beer on Sunday (a Toasted Coconut Porter), and I owe most of my enthusiasm and interest to watching all your informative and entertaining videos.

  6. I can remember the first trip I made to Kloster Kreuzberg in Bischofsheim an der Rhön, Germany. You can walk around and see the stations of the cross beautifully carved in stone as the path eventually leads you to the serving line, and then to the “cafeteria” line for food. I put cafeteria in parenthesis because it was far from tasting like cafeteria food. I had Rindroladen with Knödel and Rotkraut.

    Anyways, they brew one beer, since 1731, simply called “Klosterbier,” in .5L or 1L sizes. Its brown color coupled with its caramel smell lends a wonderful sensory experience before the first taste. And the first taste of balanced caramel flavors with just enough hops to not make it overly sweet is perfect. It will warm you on cold fall days, but is light enough to drink during the summer.

    Truly amazing.

  7. For me the unobtainable beer or situation would be Mirror Pond Pale Ale while sitting on the back deck of a million dollar home looking down the cliff wall at the Deschutes River in early June. The beer was good, the view was what made it.
    I don’t really have an everyday memorable beer. I have a bunch that I really enjoy but nothing that sticks out.

  8. It was May of 1998. I was knocking out three humanities credits by taking a class that was basically a three week trip to London. My friend and I found a local pub in some out of the way alley and spent just about every night there getting to know the Irish owner, his Australian girlfriend, and his other employee, who was from Michigan of all places. We celebrated a birthday with them, got to know each other in the hours we talked after the pub closed, and they even threw a going away party (complete with about 4 small non-helium filled balloons) for us when it was time for us to go home. When they topped off a pint of Guinness, they used the last of the falling stout to draw shamrocks in the thick creamy head. Are there Irish stouts that I think taste better than Guinness? Absolutely. Is there any beer that brings in the flood of great memories I get from sipping the soured roast of a Guinness draft. Nope.

  9. I’ll tell you what impressed me – way back when. Founders Dirty Bastard Scottish Ale (Michigan), Chimay of course, Bell’s Two Hearted the first time set me off! The interesting thing about new beers – they tell you about yourself!

  10. Two beers that come to mind are Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and a regionally produced Berliner Weiße. The former was consumed in mass quantities during my carefree, formative years, and the later was consumed while enjoying an early spring along the banks of the river Spree in downtown Berlin (still grinning through etched teeth).

  11. A warm can of pre-hipster, brewed in Milwaukee, 1980’s PBR. Left as an anonymous gift on a rock jutting out from a lakeshore bluff. The Blue Ribbon winner of yore was just waiting to be discovered and was shared by two thirsty bike riders resting on that bluff.

  12. Craft beer was new to me, but man was I starting to enjoy and learn about what i was drinking. Yet i was still afraid of the the hoppy side. My mouth would pucker at the site of an ipa yet i pushed through trying hoppy beer after hoppy beer. I was at my local beer bar pondering the beer menu when i came across one of those beers you have to try because the name is just to great to pass up. The beer was Clown Shoes Eagle Claw Fist (an imperial amber) and at the time it packed a hop punch. Fast foreword to today and i love a good hop slap to the face and at times crave that little cone. I have recently come across previously mentioned beer and just had to try it again and boy does it taste different. Malty, chewy caramel with a great but not overbearing hop background of tropical citrusy goodness. It is amazing how the pallet changes over time. I consider this beer as one of those beers that drove me to my beer obsession and a tasting i will never forget.

  13. Chip’s channel finally started working on the xbox so I found out about your blog.

    Most memorable would have to be Pete’s Wicked Ale and, don’t laugh, a Bira Moretti (they were out of the better type which I can’t recall the name of but drank many of) enjoyed on an August at the Colosseum right after the po-lice gave a bunch of unlicensed sellers of gladiator swords and Etruscan replica vases the bum’s rush.

    But I am drinking a homebrew of an uncorked homebrewed biere de garde as I write this.

  14. A can of Miller Lite shared with my father when I was about 5 or 6. I still have a special place in my heart for pale lagers to this day but I hate brewing them myself.

  15. Mr. Dawson: Great blog.

    I’ll always have a soft spot for Labatt’s Blue… takes me back to the late-1990’s in college; the UP, catching brook trout on garden hackle thinking we were drinkin’ “the good stuff” (we didn’t trifle with “lite” beer). I still drink it as a “boat beer” with my buddies while fishing on Superior in the summer. I can drink six over an afternoon and still cast a fly rod, tie palomar knots, fix a backlash on a downrigger rod, and not hit the dock (too hard) with the boat.

    The moment when good craft brew became important to me was in 2001. I was living in Champaign, IL and very homesick for Michigan. There was a good, kinda divey beer bar that usually had a couple of Bell’s product on tap. My wife and I would go there for a “taste of home”. One evening, there was one I had never had before: Two-Hearted Ale. I remember having my mind blown by the floral and citrus aroma. At this moment, I could see the difference in what I had considered “good” beers before and truly good beers that are worth seeking out and paying a little extra for (or making yourself).

  16. Anheuser Busch be damned, I can’t get enough Matilda from Goose Island. I love Belgian ales, in fact we named our daughter Chimay but every time I have a bottle of this, it’s just special.

  17. When we were flush with cash (maybe twice) we’d get a case or two of SN Pale Ale from Food Lion and feel like we were better for it. I didn’t get the difference between between that beer and Southpaw at the the time and nor did I care. Fast forward to life after JMU and enter cigar smoking where identifying flavors in something new and exciting opened up a whole new world food and drink wise and then enter DFH 60 Minute. I was done, in, f*cking forget about it…. It wasn’t long before I sampled hard drugs – Green Flash WCIPA, Lagunitas, North Coast Old Rasputin etc. I credit cigars with helping me find better examples of that which I was already consuming.

  18. After three months under water without surfacing, a goblet of Heineken for 70 cents in Holy Loch Scotland. Then we moved on to some scotch ales at the local pubs in Dunoon.

  19. This is such a great topic… for me it has to go to Leinenkugel’s Original Lager that we drank back in College at UWEC. Cases of returnable bottles were $9.99 and after drinking 5 or 6 cases, we would take the deposit money and get a “free” case. It is my old man’s beer of choice and still to this day drink it from time to time.
    The other significant beer in my beer drinking tenure has to be Rush River Lost Arrow Porter. When I turned 21, Rush River still was operating out of Maiden Rock and available on tap only, but at any rate, it was my first experience with layers of flavor, an amazing chewy texture and aromas like I’d never smelled before in any beer.

  20. Great comments and pretty much all great beers as far as I can say. If I can venture a recent one that really sat well with me it was Belhaven Scottish Ale. A real nice pour.

  21. Recently I had my first memorable sour ale, Monk’s Cafe. I was apprehensive about it, fearful that I was going to get a mouthful of something approximating sour milk or cheese. I could not have been more surprised. The nose was lightly acidic but the taste was refreshingly sour, like unto a cherry without the fruit’s body. What makes a beer memorable? It could be surprise, especially when you’re almost convinced that such-and-such beer will be awful.

  22. Making black and tans at home with Guinness and Bell’s Two Hearted Ale.. and the time i got to buy a few cases of Short’s Imperial Spruce Pilsner last summer.

  23. My first Black IPA was at the Vintage in Madison WI. It was part of a whirlwind tour that included The Great Dane, Ale Asylum and the Delafield Brew House and culminated in a Twins/ Brewers game. I drank my growler of Black IPA while tailgating in the Miller Park Parking lot. Beer is like music and sometimes like music, the situation in which you hear or drink it makes it better. That may be why that was the best Black IPA (CDA) that I have ever tasted. It may also be why I like Johnny Horton

  24. I see a lot of people recalling their first cheap canned beer experiences. I do recall my first can of beer (a warm bud swiped by a friend from his dad’s fridge) but this memory is more coded by rebellion and exhilaration more than anything,

    In fact, I distinctly remember hating it and associating beer with bad flavor for nearly a decade. I guess I can thank A.B. for keeping me off the sauce until I was of age.

    For me, it is my first craft beer experience that shines brightly from the dark recesses of my memory. Craft beer seemed as much a gimmick as the flavored oxygen bars at the mall, but I when I tried my first raspberry wheat at Moose’s Tooth in Anchorage it felt like a part of my brain was unlocked. On a subsequent trip an IPA had the same, “holy S*** what is this magical beverage” effect. I will never forget it, the time of day, the wood grain on the bar, the hot waitress. I guess it was an important moment to synapse sack.

    Also first true artisan craft experience, Ommegang’s Hennepin Saison. It came with the cork, and the pouring instructions, and proper glassware, and the yeast in the bottom. That was when I finally realized the extent to which you could enjoy beer. I did a clone of that which took gold.

  25. I have a couple of memorable beer. My first has got to be Kostritzer Schwarzbier. It was the first beer I drank that let me know that beer could be more than High Life from the fancy blaze orange hunting season can. I still return to Kostritzer even after two years of solid craft beer drinking. It still remains one of my top five “if you could only have one beer…” beers. This is the beer that made me a beer lover.

    The other one that comes to mind is Lindeman’s Cuvee Rene Gueuze. I had never tried a true lambic, as the New Glarus Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart are both too sweet for style. The blasting grapefruit aroma that wafted out of the glass had me sitting there smelling for nearly ten minutes before I remembered that beer is for drinking and not only smelling. I have been hooked on sours ever since. I know it is not the pinnacle of the style, and have even had a couple bottles of Cantillion and Boon since finding the style, but it is that first bottle of tart, citrusy, funky, earthy Cuvee Rene that sticks with me. It will forever be the bottle of beer that made me a sour beer lover.

  26. I have a couple of memorable beers. My first has got to be Kostritzer Schwarzbier. It was the first beer I drank that let me know that beer could be more than High Life from the fancy blaze orange hunting season can. I still return to Kostritzer even after two years of solid craft beer drinking. It still remains one of my top five “if you could only have one beer…” beers. This is the beer that made me a beer lover.

    The other one that comes to mind is Lindeman’s Cuvee Rene Gueuze. I had never tried a true lambic, as the New Glarus Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart are both too sweet for style. The blasting grapefruit aroma that wafted out of the glass had me sitting there smelling for nearly ten minutes before I remembered that beer is for drinking and not only smelling. I have been hooked on sours ever since. I know it is not the pinnacle of the style, and have even had a couple bottles of Cantillion and Boon since finding the style, but it is that first bottle of tart, citrusy, funky, earthy Cuvee Rene that sticks with me. It will forever be the bottle of beer that made me a sour beer lover.

  27. Fun subject. There have been any number of defining beers over the years, each one expanding my horizons more than the last.

    I remember drinking a Hop Devil (Victory Brewing) in my teen years after purchasing a sample pack, and thinking it was the worst thing I’d ever tasted. Up until then, my most adventurous was probably Heineken. I was not even a padawan.

    My eyes opened for the first time, perhaps not suprisingly, when I had my first Chimay. It was not a long road to take to becoming a beer lover.

    The next plateau for me was tasting my friend’s homebrewed beer. The variation and quality blew my mind. It was actually GOOD. I got my first starter kit less than a year later.

    The first homebrew I made that I would consider memorable was a smoked porter…and as we all know there is nothing like tasting your own beer.

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