My buddy Schmeck told me about a beer sampling event at a Cambridge local brewery, Grand River Brewing. A cool little place whose products I sampled now and then when I was down for a visit. They had organized 3 tastings once a month starting in January, each focusing on a particular style of beer. I like beer so I asked Schmeck to sign me up too.
Now I like beer but I'm no connoisseur. I've consumed more than my share the last 20 years but it's given me no insight into the subtlies of flavour or the nuances of the brewing craft. I can't pick out regional elements or tell if a given beer is an ale or a lager. My more eloquent reviews of beer run along the lines of "mmm, good" or "burp". So I'm not bringing a lot of ammo to this showdown but I'm more than willing to learn.
There was some confusion (on my part) on what the actual day of the first tasting was, and further confusion (also on my part) on who was picking up who and when but we all got there eventually. This tasting was focusing on India Pale Ales with five representative beers. Two from Ontario, one from Scotland, and two from up state New York. The only IPA I'd really had before was Keith's so it was pretty surprising to find out that Keith's is the weak little sister of IPA's. Do you know what an IBU is? I didn't either. Apparently it's an International Bitterness Unit. Keith's has an IBU of 7. True IPA's have traditionally started at 55 IBU's. Yup.
Aside from some interesting beers, what I found even more interesting were the stories of the craft brewing industry and the insider scoop on breweries like Steam Whistle and Mill St. There's a lot of interesting beers out there and it's more than a little disheartening to find out the challenge of getting those beers to taps in local bars. 90% of bars and bar & grills have contracts from a large distributor that dictates what beers can be made available. There's no possibility of having a "sampler" tap that would feature a local craft brewer because that would violate the contract. I really did find it fascinating.
Of course, as with any gathering of people, there were assholes to contend with. In this setting it was the beer nerds. There were one or two at each table that only asked questions to demonstrate how truly involved they were in the "craft". But they were minor distractions. It was a cool event and it really changed my attitude towards standard beer offerings. I'll be going out of my way to get these beers from the smaller breweries. And, if you're in the area, I highly recommend checking out the Grand River Brewing Company. Great people and great beer.