This past weekend, I ran a 5 mile race at my alma matter, the University of Central Florida. The race was at 7:30 on Sunday morning after a home football game in our brand spanking new on-campus stadium. Surprisingly, there were a fair number of students running the race.
What does this have to do with beer appreciation? Well, it got me thinking about when I started to actually appreciate–instead of consume–beer. The reason it got me thinking was twofold: first, an early morning race after a football game is something I never would have considered in college since the keg beer was flowing freely before, during, and after the game; second, I was dirt poor and spending money to run a race when it likely meant choosing between that or buying beer was a losing proposition.
Like the typical college student, I drank for the social aspect and valued quantity over quality. I think it was the immense quantities of mediocre beer (I’m looking at you, Coors Light) I drank during that time that led me to explore different beers and eventually actively seek them out. Once I had a job that paid a bit more, I had the means to finance my intellectual curiosity.
Even then, I was limited to what I could find at the local package and grocery stores. My friend Jason and I tried to explore what was out there but kept running into the same lack of selection everywhere in the area. That ended when I found out about a cool little beer bar in downtown Orlando called Jax Fifth Avenue. They had around 6-8 beers on draft and about 80-100 bottled beers, both of which were rotated fairly often. And, while it sounds cheesy, they had one of those Around the World clubs where you drink 100 different beers and as a reward you get your own beer mug with your name engraved on it. It hung above the bar for whenever you had a beer.
The mug was cool but the real reward was trying beers that most people will never come across. Some were great and some were horrible, but they all helped you to learn about the styles of beer and what you like and dislike in a beer. Just having 100 beers would have been good, but what made this part of my beer appreciation “upbringing” was the bar manager, Linnea. She knew her beers. She knew what you liked and could suggest new ones to try. She was also a great bartender–which is to say she’d talk with you and have a beer with you. My wife and I had our wedding reception at Jax and Linnea and Nikki tended bar and helped everyone have a great time and some great beers.
Sadly, the downtown Jax location closed in March of 2005. The College Park location remained open and I think my engraved mug is there but I haven’t been to check. Since then we’ve had a few local bars like Redlight Redlight take over the beer scene, Orlando Brewing opened, and we have good retailers like Whole Foods and Total Wine stocking a good, broad selection of beers.
So, that’s my story on when I began to appreciate beer. What’s yours? Leave a comment or blog it and leave a link in the comments and/or a trackback.