Last year, I successfully completed the 50/50 Challenge (fifty films and fifty non-fiction books in 2012). It was hard work, so in January, I enjoyed being able to read at a more leisurely pace. I did have a challenge set up for 2013: I plan to donate platelets 13 times in 2013 at the Heartland Blood Center in Tinley Park, IL. But when February came, I realized that I missed having a goal that I could work at on a weekly, or even a daily, basis. So I give you The Fifty Different Beers in 2013 Challenge. That’s right, I am going to try at least fifty different beers in 2013. Whether it will be as enriching as last year’s challenge is hard to say, but I’m willing to put in the necessary work to find out. Plus, I need the extra nutrients to supplement all the blood I’m giving up this year.
I was considering only counting beers I’d never tried before, but I decided that it would be too hard to remember if I’d ever had them before in my life (I’ve been a fan of beer for quite some time), so I’m going to treat it more like a big year (see the wonderful film The Big Year) and start 2013 at zero.
For January, I have to mostly rely on memory. (In February, I began to take pictures).
Molson Canadian is a delightful, simple beer that I have a soft spot for, probably because I have fond memories of drinking it on draft in Toronto in 2002. It’s what douchey beer enthusiasts might call sessionable. (It should be noted that I’ve worked with beer and studied it a bit, but I am not one of those people who writes reviews on Beer Advocate and I don’t use borderline obnoxious terms like “nose,” “head,” and “lacing,” and I certainly won’t describe the “mouth feel.” I just won’t.)
Bell’s Best Brown
I once earned myself a terrible hangover from Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, and although it was a long time ago (2005) and in a land far away (Minneapolis), I have feared Bell’s since. (This might also explain why I am so adverse to IPAs). But I am a sucker for brown ales, so when I saw this on the menu at Tribes Alehouse, a place particularly fond of bitter brews, I had to try what seemed to be a welcome departure. And it was lovely!
Rogue Chocolate Stout tastes like someone poured Newcastle Brown Ale over some cheesecake (delicious in small doses, obviously).
When I discovered my local Jewel had started carrying Bohemia, I had to get a 12-pack. With more flavor than Corona but not as sweet as Pacifico, Bohemia is definitely my favorite beer from Mexico. (Do not use lime.)
I went to a shop in Lake Villa called The Deli Lama that sells create-your-own six-packs so I made it a point to choose six I’d never had before. I was charmed by Ellie’s Brown Ale by Avery Brewing Company of Colorado. I love brown ales and the chocolate lab on the label made me think of chocolate malt (probably by design). Ellie’s Brown Ale is tasty, but it’s a little nuttier and heavier than I prefer.
5 Rabbit Cerveceria is local to Chicago but I’d never tried one (to the best of my recollection). I’ll bet their beers are good but the Golden Ale was not where I should have started. At 32 IBUs, it’s just a bit too hoppy for me, but more so it was the fruitiness from the yeast and its particular combination of hops that left me displeased. I stayed away from 5 Vultures at the store because the label scared me away with its mention of ancho chiles, but after reading the descriptions on their website, I realize now that it would have been a much better choice for me.
O.K. Beer from Okocim Brewery in Poland was on clearance so I bought a four-pack of cans. I’d been drawn to it before because I like the can but hadn’t picked it up. And what can I say? It’s O.K. It tastes like beer. It’s history is pretty interesting, if what its Wikipedia page says is true. And because it’s not in a clear bottle, it didn’t taste skunky. (Fear not the can, my friends, especially with imports. Never buy an import in a clear bottle. Never.) It’s going to be refreshing when the weather warms up. I will drink it on my patio.
Goose Island, a local Chicago brew that was unfortunately purchased by Anheuser- Busch in 2011, has several Belgian-style ales intended to be cellared and paired with food. I did not wait, nor did I pair them with any food in particular; I just wanted to try some. Because they are expensive, I put a single Sophie and Matilda in my six-pack. Strangely, even though Sophie’s IBU value is lower (25 vs. 32), I preferred Matilda. Sophie is a saison, so it relies on additives (pepper, vanilla, orange peel) for flavor, whereas Matilda uses caramel malt and tastes much less fruity. From their descriptions on the website, Pere Jacques should be the next of Goose Island’s Vintage selections I try, and perhaps a Madame Rose. I also grabbed a Goose Island Mild Winter because I’d been tempted by it at the liquor store and was happy for the chance to try just one. It is really, really good: smooth, malty, kind of sweet but not too sweet–a good alternative when I can’t get my hands on Newcastle in cans (my favorite beverage of all time).
The sixth choice (and most expensive) I placed in my self-created six-pack was Dragon’s Milk from New Holland. The label teased me with yummy wording: “roasty malt character intermingled with deep vanilla tones” but “all dancing in an oak bath” are the only words I should have listened to. I thought it would taste like Breckenridge Vanilla Porter (which is freakin’ delicious) but instead it tasted like Maker’s Mark. (Read: Horrifying). This is the only beer in recent memory that I’ve dumped out. I tried for about ten minutes, I really did, but I just couldn’t do it. I realized later that I actually ordered it at Tribes in January but had to give it to my pal Benji, who did enjoy it.
While I was gazing into the beer coolers the same day I grabbed the O.K., a fellow shopper asked me to check out the label on this beer, Metolius Damsel Blonde Ale, to tell him where it’s from (Portland Brewing Company). He mentioned that it was half off so we both picked up a six pack for less than $4. (We both also picked up some Sopporo and I grabbed a Kirin six-pack too because apparently my store has stopped carrying Japanese beers). I learned from the Metolius website that the beer is retired, which explains why it was on clearance. And I learned from drinking four of the six (so far) the reason it’s retired: it tastes like how feet smell. Summer feet. Summer feet that have been in sneakers with no socks all day.
In February, I bought a Goose Island variety pack. My plan was to try one of each and then keep the others for guests, but I keep drinking them! There is Mild Winter (yum), 312 Urban Wheat Ale, Honker’s Ale, and India Pale Ale. I’m not a huge wheat ale fan, but 312 is alright; instead of tasting like rotting fruit as many of them do, it’s crisp and refreshing. Honker’s Ale is a nice alternative during those months that Octoberfests are unavailable, what with its lovely color and balanced combination of flavorful hops and malt.
As I mentioned above, I hate IPAs so I was nervous to try this one. But I was pleasantly surprised! Around here, 3 Floyds is very popular and most of theirs are hoppy as hell, so compared to those, Goose Island’s IPA is downright gentle. I still wouldn’t want to drink more than one, and it helps with the grody aftertaste characteristic of IPAs to drink it with food, but I’m glad I tried it. And who knows? I might one day start liking hoppy beers. Our tastes change, you know. When I was in high school, I chewed cinnamon Trident and now I can’t stand cinnamon-flavored gum and candy. Also when I was younger, I hated Brussels sprouts and now I like them a lot.
January count: 4
Countries represented: 5
Hmm, something tells me it might be easier to get to 50 beers than it was to get to 50 non-fiction books . . .