I spent a large chunk of my childhood in Germany (in Bavaria and Schwabia to be exact) and thus was inculcated from a very early age with the bias that German beer is superior to every other beer. While that bias was difficult to overcome, it finally happened during my first trip with my beer nerd boyfriend—to Belgium. Beyond gorging ourselves on chocolate while there, we spent a lot of time in various beer bars and breweries, drinking lambics and observing the culture. If you guys ever get a chance to go to Belgium, I would highly recommend you go out of your way to visit breweries like Cantillon or De Struise; even Delirium Cafe in the heart of Brussels will give you a sense of it (but don't drink Delirium, use the bottle list). By the end of the trip, I was just so obsessed with the culture and sour beer that I was forced to accept that while German beer is absolutely fantastic, there is a whole world of beer out there that is just waiting for you to discover it.
So how to whittle my favorite things about beer down into the few words that I am allowed? How about I list my top 3 breweries:
De Struise. Yes, I have bias because of my experience there, and I love the fact that it was started by 4 buddies who brewed beer to take along on their hikes with them and eventually made it a business when they realized that the beer they were making was amazing, but the important part is that the beer they were and still are making is absolutely amazing. Really. Go try it. Belgian styles, American styles, German styles, every one of their offerings falls somewhere in the gamut from extremely solid to transcendental.
Hill Farmstead. While Shaun Hill may have settled back into his old family farm in the middle of nowhere Vermont, and while and he cares deeply about keeping his beer fresh and local so you'd be very lucky to see it elsewhere, what matters is that absolutely all he cares about is brewing the best beer he possibly can. It's tough to get, but good lord is it fantastic if you find it. I think he makes the best IPAs and saisons in the world, and every beer I've had from him is world class. Take a New England vacation and go there. Cantillon. The most beloved and highly regarded lambic producer, and the accolades are well deserved. They're known for being more sharp, puckering and acidic than the likes of Girardin or 3 Fonteinen, and for my money you can't get a better fruit lambic in the world. Stop messing with the "americanized" and sweetened Lindeman's and St. Louis fruit lambics, and try the real stuff. In the end, my favorite thing about the beer is the culture. I spend a lot of my afternoons in beer bars just shooting the shit with the bartenders and let me tell you, they are a relaxed, kind and genuine bunch. They know their stuff, but they don’t flaunt it and they love what they do. So if you have time this afternoon or in the next couple of months, go to a local beer bar or brewery and ask them to tell you a little bit about how they make their beer and try to taste the bite of white grapefruit in a leanly malted IPA, or smell the bits of vanilla and chocolate ganache in a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout.
I would love to hear your beer stories! I also am obsessed with literature (please read The Unbearable Lightness of Being) and art (my dream is to travel down to Texas to see the Rothko Chapel, so if you have an extra couch to crash on in the area, let me know) and ice hockey (go caps!) and just about anything and everything else. So shoot me a line if you have some extra time.
p.s. A shout out to cj--I hope she wins sometime soon because then you all are in for a treat.