I was lucky growing up that the craft or micro or whatever it was called back in the late 90s was just starting to get rolling in a big way. The Shepherd and the Knucklehead had just opened, and between playing at the Open Mic nights, and just other wise hanging out, I had access to pretty much the cream of what microbrews were around at the time.
Not that there is anything wrong with a Miller light or what not, but they were never things I HAD to have for no other choice. If I was drinking one, it was always because I wanted to be drinking it. Looking back on this #TBT day though what were my first real steps into the larger world of beers.
Without a doubt the first and biggest influence was going with my father to the High Point Brewery – home of Ramstein beers. Here, was this place less than 20 minutes from our house brewing traditional German wheat beers, Blondes, Winter Wheat, Hefes, Mai Bocks, etc. Things I had never heard of, but to this day still taste fantastic. Still owe you one for this one Uncle Floyd!
Ok not a craft, but the next beer to really make an impact on me was Guinness. I will never forget my first one. It was a bottle of extra stout (whether that was a foreign or export I don’t remember). Bitter, horribly bitter. It was sheer force of will to finish it. This was a few years before the widgeted pub cans or the nitro bottles. Having it on tap on a nitro made a world of difference. It was also pretty much creamy black water that got you buzzed. But I digress.
Samuel Smith: Oatmeal stout: Ok so this is how a stout is supposed to taste. Need to revisit this one at some point soon, Especially after having the fantastic Boulevard Tasting Room Oatmeal Stout. All of Samuel Smiths products the Nut Brown, Taddy Porter, the Winter Warmer, the Organic Chocolate stout, have been fantastic. I still hate the foil wrapping though… ough.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: Ok, back in the Late 90’s everyone I knew was drinking this so it was an easy choice for me to try. It also holds the distinction of being the first beer I bought a 6 pack of, as well as ordered on draft when i turned 21. When going out to eat it was an easy choice, most places had usually either this or Bass on tap with out exception (along with Samuel Adams).
Magic Hat #9: Magic Hat is an interesting one. The first time I ever heard of it was in High School in the mid 90’s (1996 I think) when I went with a friend and his older sister and her husband to Killington for the weekend. Now on the way up the Northway the snow kicked in and we were getting some serious amounts of fresh powder coming down. It was later in the evening. Do we go right to the motel to check in and get off of the road? Hell no, the first place we stop when we are almost there? The Liquor store to buy some Magic Hat (I am fairly certain it was number 9 but I really don’t know). In this day and age this sounds eerily familiar, to the Heady Topper or Hill Farmstead stories, doesn’t it?
Flash forward to 2000 or 2001, and I am sitting with friends in the Peculier Pub, which has its own list of memories of things if you were not there would never belive actually happened, in the West Village and we see that now all so familiar tap handle. Magic Hat had made it to NYC! From memory: it was a little sweet with the touch of fruit nice change of pace. Will try it again at some point i think just for nostalgia.
Maybe a few months later the bottles started turning up in New Jersey. Most of that Summer I was drinking Magic hat, #9, Blind Faith, and maybe circus boy? Until now save a one off here or there bottle of Heart of Darkness I have not had any others since then.
Honorable mention – Ruffian: They were a brew pub, in Suffern NY (maybe 10 minutes from my college) and were one of the first and a perfect example of a mirco brew causality. By all accounts they were doing well, they had good local distro (into Bergen county and the such) and as I heard it decided to buy space in Pennsylvania and significantly increase their bottling. This of course was too much too fast and the next thing you know they are doing a kick the keg sale on the last keg (laying on the floor next to the bar) of their copper ale while the taps were all Miller, Bud and Coors.
A different brew pub took over the spot for a little bit, I only went once in 04, but it was nothing remarkable, I far more remember the company and conversations than the beer or food.