**Warning, the following waffle explains how I got in to craft beer. If you are just interested in the beer then scroll down to the picture**
The brewery that started it all for me is Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I have mentioned this before but the way I remember it is this. I think it was 2004 and I was there for Christmas for the first time. At the time I was a Cider drinker and not all that fond of beer due to it tasting crap and therefore pointless to me. Little did I know I was a prime candidate for a Craft Beer conversion because I was simply bored with the same poor tasting (or lack thereof) lagers. I did like Guinness though as it at least had some flavour.
I learned about Michigan cider (not sure what it was called) and Woodchuck Cider early on, although they were a little sweet and I missed Bulmers (Magners).
Then one day I was at a lovely rainbow infused lakeside town called Saugatuck and we stopped in a bar for lunch, or perhaps just a drink. I walked up to the bar to see what they had (probably looking for Cider) when I noticed some beer taps I had never seen.... Now I will stop here for a moment.
I came to the US with the absolute certainty that American beer is absolute crap. This is because American beer available in Ireland at the time was absolute crap. Sure don't most Americans drink light beer? A drink that I called beer flavoured water to everyone in the family drinking it! I actually recommended Stella Artois to one of my wife's cousins and he loved it. I was quite naieve back then.
So if you imagine this way of thinking, imagine my surprise, imagine the penny drop or more aptly the world shake when I asked that bartender what those odd taps where? His response? "Oh that's local beer!". What the hell was local beer? I thought all beer was brewed by massive mega breweries, that's how it is in Ireland or at least it was at the time with some exceptions.
The beer I had was Bell's Oberon, which is a sort of Belgian style Orange Wit served with a slice of Orange. Sort of like Blue Moon but with a lot more flavour and none of the megabrewery connections. I sucked down many an Oberon over the years when I visited Michigan but I never visited the brewery.
While it only started in 2004, I did not truly get serious about beer until 2008. When in the US I always asked for the local stuff when in a bar and I had many beers I can't even recall. In 2008 my wife's old friend from her year in Prague, another American came to visit and brought her new husband Al which we had not met yet. Al is also known as VelkyAl* and runs his wonderful blog Fuggled. Al came armed with info on beer I had never heard of, beer such as Galway Hooker and on visiting Galway we were on a venture to find some. We had a wonderful time in Galway and I tried some of the beer but being the driver I could not order my own pints.
Al introduced me to Irishcraftbrewer.com (an Irish site!!) which dealt with homebrewing and Irish Craft Beer in general. Again the earth shook because I found out about all these Irish microbreweries as well as British and other European breweries and more importantly I found out where I could get them in Ireland along with lots of American beer. Irish Craft Brewer has since evolved in to the Beer Consumer group Beoir, of which I of course am a member. I started this blog at the end of 2008/beginning of 2009 and the brewery that started it all, is the one I proudly get to talk about now even if it's only one of their beers.
The aroma is all malt, citrus/grapefruit hops and pine along with caramel. This all follows through to the taste but what a taste. It is such a perfectly balanced beer with the bittering hops dominating the beer but the malty backbone is always there along with mandarin orange. Even thought it is 7.1% ABV it is eminently drinkable and a 6 pack might not last too long especially during a rugby game.
I can't express how much I love this beer. I'm not saying its the best IPA in the world but it certainly hits the spot. The special place in my heart for Bell's notwithstanding, this is a brilliant beer. Please would someone import it to Ireland? Please???
I did get two bottles back home though, I reckon I will drink one and share the other.
*Velky is the Czech word for Big from what I understand so VelkyAl means: