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More than a decade ago, I set out on a beer-drinking journey, determined to drink 365 beers in one calendar year and write about it. Photo by Julianna Arjes
Cheers! North CountyColumnsFood & Wine

Cheers! North County: Drinking with intention

You might not know, but before writing the Cheers! column, I wrote a beer blog. I won’t tell you the name, nor recommend you read it. It has not aged well.

The blog was written with the starry eyes of a young craft beer drinker who assumed fame as a blogger (never happened) but often didn’t bother spell-checking. It was December 27, 2009, when that first “Hello World,” blog was posted.

“I will try 365 [new to me] beers between December 27, 2009, and December 31, 2010,” I wrote. “I feel I deserve the extra days as compensation for the inevitable ‘sick’ a.k.a. hungover days I may inevitably incur while attempting this ridiculous project.”

My mission was set. I would immerse myself in the world of beer. And I committed with the zeal and fervor the tabloids directed toward Keri Russell’s haircut in 1999.

I had been drinking beer for many years, but never with any set intentions or goals. This felt like a step into adulthood.

My first beer was a Rogue Brewing Chocolate Stout. This was before Untappd, so I just kept my own rankings. This one received a 5/6. In theory, my point system included checks for taste and mouthfeel and appearance, but mostly it was just based on personal taste and experience.

For the next year, I would sporadically track my progress with reviews and lists of all the new beers. Some days, I’d have one, and other’s—six or more. I was young, and I had “beermentum.”

When someone first stumbles into the world of craft beer they have this moment where they wonder, “How has no one else discovered this yet?” Then, of course, they realize that not only have others found their way, but they’ve also created an entire fantasy land to explore.

My first beer trip was to New Orleans in January. They had an unexpected cold snap where the temperatures dropped below freezing, and our rental didn’t have heat. Luckily there was enough beer and good company to keep me warm.

I drank my way through the line-up at Abita, reached outside the city to try Lazy Magnolia, downed local brews from Nola and Crescent City Breweries. I talked to bartenders and fellow drinkers. I popped in when I saw signs for something new. I had my first Left Hand and my first Grimbergen.

I was learning to explore through beer goggles. Not drunken beer goggles, but the lens of someone who is focused on a dedicated exploration using beer instead of binoculars.

Stone Brewing
Stone Brewing IPA was one of the highest-scoring beers of the year. Photo via Facebook/Stone Brewing

The titles on those early blog posts were sometimes quippy, “Bouncing Around the Hippity Hops.” Sometimes I leaned more poetic, “Oh, Sweet and Gentle Brews, How I Love Thee.” After a month I had officially tried 30 new beers.

My early favorite was Ale Asylum’s Big Slick Oatmeal Stout (Madison, WI), but I was only picking up steam. I hit 50 new beers in early February. 100 in April.

I drank beer in Wisconsin, Nebraska, Colorado and Minnesota. I went to Falling Rock Tap House [recently closed] and worked my way through their legendary beer menu.

In June, I drank Stone Brewing‘s Smoked Porter and did not like it. I wrote, “At least I don’t have to move to San Diego, and live in a tent outside the brewery.” Hindsight is 20/20, and to be fair to Stone, there is a note that I had been hit in the face by a softball that day.

I kept exploring—both in real places and in beer. In July, I made it to San Francisco where I had my first Anchor Steam on draft.

My craft beer origin story started with a New Glarus Spotted Cow at a place called John’s Bar in Wisconsin, and I would go back there to cross the 300-beer threshold over Thanksgiving. I had a delicious Central Waters Imperial Stout, a Belgian ale that “knocked my Thanksgiving socks off,” and my first pumpkin ale home-brewed by Cousin Steve.

At this point, I was hunting for new and exotic. My distant cousin in South Africa even helped me track down some Kenyan lagers he recommended. I was working as a bartender, and I’d grill the sales reps when they came in. Got anything new? Do you know who has…? Any extras in the sample cooler? I was handing out Friends & Family discounts like sticks of gum in trade for information.

For the first time, I made “Beer Friends” with whom I could share information and new finds. I would find myself in strange alleyways to swap six-packs with a stranger.

By this point, my extended family was fairly invested in my quest (someone had to read the blog). I think they viewed it more as a slow-motion train wreck than an epic Shackletonesque journey, but either way, they kept directing me towards the new beers they found too. Cousin Ben presented me with number 365 at family Christmas—Pabst Blue Ribbon Light.

“I drank it with no hesitation and only the briefest acknowledgment of its importance. It tastes a lot like PBR only lighter. Go figure. I give it no score because it was as close to the water as any beer I’ve drunk, but it was also a moment of elation, a moment of freedom.”

I had reached my goal, but in the end, it was never about the result. It was about the journey, the people I met along the way, the communities I discovered, and learning the difference between drinking to drink and drinking with intention. I loved every beer I tried that year—all 373 of them. It’s a cliche, but the reward was in the beer-drinking journey.

For the record, tied for the highest-scoring beers of the year at 5 ½: Sprecher Brewing Maibock, Three Floyd’s Alpha Claus Winter Porter, and the classic Stone Brewing IPA.

If you like craft beer, you probably also love a good cup of coffee. Pour a mug, and check out most recent episodes of the Roast! West Coast coffee podcast featuring interviews and coffee education with great local coffee professionals.

Stream it now on The Coast News online or search for it on your favorite podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Thanks for listening, and for following Cheers! North County on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.