Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Traditions, Religions, and Craft Beer

    From a young age I was protected from the “evil ways of the world”. I was told the world was destined for failure because of the “sin” it partook in. The tradition of saying "yes ma’am" and "no sir" came along with the understanding not to question the rules of thought that had been established long before I was born. It was expected to go along with the status quo, and to refrain from “causing trouble” or being the bad apple in the family tree. I chose the former and pursued life through “cautious glasses”, staying far away from the “evil ways of the world” .  In spite of southern traditions and religion, I have matured to another level; one that questions the meaning of life, one that demands for reason over trained thought, one that of looks at the “evils of the world” and discovers that all things are not truly bad, but rather simply a different perspective. I discovered the world of Craft Beer by a change of scenery one summer after my job moved me to Colorado. I was warned of that “lifestyle”, to stay away from drunkenness and immorality. In my past life, I was not aware that there was a whole other world of craft brewers that belonged to a “special club” forged from creativity, community, and craftsmanship. That was when I was accustomed to the occasional easy to drink light beer and even was a member of the popular “flying saucer”.

I wasn't a fan of light beer growing up which may have had to do with my first drunken hangover experience at the age of 21. Keystone Light. Never, ever, again. If I had done my research back then, I would have known that Keystone isn't made by a brewer name “Keith Stone”. It is made by a corporate enterprise that only had interests in making money and keeping their profit shares enticing for the next big sell. They don't care about ingredients, quality, or flavor. In the past, if I was with friends that were drinking, I would pour the beer out when nobody was looking or pretend to be drinking. I despised the god awful flavor of light beer.  Once I was pressured into drinking all of it. I couldn't weasel my way out of this situation. Ever since then I have been plagued from the horrible taste of filtered rice mash.

Fast forward many years later, I refrained from drinking because of agreements I had signed for many different Christian organizations I had worked for from 2005 to 2008.  Drinking and singing 4 chord songs about Jesus was very very frowned upon. Fast forward again years later to Fall 2008 when I finally got my first real job and moved back home to East Texas.  My first pay check went to the Xbox, a bed, kitchenware, and sweet tea. Not craft beer, or any kind of beer for that matter.  I had a few friends along the way that introduced me to craft beer places such as “Flying Saucer”. Not having a clue what I was getting into, I started to realize maybe beer wasn't terrible after all, nor the advocate for the “evil ways of the world”.  Maybe it truly was proof that God loves us, as  Benjamin Franklin claimed.  Fast forward a few years later to 2009, my life was about to change. My job sent me on a new assignment, a short trip to Grand Junction, Colorado.

Colorado, to me, was full of beautiful mountains, winter slopes, Aspen, nature and rock climbing. It didn’t mean “craft beer” to me at the time. One night I stumbled into a restaurant downtown to spend money on my company's dime. “Rockslide Brewery and Restaurant” it said.
When I sat down, I wanted to order a beer. I asked the server for a menu and she told me  there wasn't a beer menu but they made their own beer. I had no clue to what she was  talking about. I walked into the bar area to see what she was referring to and immediately noticed the shiny vessels in the corner. It was the first time in my sheltered cookie-cutter life that I had ever seen anything like it. I’ll never forget my first taste of heavenly micro brewed craft beer that was made by one person a few days before. The “Kokopelli Cream Ale” was refreshingly clean and brisk, with a hint of vanilla for the finish. I was hooked. Although I was skeptical of what my church would think— that I was drinking a “heathen beer”, that was reserved for the “evil ways of the world”. So, to atone for my sins and repent I went to the local church that Sunday in Colorado.  Not being able to find a Southern Baptist Church, I had to settle for the crazy, fanatical “Vineyard” church denomination. Following a casual service, I was invited to eat with some new friends I had made. To my surprise, the Pastor and worship leader were sitting at a restaurant IN PUBLIC DRINKING BEER!!!  Are you kidding me!!!! I couldn't believe it. This little act would get you banned for life in East Texas. I thought to myself: “How could these people love Jesus, but also love craft beer?” This is when the questions began. This is the point where I decided to think for myself rather that be told how I should live my life. Maybe It was possible after all, to love God, love people, and love craft beer. I didn't know what exactly that statement meant, but I started to pursue it, even back to East Texas where my world was overturned.  I was asked to move to Colorado for work, and I took it as a “leap of faith”.  It was more than just a leap of faith, it was a fresh breath of air for me.  A new way of thinking, a whole new culture. For the 2 years I was there, I finally matured in my faith and humanity to be a more loving and accepting person, I was no longer hypocritical of things I didn't understand, I was much more open to different opinions, and finally, I was receptive to the culture of craft beer.

           Fast forward many many years later (2012) I moved back to East TX after work had slowed and eventually the shop in Colorado closed.  Luckily I was able to continue working in Longview, TX. I brought back everything that I had learned; new experiences, a new inspiration and a renewed love for life. Through my short 2 years in Western CO, I started exploring craft beer more and more, although my knowledge and understanding was still very limited.  At this point, I knew what craft beer was, and what it was not.  Due to many archaic laws that were only recently changed craft breweries were few and far between across Texas in 2012 allowing the local giants of Miller and Coors to rule the red dirt lands of East TX.  At this point, the best place for local beer was BWW and a small place downtown called Willy Gs. I fell in love with the beer selection there and one particular beer caught my attention- Lefthand Milk Stout. My friends thought I was insane and the bar tender couldn't understand why I liked drinking what he deemed “motor oil”. I had finally found the one style of beer I could relate to, a dark porter. I was so captivated by the idea of living by a “pub” that I moved across the street into a loft. That was the point that I started being friendly with the “evils of the world”.  It wasn't as terrible as I heard; real people enjoying life and the occasional bad apple walking the streets.

       Fast forward many years later (2013), I was homesick. I didn't realized how much Colorado had an impact on me and I had to find a way back. I quit my job of 5 yrs and took a short trip to Ireland. (I will save that for another post). I lived there for a month and was able to soak in the Irish culture and develop my taste for Guinness.  After awhile, I was ready to move on with my adventure and made my way around Scotland, England, France, and Italy. I was astounded at the beer drinking culture in Europe.  It occurred to me that “Pub” was short for “Public House”. It truly was the central place in a small town where the locals would gather to together in community. It was the center point of fellowship. I was fascinated with both the history of beer and knowing that many of the pubs I visited dated back to before America was even founded. You could literally taste the culture.

Inspired by what I had experienced I was ready to come back to the United States and share with everyone what I had learned. I had a job waiting for me in Ft. Collins, CO and I was eager to start my new life there.  The “Napa Valley” of beer did not disappoint. From outside my front door I could see New Belgium Brewery and smell the fresh hops wafting through the cool crisp morning air. I will take time and write more about my experiences living in Ft. Collins at a later time, but these experiences catapulted me to a whole different level in the pursuit of craft beer. My time in Colorado ended in Nov. 2015 as I was laid off of my job and moved back to East TX to attend school. A lot has changed since I have moved back- the craft beer industry has changed and Texas has overturned laws to allow craft brewing to thrive. It has taken time, but little by little the culture has embraced the community of craft beer and it is no longer looked down upon because of century-old prohibition laws that have plagued the good name of quality beer. There is a much bigger fight than persuading the masses that craft beer is good, the fight is being taking to courts as the big beer companies are fighting for a share in the beer world.  It brings a tear to my eye knowing my hometown of Longview, Texas has a craft beer brewery that is run by church-going family men that care about their city and the development of downtown Longview.  I love seeing a family enjoying a Saturday afternoon in the brewery drinking fresh root beer and craft IPA’s while sitting around a board game of Settlers. Craft beer is about community, people, and creativity. It is a fact, the mark of a thriving community is craft beer and coffee shops.  Ft. Collins, CO has the highest concentration of craft breweries per capita in the United States and is one of the most thriving cities in America. Coincidence? I think not. Even traditions and Religions can bring you out of the darkness and into the light… The light of Craft Beer.

 -  TheHappyChappy (jeff)

"The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing" - Socrates