by Dave Segaert
elcome craft beer virgins! I know you've been hating on "beer snobs" for a long time now, and you're still rockin' a Molson Canadian on a Saturday night, wearing the official NHL t-shirt you received in your case of Bud Light, and waiting for your favourite team to score a goal so you can find out if your Budweiser Goal Light is still operational. Don't be afraid. Come into the light. There's no harm in trading your mass-produced can of creamed corn for a beer that actually has substance. And fret not, because if you finally start drinking craft beer you won't instantly turn into a huge dickhead, or start sniffing your beer, and you won't be obligated to start a blog or even scribble down any tasting notes. It doesn't mean you'll grow a moustache, wear a plaid shirt, or even get a really, really good haircut. You don't even have to attend the "Craft Pride" parade. All it means is that you will no longer be drinking corn-water. If you want to forever drink corn-water then go right ahead, but the transition of from macro to micro is a pretty sweet trade-off, and you literally have nothing to lose, except maybe the sweet prize that a beer mega-conglomerate has strategically placed in your 24 pack in a desperate attempt at retaining your misplaced loyalty.
Before we get started, let me just say that I'm not desperately trying to convert anyone, or judge anyone on their beverage of choice. As they say, different strokes for different folks. This article is simply for those who may wish to venture from the safety of Coors Light into the unbridled and exciting wilderness of craft beer. And also for any craft beer veterans who want to smile smugly because they've already attained enlightenment.
Let's get started.
First, let's get psychiatric on your ass, because discovering the source of your loyalty to an archaic and obsolete beer brand is an important step in realizing why you don't have to drink it anymore. Ya sure, it's probably too late for most of the older generations to care about switching beers, but for anyone who still has a functioning palate, the time is now. I'm a bit too lazy to conduct a survey, but my limited research tells me that "big beer" brand loyalty among humans under 45 is mostly a result of 2 or 3 factors.
1. Your dad, your grandpa, and old uncle Jimmy drank Old Vienna, so I should too. False. You should not choose your beer based on sentimental attachments to a beverage consumed by role models in your life. For one thing, these poor bastards literally didn't have a choice. Their beer options were a depressing, homogenous, and un-inspiring selection of lousy candidates. Sort of like a federal election. When your choice is between Schooner, Labbatt Blue, Wildcat, and Molson Golden, you're pretty much just going with the lesser of evils. On the other hand, you, craft beer virgin, unknowingly live in the golden age of beer, and are privy to thousands of choices, 94.7% of which are more interesting than the beers that your forefathers drank. This is not a subjective statement, but rather an actual scientific fact.
2. Lakeport Lager got me through University, so I'm gonna keep drinking it. False. You should not keep drinking it. You only drank Carling Ice and Maclays while you were slogging through your post-secondary education because a) you were drinking to get drunk, and b) you were rat-shit poor. Now that you've graduated and turned your degree into a fulfilling and lucrative career, you have enough money to drink something that doesn't taste like your glorious youth. It's 2015, and you no longer need to bring a 6 pack of James Ready 5.5 to your next party. Expand your horizons and spend an extra $3.00 to drink a better beer.
3. Labbatt 50 and Pabst Blue Ribbon are what the cool kids are drinking, and I want to be cool. False. You don't want to be cool. What you want is to drink something that doesn't taste like the ass of a dead horse. Drinking PBR was once a badge of honour for a certain unnamed class of humanity, but most of those folks are now drinking something hand crafted and local. Besides, isn't being cool about what's cool cooler than drinking something cool anyway?
So now that we know why you've been drinking shitty beer for all these years, don't you feel like you're ready to branch out and expand your horizons? Excellent, let's proceed!
Stepping into the craft beer world can be intimidating (not really), and it may require a period of adjustment for your desperate and corn-fatigued palate. If you're too timid or frightened to dive right into an innovative, flavourful and exciting craft beer, you could start with a fake craft beer that may serve as a temporary gateway. Fake craft beers are basically beers made by the big beer companies that are marketed as "craft" even though they're made in the same vats as Coors Light. Some people also consider brewers such as Goose Island and Unibroue to be "fake craft" because they've been surreptitiously purchased by the evil empires, even though they still produce basically the same beer as before. As you are all craft beer rookies here, we won't get into this debate but rather stick to the task at hand. There are lots of options in the fake craft field, many of which are even half decent. Here is a handy progression chart which will eventually lead you to the promised land, with a pit-stop in "fake craft" purgatory before you delve into full-fledged craft. These are only a few examples of the thousands of ways to slowly transition from garbage to great:
Alexander Keith's > Alexander Keith's Hop Series > Muskoka Detour
Molson Canadian > Sleeman Silver Creek > Hogsback Vintage Lager
Coors Light > Sleeman Light > Flying Monkeys Antigravity
Shocktop > Blanche du Chambly > Amsterdam Oranje Weiss
Rickards Red > Killian's Red > Lake of Bays Spark House Red Ale
Labbatt 50 > Boundary Ale > Great Lakes Pompous Ass
For those of you who are ready and willing to immerse yourself immediately into the world of craft beer, fuck that silly transition chart and proceed directly into the wide world of amazing-ness. Because the majority of generic macro-beer drinkers are lovers of lagers and other light beers, craft lagers would be a good place for you to start. As you begin to realize that craft beer can actually have flavour, without going too crafty with it, you will have no choice but to swap your Labatt Blue for an Amsterdam Natural Blonde. As your taste-buds are introduced to this brave new world, you may eventually become slightly bored by the predominantly grainy and bready flavours of the lager world, and be tempted to try some light ales and IPA's. As you progress to the wonderful world of ale, you will be introduced to the sweet and complex flavours of dark malts, which will make you wonder why you were drinking beer that tasted like wet cardboard and regurgitated corn in the first place. At this point the sky is the limit, and you'll find yourself experimenting with all sorts of beer drinking experiences, ranging from refreshing wheat beers to intense dark wonders like Sawdust City Long Dark Voyage To Uranus.
This is not to say that all craft beer is good, or even palatable in some cases. There are a lot of craft beers that pretty much suck balls, and also a lot of craft beers that are really great, but just not for everybody. To avoid shitty and/or over-the-top selections, there are way too many craft beer blogs out there which can tell you which beers to avoid. And if you like reading reviews, there is a terrible blog called Your Next Beer that has hundreds of descriptions to help you on your way.
As you've undoubtedly noticed, many of your favourite watering holes have been transitioning their draught beer selection from the same 15 shitty generic beers from Molson and their parent company, and the same 15 shitty generic beers from Labatt and their parent company, to a more local approach. So, instead of ordering your usual mass produced generic brand, try a comparable local beer instead. Another good way to introduce yourself to the world of craft is to attend any of the plethora of local craft beer events throughout the year. At these events you'll have the opportunity to try a myriad of beers and styles, in smaller sizes, that can help you find the beers that are right for you. It's like test driving 20 cars in 2 hours, except you're allowed to hang out with friends and get shit-faced while doing it.
It's important to note that once you become a craft beer enthusiast, which may be inevitable if you just give it a whirl, you don't need to flaunt it to your friends, start a blog, or become a total dick. Some craft beer lovers are more flamboyant than others, some try to push their beer ideals on others, and some like to scream it from a mountain-top, and some don't have a mountain top so they use a newsroom. In the end, drinking better beer has nothing to do with making any kind of statement or joining some exclusive club, it's just a matter of what you prefer.
There are indisputable advantages to drinking craft beer. Drinking local beer is better for the Canadian economy, it's better for the environment, and it's certainly a better product. But if you legitimately like the taste of Budweiser more than anything else, then by all means keep drinking it. Otherwise, get out there, explore, and start your path to beer enlightenment. Cheers!