Understanding the beer geek | VailDaily.com

Understanding the beer geek

Cassie Pence
AE Beer Festival DT 01-07

VAIL – When the king of England had holdings in India, he would send beer over to his soldiers to keep them happy. But it was a nine week trip, and by the time the suds arrived, it was stale pale ale that tasted like dirt.So the king demanded of his brewers a better beer for his hard working men. The brewers added more hops – a natural preservative – which also gave the beer a delightful bitterness. They raised the beer’s alcohol content, which stabilized the flavor enough to survive the trip around the horn of Africa and through the rocky waters into India. The soldiers loved the new flavor and dubbed it India Pale Ale, or today’s IPAs. Only a beer geek would know this story, and it was Sean Ziegler, pouring beers for Dogfish Head brewery at at the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival Saturday, who told it.”Wine is like an art. Your always subject to nature,” Ziegler said. “Beer is more like a science. Hence, the name beer geek. You can measure the color, the hops, the sweetness – and theoretically – if you can measure it, you can reproduce it over and over again.”The predominately male crowd at Saturday’s festival is part of a larger beer culture much different than the quantity guzzling, can crushing frat boys often associated with beer. These beer lovers crave knowledge about their favorite carbonated beverage. They seek out brews that are complex in color and flavor and do it through tasting, smelling, attending festivals, visiting breweries and cooking up their own concoctions.

“There’s not a beer I don’t like, there’s not a beer I won’t taste, there’s not a place with a brewery that I won’t visit,” said Chris Katechis of Oskar Blues Brewery, who was serving up Old Chub Scottish style ale among others. “Everything there is to know about beer, we want to know. What time the brewer wakes up and starts brewing – we want to know.”Katechis said beer geeks love crazy flavors – and the more off the wall – the better. Flavor, for many of these connoisseurs at the festival, is what first attracted them from the three beer barons (Coors, Anheuser-Busch and Miller) to the growing world of micobrews.”Once I found a beer that had flavor,” said Dave Wirth of Gypsum, “there was no going back.”Wirth, a homebrewer who competed in the festival’s homebrewing competition, said he wasn’t a beer man at all until he tasted a beer from Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City, S.D., 10 years ago. Now he’s fermenting his own brew and gravitating toward even “bigger beers” for their intense flavor.”A beer geek is someone interested in flavor more than effect,” Wirth said. “They want to know why that flavor is there.”When Bob Brewer (his real name) moved to San Francisco in 1966 to go to college, he discovered a “funny little brewery” called Anchor Brewing, and there he tried Anchor Steam Beer.

“It was a weird beer, a dark beer, really unique,” Brewer said. “It wasn’t the standard pale, yellow beer. I really liked it.”He soon took a job with the company and has been at it for about 30 years – but he’s not a beer geek.”I am a beer aficionado and a beer scholar and a beer historian,” Brewer said. “The term beer geek originated about 10 years ago. People began describing themselves as beer geeks. It’s someone who is so absorbed with beer. It’s people who get over the top with anything. In Vail, you’re ski geeks.”Aficionados, on the other hand, Brewer said, are better educated and most of them are in technical professions.”It’s an extension of the wine thing,” Brewer said. “But we’re more honest and down to earth.”

Todd Isbell, co-brewer at Pump House Brewery in Longmont, couldn’t agree more. Isbell said he is a beer geek, a beer connoisseur and a beer aficionado.”But I am not a beer snob,” Isbell said. “We’ll leave that to the wine snobs. As brewers, we are your brothers. We will put an arm around you and embrace you into the family. Wine is exclusive and beer is inclusive. We have an ethos – beer is too good to spit out.”Attitude may differ between wine people and beer people, but there is one common element among the two cultures – a tuned in palate.”Some people choose to use their palates and some are stuck in advertising,” said Jim Duffelmeyer, a private chef in Vail, who was referring to the constant marketing of mainstream beers like Budweiser and Coors. “That’s the big difference in this room right here. We’re not hung up on marketing.”As Brewer of Anchor Brewing pointed out, beer has been enjoyed by humans for 4,000 years. The people who attend festivals like High Point Brewing’s Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival are just a small, colorful group embracing a particular part of the beer lifestyle.”Drinking beer is cultural constant,” Brewer said.

=============Tear in your beerCheck out what you missed Saturday at the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival at http://www.BigBeersFestival.com. =============You know you’re a beer geek …

“When you drop your high paying job as an environmental engineer to enroll at UC Davis Master Brewer School.” – Todd Isbell of Pump House Brewery in Longmont.=============Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14640, or cpence@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado

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