Andrew Hoenig is the Beverage Director at the Ginger Man, located in Norwalk CT. He knows a thing or two about beer and will be sharing his insights with CTbites in his new Beer Talk column.
“We are all creatures of habit. We can do most things without even thinking about them; our bodies take charge and do them for us.” When motivational speaker Earl Nightingale said that, he wasn’t talking about our beer drinking habits. But it rings true; how often do you go to your local package store and pick up the same six pack, go into your favorite bar and order old reliable, or take a look at a large beer menu, get a little frazzled, and just yell out “Blue Moon!” or “Stella!” I find myself doing it entirely too often as well.
No, I am not drinking Blue Moon or Stella, but too often I find myself sticking to one India Pale Ale (IPA), or even to IPA’s in general. For most of my 6+ years as a restaurant manager and now beverage director for a group of beer bars, I’ve always had a fondness for hops. Habitually when I have a couple beers with my boss Christian, we always go to the best IPA on the draught wall at the time. But often we glance over specialties and miss something we might actually like. Most of us do. Sometimes because it’s a few dollars more, sometimes it’s from a brewery you may not be familiar with. All of the time it’s not in the style category we are comfortable with.
In September, my friend Matthew and I had the opportunity to visit the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California. We were Sierra Beer Campers, a group of lucky invites from across the country collaborating to brew a small batch of beer in the R & D brew house. While there we toured their facilities, went through sensory training with the scientists in the Quality Assurance and packaging laboratories, and created the recipe for the beer we chose to brew. It would have been easy for us to wander down the often traveled road of IPA’s and Double IPA’s. Instead we chose to put our hop heads together and create something entirely different than we are used to drinking. We campers elected to incorporate red wine grapes into the brew, an ingredient that Sierra Nevada has never used. We acquired the grapes from a local winery just outside of Chico in Vina, California, crushed them under foot, and dumped them into the boiling wort (unfermented beer) adding color, aroma, flavor, and alcohol. After a couple weeks of fermenting, Sierra Nevada Birra Vina was born.
Upon drinking Birra Vina I realized how easily we can miss out on many wonderful beers because our habits often dictate what we drink. We should be challenging our taste buds to find something new. Innovative spirit is what has kept the craft beer industry moving forward. Your favorite IPA will always be there, so try a malt driven ale and perhaps find a new facet to beer you previously missed. After having a glass of your favorite domestic winter brew, try one from a Belgian brewery you’ve never heard of before. Ask the gent next to you at the bar what he’s having. Try the bartender’s suggestion. Better yet, let me know what you’ve tried so I can try your suggestion.