Meister Bräu Bock
(Chicago) As a child growing up in 1970s Wisconsin, Meister Bräu Bock was the first beer I ever saw that wasn’t yellow. It tasted a bit different, too. My father told me they make bock beers every spring because that’s when the breweries clean out the bottoms of their tanks. Ha! This beer probably placed in my brain the idea that there are other beers in the world. The seasonal aspect—and the fact that my father bought several cases and stored them in the basement, which he didn’t do for any other beer—made me understand that this beer was special. The fact that it was my father’s favorite beer also probably influenced me because as the first-born child, I was definitely a daddy’s girl.
Hires Homemade Root Beer
I know root beer isn’t a real beer, but hear me out: My family made a batch of this when I was 14. You mixed the concentrate up with sugar and bottled it with yeast, so it had natural carbonation from actual fermentation. It was dry and medicinal and tasted nothing like store-bought root beer. We bottled it in cleaned, saved beer bottles, just like homebrew, with a lever-action capper. It was so bitter that we could only drink it with vanilla ice cream as root-beer floats, and it seemed really weird to us sugar-addicted kids. I believe this experience caused me to understand that if you ferment and bottle something yourself, it can taste completely different from any commercial example.
At age 21, I was on a 3,000-mile road trip with a college girlfriend, driving from Arizona, up the West Coast, and across to Wisconsin. We were ahead of our time in that we always asked for and drank whichever beer was brewed locally—a habit we picked up attending university in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, home of Walter’s Beer and Leinenkugel’s (in nearby Chippewa Falls). When we got to San Francisco, the local beer was Anchor Steam. It had the most intense flavor of any beer that I’d tasted up until then—I remember thinking that it tasted like coffee. Of course, I don’t think that now, but if all you’d ever had were yellow beers, in comparison, there was definitely some roast flavor in the 1981 version of Anchor Steam. Note: I had tried Guinness Stout in college—but we didn’t consider Guinness a beer back then. We considered it a cocktail mixer, and periodically we drank “Guinness Sour,” a cocktail made of Guinness and sour mix.
Steelhead Bombay Bomber IPA
When I was brewmaster at Steelhead in Eugene in 1990 and I was designing the beer lineup before opening day, one was an American IPA called Bombay Bomber. Before I brewed my own IPAs as a professional, I had only tasted Anchor Liberty Ale and some homebrewed English IPAs made by friends. So, I designed my IPA using Fred Eckhardt’s seminal book, The Essentials of Beer Style, which mentioned Munich and Vienna malts, and East Kent and Styrian Goldings hops. However, I wanted to translate those imported ingredients into American ones because I had experienced my first brewery employer going out of business (and bouncing my paychecks). My goal was to help my employers stay in business—by keeping raw-material expenses way down. Therefore, my philosophy was to use 100 percent American ingredients in all my beers. So, I translated “orange marmalade hop character” into whatever citrusy American hops I could find. In 1990, that was Centennial (then called CFJ-4), Mt. Hood, and Chinook.
As far as I know, I was the first American professional brewer to make an IPA with all-American ingredients. In 1990, we considered IPA to be an English beer style. All my brewer friends, both pro and amateur, gave me grief for not using English malt. I defied them and carried on. When Steelhead opened on January 21, 1991, Bombay Bomber became the first American IPA always available on tap as a flagship offering. (Sorry, Karl Ockert and BridgePort Brewing—I beat you by five years.) This beer was significant because it introduced a grapefruit-pineapple (tropical) aroma and flavor to IPAs.
Bombay Bomber became a cult beer among West Coast professional brewers, especially my peers from when I was brewing in California. Each year in July, as California brewers made their annual pilgrimage north to the Oregon Brewers Festival, many of them stopped into Steelhead in Eugene to enjoy a Bombay Bomber or two. This beer never won a GABF medal—it didn’t bottle well and was brewed to be enjoyed on draft. I liked to tell people, in response to the lack of awards, “You can’t put a tiger in a cage and expect it to be the same animal, and you can’t put Bombay Bomber in a bottle and expect it to be the same beer.”
(Roeselare, West Flanders, Belgium)
Back in the 1990s, there was a wonderful man in Portland, Oregon, named Jim Kennedy. He and his wife Bobbie owned Admiralty Beverage, a beer distributorship. He was mostly known in Portland, but his reach extended to our Eugene homebrew club, the Cascade Brewers Society. Once upon a time, about 1993, Jim was planning to import some beer from Belgium, and he asked our homebrew club if there were any specific beers he could bring in for us. We pooled our order to make up one pallet, and I scored one case of Rodenbach Alexander and six matching glasses. This beer was not set up for export to the United States then, so this was a special deal—otherwise, you had to travel to Belgium to get it yourself. I still have those glasses, and I enjoyed those bottles over time with very special friends. After a while, Rodenbach stopped producing Alexander. Now, many years later, the brewery has re-introduced it, and it’s now imported. But the beer is completely different—and far inferior. This beer was important to me because I loved it so much. It’s also special because I visited the brewery in 1994, and the then-60-year-old brewmaster gave me a ride in his very large, fancy black car to the train station at the end of my visit.
Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic
I love well-made cherry beers. Cantillon Kriek was notable because it was so shocking to me. I remember thinking that no American brewery could ever make a kriek or gueuze or anything so sour because American consumers would never buy enough sour beer to make it worthwhile. Vinnie Cilurzo at Russian River proved me wrong, and he started a revolution in the United States.
Cantillon also is notable because I visited the brewery in 1994, and Jean-Pierre Van Roy would not come out of his office to talk to me. His wife told me that he did not believe I was a brewer—being, then, a 34-year-old woman with a baby face. So, I sent her back with a copy of Brewing Techniques Magazine, a Bombay Bomber T-shirt, and photos of my brewing tanks. Finally, he came out to give me a tour. Besides the acid shock I experienced, Cantillon is important to me because it is a living, breathing museum of ancient brewing techniques and equipment. I was enthralled to see it.