Beer Culture - It Ain’t No New Thing?

By Blake Stewart on Friday, May 31, 2013

Beer Culture. We at The Brewery Guides Research Institute (TBGRI) espouse it, investigate it, worship it (metaphorically speaking), and enjoy it. What is Beer Culture, anyway?

My own beer culture, like Dorothy’s experience in Oz, is rooted in hot, humid Kansas summers. As wee bairns raised in 1950s Topeka, my two younger brothers and I (at the tender ages of five, four, and two) would watch my parents having an evening can of Carlings Black Label beer in the backyard at the end of a hot summer day. Those were the days of heavy steel cans, opened with a 'church key' and prone to rust in the 98 percent humidity of Kansas air. My folks would leave a tiny sip or two in the can and offer it to my brothers and me for a taste. I won't say it was ambrosia, but it had an interesting flavor. Certainly not as sweet as Coca-Cola, but with a more interesting bite. I don't recall my very first time, but my brothers and I pestered my folks for 'a taste' every time after that. Our zeal to finish the last sip in a can extended to a company picnic we attended at Gage Park when I was about seven. There were huge tubs filled with ice, soda, and a good assortment of canned beers - Carlings, Schlitz, Miller High Life, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Hamms. So many interesting labels, so many interesting names! My brothers and I watched people finish their cans and then toss them into the back of a strategically parked pickup truck. Being helpful youngsters, we positioned ourselves on the tailgate and offered to toss the empties in, saving people the chore of doing it themselves. Trained in the concept of 'the last sip,' we would drain each can completely before tossing it into the truck. If there was more than a mere sip, we would pass the can back and forth, having learned that sharing is a virtue. It didn't take long (15 minutes perhaps) for word to get back to my parents that their three boys, while performing a useful public service, were a little young to be sipping in quantity. We didn't get in big trouble, but we did learn a lot about the joys of moderation as well as the beauty of variety.

That thirst for variety in beer styles and flavors continued as I grew older. My father liked German beers, particularly the dark ones. Becks or Beck's Dark appeared in our refrigerator every so often after we moved to Colorado in 1960. When the pizza craze hit in the early 1960s, we discovered Shakey's Pizza, a chain that had good pizza, honky-tonk piano and banjo on Friday evenings, and half-a-dozen different beers on tap, including a German dark. We went every Friday evening. There were 3.2 joints in Denver in those days (one could drink beer at age 18 then) where high-school seniors could go. The Tap Inn was the closest; places like Tulagis ("You'll dig the action at Tulagis!”), The Sink, and Mr. Luckys were advertised on AM radio. While they certainly didn't offer the variety and goodness of today's tap rooms and brewpubs, they served more than just Coors and evidenced a solid, if not extensive, beer culture during those times.

In my view, beer culture in northern Colorado really took off in the late 1970s. In those days, Fort Collins was developing the vibrant and growing restaurant scene that it has today. The Prime Minister served a variety of beers from the UK; DelFannies offered a selection of twenty or so out-of-the-way American and European beers; and Bananas served brews from Boulder Beer, Colorado's first microbrewery. Offering more than the standard "Coors, Bud, and Miller Lite" lineup became common. A burgeoning home brewing movement, fueled by President Carter’s signing of HR 1337 and later passage of CRS 12-47-142 (the Colorado Beer Code) inspired local residents to move beyond experimenting into the realm of commercial brewing. In 1989, microbreweries began opening in Fort Collins: Odell (1989), New Belgium (1991), HC Berger (1992). Fat Tire was my first experience with a truly local brew (other than friends' home brew offerings) in 1991 at DelFannies. Like Boulder Beer, it was good, it was different, and it was local (therefore unique!) The flood gates opened and the heavens began to pour down an amazing assortment of flavors and styles over the next two decades. Northern Colorado Beer Culture had come into its own.

Asking "What is Beer Culture?" is like asking "What is American Culture?" It depends. To some, it is a new phenomenon that sprang full-grown from the foreheads of home brewers; of Odell, New Belgium, and HC Berger. To others, it is a late twentieth-century development that grew to critical mass during the twenty-first century. To an economist, it is the economic benefit that communities derive from the presence of craft beer brewers, craft beer sellers, and craft beer drinkers. To an anthropologist or a sociologist, it is the significance of beer to cultures and communities over time. To a historian, Beer Culture has been around in varying forms since the dawn of recorded history and in Colorado since the mid-1800s. It is both personal and communal – Beer Culture satisfies an individual’s palate and fulfills a community’s economic and social needs. My own personal Beer Culture combines all these views in a lifelong interest in and appreciation of beer. As an individual and as a card carrying member of The Brewery Guides Research Institute, I see Beer Culture as new and old; exciting and commonplace; and thoroughly engrossing - both in an intellectual sense and an experiential sense.

"For a quart of ale is a dish for a king" ~William Shakespeare~