I don’t know when I became a beer drinker but by my mid-teens I had acquired a taste for the occasional beer. I didn’t have a preference of brand since they all tasted about the same for me. It wasn’t until joining the Navy and making my first trip outside the US that I discovered there is much more to beer than the pale, stale, stuff normally found in American taverns.
That first trip was a three-month visit to Scotland where beer and ale are served from a tap at ambient room temperature. It took some adjustment to both the hardier flavors and texture of Scottish brews as well as it not being served ice-cold.
But adjust I did and by the end of our visit I had developed a real affinity for beers that, at the time, just couldn’t be commonly found in America, especially small town America. Things are much different now and even the smallest carry out the beer case will contain something headier than Bud-Light.
Back in the 90s I visited a friend in Connecticut and he took me to a pub where we consumed a couple of pints of Belhaven Scottish Ale. Belhaven is Scotland’s oldest brewery (1719) but I knew nothing about it while I was in that country. All I can recall being available in the Scottish pubs I frequented was a golden brew called heavy and a darker version called light. The difference, other than color was the thickness or body with heavy being much creamier than light. The other common option was a tap of Guinness Stout which I didn’t discover a taste for until later in life.
At Christmas my wife gave me a box of assorted beers called, “Beer Around the World.” It contained ten individual brews representing all the continents except Antarctica. The nations represented included Vietnam, Australia, Kenya, South Africa, Holland, Belgium, Germany, England, Argentina and America. I spread the experience over a couple of weeks and kept a few notes on what I thought of each. Basically the further their manufacturer was from Northern Europe the less hardy and flavorful they were. The only one I chose not to sample was Kentucky Bourbon Ale. It is an ale made in Kentucky and aged in used bourbon barrels. I had sampled it once in a Cincinnati pub and definitely didn’t like it. True to its name, it tasted of bourbon and since it was drinking bourbon that brought on my first hangover I just can’t tolerate the taste or odor of it. That bottle went to a son-in-law.
My more recent beverage experiences occurred during a recent Caribbean cruise. While in New Orleans before the cruise I had a chance to try a couple of local brews made by the Abita Brewing Company. One was an India Pale Ale and I’ve decided I don’t like IPAs. I don’t really know what they are made of but I suspect some spices or flavorings are employed that make them objectionable to me. I’ve found the same true of Belgium beers which taste too much like a flower garden or an orange grove. The other Abita was a red lager and it was excellent, full bodied and satisfying.
In Montego Bay, Jamaica I enjoyed a couple of bottles of the most famous of Jamaican beers, Red Stripe. I’ve seen it often in area stores but never gave it a try. I was in a Jamaican shop, decided I was thirsty, and it was either a Red Stripe or a diet cola. So, when in Jamaica do as the Jamaicans! I found nothing to prevent me from picking up an occasional six-pack of Red Stripe here at home. Jamaica does itself proud with this brew.
I didn’t partake in the Cayman Islands but in Mexico my wife and I sat in a Tiki bar at the end of the pier and I had a local beer named Pacifico. Very similar to Mexico’s Corona brand and very enjoyable. At sea I had an occasional pint of Carnival’s own draft brew, a red lager named Tasty Frog. Talking to a bartender I discovered it is made for them by Anheuser-Busch and is probably the same brew that Bud sells under the label, Budweiser American Red Lager. Almost forgot to mention, the Tasty Frog was very tasty!
This article was prompted by sitting here on a cold snowy afternoon, listening to Tony Bennett’s Duets II on PBS and sipping a glass of Smithwick’s Irish Ale I picked up at Kroger’s earlier today. I was hoping it would be as good as Belhaven’s Scottish Ale and while it is very tasty, the separation of the two nations by the Irish Sea is enough to make a difference that just slightly favors the Scots.