After my pallet became acclimated to the quality of the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, I had a difficult time adjusting. Think about it. It was rough financially navigating how to explore what little craft beer was available after my mouth's eyes had been opened, but then also realizing that at my young age I was going to be constantly battling quality versus quantity. This wasn’t real life stress rough, more of the pressure of weighted decision-making stuff like “do I buy one 22oz bottle of something weird or two 30 packs of Keystone Light?”. This was not a trivial matter. This was a pivotal moment in my life of craft beer consumption, people!
But being in college on a budget and working at a bar that had not one but two quarter draft nights, what sort of craft beer do you think I could get for a quarter? Please do not answer that.
See, my options weren't just limited, my wallet had some serious restrictions too. How was I going to juggle the desire for exploring the whole wide world of beer flavors out there, but also be able to socialize with my college chums without feeling like I was being the guy who wore the beret and smoked Clove cigarettes?
You know that guy? His name is Ryan, but of course he spells it Ryne. Hi Ryne! Oui Oui! Your beret makes it look like you have an eraser for a head!
Sure, I'm being partially facetious. But it’s true, I wanted the best of both worlds, but I couldn't afford either of them really. Nor did I have a beret of my own. What I realized soon after I was confronted with this ice-cold conundrum, was that I had to rely on my street smarts and my ability to know where my bread was buttered.
Clichés aside, I worked at a bar. I was entitled to a few shifties throughout the work week, and while we didn't stock anything considered to be "craft beer", we did have copious amounts of NASCAR sponsored macro beers and rack liquor brands with names that were blatantly stereotypical. Seriously, if you saw the lack in creativity some of these liquor brand names had, you’d know for sure I was pulling from the lowest rack in the entire bar.
So what if I used my shifties to socialize at the bar and then spend my miniscule cash beer budget on my new craft beer obsession? Let's be real, I couldn't buy good beers and bring them home when we'd have 77 young respectable college aged adults over for a nice little gathering. The good beers would be gone in seconds.
So yes, friends. I started buying experimental beers for myself and hiding them like one would hide a bad habit. Now that I think about it, I was totally hiding it from everyone, but not out of shame. I was not embarrassed that I bought a singular beer for over $15 that had a bald hooded monk on the label, I just wanted that bald monk for myself.
It took a special kind of friend to be privy to my private beer stash and, should I share that information with a friend, I had to be prepared for that person to not just imbibe with me from this stash, but for them to possibly rat on me for holding out. They wouldn't bust me out because they were upset that I was hiding stuff. No. They'd bust me out because they probably never had a 15% abv Belgian quad that they accidentally slammed like a run of the mill draft beer.
I turned many a college pal into a blathering pile of uncomfortable honesty for a while there. It was as if this craft beer I was buying wherever I could find it, somehow contained a sort of truth serum. People weren't just telling me who they were crushing on, or that they skipped class all semester and were now failing Bowling 101. No. These people were teaching me their social security card numbers and their personal preferences, from the color of their underwear on down to their toilet paper softness preference.
Flavor will do that to ya. Give it an inch and it'll take an entire mile. Or something.
Regardless, at this point I was now sneaking individual beers into the fridge on Sunday mornings so I could enjoy a La Fin du Monde with my football. Or hiding a Hacker-Pschorr big boy behind the coffee creamer to sip on while I studied. Or savoring an Allagash White to enjoy as a night cap after a 9 hour bar shift. Or even grabbing a pony keg of DAB or a flip top bottle of Grolsch to skunk on while I watched ElimiDATE.
I couldn't stock up, I couldn't gather the boys to my yard with my craft beer shakes, but I was gradually attempting to drink everything I never had. And that didn't make me feel like I was keeping secrets. It felt more like I was doing research for a book report that I wouldn't actually write until Brewhouse Legends asked me to.
Thinking back on the number of Fat Tires I drank and the number of flat tires I changed while in college, I'd wager the beers only slightly edged out the actual flat tires.