Beer — it’s the world’s favorite alcoholic drink and its popularity is soaring. It has only four key ingredients but fearless brewers are adding countless others, from chocolate and coconut to beardgrown yeast, seaweed and stag semen. As Alice Galletly surveys the growing array in a supermarket, she makes a spur-of-the-moment decision: she will drink and blog about a different beer every day for a year. While writing her blog Beer for a Year Alice becomes not only a beer nerd and enthusiastic member of the beer community, but briefly a brewer, with a bizarre medieval concoction that contains… ? Read this entertaining book and find out. Alice’s stories and her tips on how to get the most out of every glass of beer will make you roar with happiness, pain, and thirst. Best read with hops on hand.
About the Author
Alice Galletly is a journalist who has written for publications including Dish and AA Directions. After drinking 365 beers in 365 days, she furthered her knowledge by working in a beer bar.
Read an Excerpt
365 bottles of beer
NINETY PERCENT of what I know about beer, I learned in the course of one year. Between August 9, 2011 and August 8, 2012 to be exact. I realise that doesn't bode particularly well for the contents of this book. Perhaps now you're wondering if you should have bought 1001 Beers You Must Taste Before You Die instead. Sure, it's out of date and full of beers that no longer exist, but at least it's hardcover; it would have looked great on the shelf.
The good news is you're in safe hands. My beer education might not have been long but it was really intense – like a 365-day beer boot camp. Was I getting a PhD in the science of brewing? Living as a Trappist monk? Travelling the world with a copy of the aforementioned 1001 tome? No, something way better.
I was blogging.
At this point the penny is probably starting to drop. You may have flipped back to the cover and realised that – hang on – that name looks familiar. Yes, I am the one who wrote that beer blog everyone was always talking about. The one that got your mum into IPAs and your buddy called 'the best thing on the internet since lolcats'. It's natural to feel a little star-struck.
Or ... no? You've never even heard of me? Weird. I guess I'll have to explain then.
My blog was called Beer for a Year (the catchier A Year in Beer was taken) and I came up with it while I was walking through the booze aisle of my local supermarket. I was on my way to pick up a bottle of heavily discounted shiraz, as one does, when I was struck by how big the craft beer section had become. The familiar boxes of big-brand lagers were squashed together down one end, while a motley crew of colourful single bottles was taking up metres of shelf space. There were at least a hundred different beers, some from the UK, USA and Belgium but most made here in New Zealand. How long had they been here? I wondered. What did they taste like? What the hell was an 'IPA'?
At the time I had been planning to start an offal blog as a way to practise writing, and had even registered the domain nameOffallygood.com (now free, in case you want to use it). I wasn't sure of the exact angle I would take, only that it would feature recipes and a lot of bad puns. But standing in the beer aisle in front of all these mysterious bottles, I realised I had a more compelling – and let's face it, more appealing – subject in front of me. There and then I made a decision. An offally good one, looking back.
The premise was simple: I would drink and write about a different beer every single day for a year. That was it. The entire plan was formulated between the beer aisle and the deli, which is another way of saying it was not particularly well thought out.
For the next 365 days I consumed beer, and it in turn consumed me. When I started the blog I thought it wouldn't be a big deal, that I could slot it into my life without too much disruption. Ha! I guess that's what people think about babies before they have them. What I hadn't factored in is that I would turn into a raging beer nerd, and being a beer nerd is hard work. There was the blog to look after, sure, but on top of that there were weekly beer launches to attend, breweries to visit, politics and industry scandals to tweet about. Beer was no longer just a beverage, it had become a lifestyle.
For friends and family, my new lifestyle was a pain in the arse. If I met someone for a drink we had to find a place that had a beer I hadn't blogged about, then I'd spend the first half hour taking photographs and notes. This meant conversations would go something like this: Friend: Did you hear Jane is having a baby?
Me: A baby – wow. Hey, can you smell aniseed in this?
Friend: Uh. ... maybe. So anyway, apparently she's not sure who the father is–
Me: Oh WOW.
Friend: Crazy right?
Me: No, I mean – I think it's got fennel in it!
I managed to weed out a lot of my less committed friends that year.
To be honest, I never truly believed when I started Beer for a Year that it would last the full 365 days. I had good intentions, but I knew how many other projects I'd started with gusto only to abandon two weeks later. Weaving, jogging, gardening, vegetarianism – you name it, I've hit it and quit it.
But something happened that made Beer for a Year harder to give up on: to my amazement, some people other than my parents actually read the blog. It didn't really make me famous, or even internet famous like the cat that squeezes into the tiny boxes, but I gathered enough of an audience that giving up would have been embarrassing. Some nice readers even sent me special beers they'd picked up overseas, and bottles of their home brew wrapped up like newborn babies. Ordinarily I wouldn't drink something sent by a stranger on the internet, but they all had such adorable homemade labels, how could I not?
I took the rules I'd set for myself incredibly seriously, sometimes to my detriment. One night I was drifting off to sleep when I realised I had plain forgotten to have a beer that day, and had to jump out of bed to get one down before midnight. Chugging room-temperature, toothpaste-tainted stout alone in my living room is not one of my finest Beer for a Year memories. Nor, sadly, is it the worst. Another day I was so ill (possibly self-inflicted) that I could manage only one sip of a light lager before crumpling to the floor like a sack. That was my rock bottom. At least I hope it was.
For the most part, drinking beer was a ritual I would look forward to all day. I'd come home from work, look in my 'beer cupboard' (which my flatmates were under strict instructions not to open) and select whichever bottle I fancied at the time. I had all kinds of stuff in there – mostly New Zealand craft beer, but also swanky imports wrapped in paper, cheap lagers, British ales and the donated home brew. Once I had chilled, poured and photographed the beer, I'd sit at the dining table and drink it with a careful studiousness, jotting down anything about the experience that I could use in the blog post. If I loved the beer, the notes would be filled with phrases like, 'This beer is my spirit animal' and 'ME LIKEY', whereas if I disliked it, the sheepish 'Might be nice on a hot day.' If I really really didn't like it and knew the brewer read the blog, I might give the beer to my less fussy boyfriend and pick something else.
One thing that was never an issue was finding enough beers to write about. Had I attempted the blog a few years earlier, or from somewhere like Waiouru, it would have been tougher, but by 2011 New Zealand's craft brewing industry was in the early stages of a mighty growth spurt. The number of craft beer companies, bars and retail stores was rising rapidly, and even in Auckland, which was still lagging behind Wellington on the beer front, getting your hands on good brews was easy-peasy.
At the same time, a lot of it was new and exciting. Unique styles like saisons and sour ales, which had hardly been seen, let alone brewed, in New Zealand were starting to become trendy. There was a rise in 'extreme' styles, with beers that were smoked, coffee-infused and barrel-aged. They seem tame now compared to your average Garage Project release (smoked dark ale brewed with seaweed, bonito flakes and seawater, anyone?) but at the time a lot of it felt revolutionary.
For all the project taught me about beer, the number one lesson was to keep an open mind. No, wait. The number one lesson was to always check the alcohol percentage on the bottle before you drink it; the number two lesson was to keep an open mind. In the beginning I had all these fixed ideas about what I did and didn't like. I thought all wheat beers tasted like dishwater – something I'd heard another beer aficionado say – and that nothing under four percent alcohol was worth getting out of bed for. I'd tried a cherry kriek at a Belgian beer café once and, finding it too sweet, declared I hated fruit beer. At first it felt good to make these strong sweeping statements about what I did and didn't like. IPAs – yes! Brown ales – boring! Lagers – get the hell outta here! Unfortunately, I kept trying beers that contradicted my staunch convictions, and was forced to overturn them one by one.
Here are a few other things I learned during that year:
1 Most craft brewers read everything you say about them. It doesn't matter if it's on a blog, Twitter or an obscure online forum about vacuum cleaners. They will find what you wrote and remember it word for word when they next encounter you.
2 Writing about a new beer every day is difficult. There are only so many times you can describe the aroma of an IPA as 'like being punched in the face with a mango'.
3 Just because it's 'craft' doesn't mean it's good. And vice versa.
4 Beer people are really nice. It might be that everyone is just a little tipsy all the time, but if the community was any friendlier I'd be worried it was a cult.
5 Always carry a bottle opener. (Mine doubled as an iPhone case.)
There is more, but I don't want to give every single nugget of wisdom away in the first chapter.
On the 365th day of Beer for a Year I held an 'end of blog' party at my favourite pub, Galbraith's Alehouse, and invited readers, friends and family to share my final beer – an imperial red ale called '365' that Liberty Brewing had created specially. I made a toast before taking my first sip and quoted Winston Churchill: 'Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.'
Actually, I didn't say that. I didn't even make a toast because I was too excited and slightly tipsy and I forgot. But I had planned to.
So that's how I learned about beer. With a blog. Or, as I like to think of it, an insane, all-consuming project in which I dived head first into the world of beer, turned into a raging beer nerd, and emerged a qualified author one year later.
Like I said, you're in safe hands.
Pining for Pliny
WHENEVER I TELL someone I drank 365 different beers in a year, there are two questions they invariably ask. One is: 'Did you get fat?' (Answer: A bit, but I blame it mostly on pub fries.)
The other is: 'What was the best beer you drank?'
On that one I'm always stumped. For starters, I'm too indecisive to pick a favourite colour, let alone a beer, of which I've tried hundreds. Secondly, the question could be answered any number of ways, depending on what they mean by 'best'. Is the best beer the most technically perfect? The one with the highest rating on the internet? Or is it simply the one that – for whatever reason – I enjoyed drinking the most?
By this stage, whoever asked the question has likely lost interest and started playing Candy Crush on their phone. If not, I might tell them about the time I tried The Best Beer in America.
In January 2012, when I was halfway through my year of beer, my boyfriend and I spent a few days in Los Angeles on our way home from a holiday in Mexico. I had arrived in the city with a very specific goal and, unlike the previous two times I visited LA, it wasn't to meet Mickey Mouse.
Beer. Beautiful, bountiful, Californian beer – that's what I had come to experience. With more than 500 craft breweries, among them legends like Stone, Anchor, Sierra Nevada and Lagunitas, for beer lovers California practically is Disneyland.
Naturally, I wanted to try as many different examples as I could safely fit into the three days, but there was one in particular I was seeking above all others. I had heard its name mentioned many times back home, usually in hushed, reverential whispers at beer geek gatherings. Apparently the odd bottle had even been smuggled back to New Zealand, but everyone agreed it was best consumed fresh.
Pliny the Elder, named after the Roman naturalist who first gave a scientific name to hops, is a double India Pale Ale made by the Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa. It sits at the top of many 'best of' ranking lists, praised for walking the perfect tightrope between bitter hops and sweet malt. On beer ratings' website RateBeer.com it has a perfect score of 100/100, and members of the American Homebrewers Association have voted it the 'Best Beer in America' for eight years running.
Naturally, Pliny is hard to get hold of. Russian River brews it in small quantities, and this, coupled with the incredible hype around the beer, ensures retailers usually sell out within a few hours of getting a shipment. I've even heard of an insufferable-sounding tribe known as Pliny Hunters who will call around the liquor stores every other day, going from place to place and buying up as much of it as they can. I knew I never wanted to become quite that obsessive, but I was determined to taste Pliny the Elder at least once.
On our first night in LA, a web search for Pliny led us to the Blue Palms Brewhouse on Hollywood Boulevard (via one or two other craft beer bars that were en route, sort of). When we arrived, two big screens were displaying a list of twenty-four beers on tap. To my dismay none of them was Pliny.
'It'll be on later,' the bartender told me, in the weary voice of someone who had been shooing away Pliny Hunters all evening. 'You want something else while you wait?'
I ordered an IPA from San Diego's Stone Brewing Co. It was sublime. I made enthusiastic tasting notes on my phone and alerted the twitterverse to its greatness. Next came a Russian River Consecration, a sour ale aged in oak barrels with currants. This time I gave up on the notes altogether and simply tweeted a photo of the bottle with a thumbs up.
Finally, the bartender disappeared out the back and something flickered on the electronic screen above my head. I looked up and grinned.
Pliny was In the House.
Beer lovers will often talk about having 'beerpiphanies' – those eureka moments where you realise beer can do things you never thought possible. Beer can be sour! Beer can be smoky! Beer can taste like funky old gym socks! That first sip is the one you will remember forever, able to be recalled at any moment as easily as Coca-Cola or apple juice.
I had expected my first sip of Pliny the Elder to be one of those moments. I wish I could say it was. Instead it brought on another kind of epiphany altogether: the realisation that I was staggeringly, breathtakingly drunk. No sooner had the beer hit my tongue than the room started to forward-roll, my mouth filling with saliva in a way that can mean only one thing. I clambered off my barstool and lunged toward the Ladies, reaching it just as my first sip of the Best Beer in America made its unceremonious evacuation.
To say this story is shameful – especially when relayed to anyone in beer circles – is putting it mildly. Aside from the fact I had squandered a glass of Pliny, there is an unspoken notion among craft beer enthusiasts that we should never get drunk. Drinking beer to the point of intoxication (let alone regurgitation) is a sport reserved for the unsophisticated masses, the consumers of cheap pale lager who wouldn't know a Belgian lambic if it hit them on the head. Never mind that craft beer sometimes has double, even triple, the alcohol content of those lagers, we are supposed to share our craft beer with friends, sip it slowly, and drink it with food. In short, we are supposed to know better.
These are all sensible guidelines to follow, of course, and most of the time I do. But as a fairly small person with a penchant for big beers, things don't always go according to plan.
The next morning I got up, dealt to my hangover with a stack of pancakes drowned in syrup, and cabbed my sorry arse back to the Blue Palms. 'It's just something I have to do,' I told my boyfriend, who was beginning to fear Pliny fever had affected my sanity.
This time I was able hold the golden liquid up to the sunlight, fill my nostrils with the aroma of grapefruit and pine-scented hops, and take a deep, long sip without provoking a revolution in my stomach.
It was Delicious. Dazzling. Easily one of the most enjoyable IPAs I'd ever had.
And yet ... it was only a beer.
What had I expected? It's hard to say. When I was a kid, someone told me that if a human were ever to see a new colour outside of the normal spectrum, our brains, unable to process the information, would simply explode. I'm not saying I had expected that to happen with Pliny, but I was hoping for something in the ballpark.
And that's the problem with legendary beers. They may well be worldclass, top-notch examples of their style, but they never quite shake your universe the way you hope they will.
Another classic example is Westvleteren XII – 'Westy' to its friends – which is brewed by monks at the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Vleteren, Belgium. Bound by the Trappist code of 'Ora et labora' (prayer and work), the monks keep production of their three beer styles extremely limited, only ever selling enough to cover the costs of running the monastery.
Excerpted from "How to Have a Beer"
Copyright © 2016 Alice Galletly.
Excerpted by permission of Awa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
365 bottles of beer,
Pining for Pliny,
The famous four,
Everything old is new again,
What'll it be?,
What women want,
Ten reasons your beer tastes bad,
First catch your cock,
Zymurgy and all that,