Featured Contributor: Don Manfredi @
Many of us that have a love affair with beer have something in common – a backstory regarding the beers that shaped our tastes. We all remember our first beer and most of us remember the one beer that turned us into the zealots we are now. We recall the gateway beer that created the person that stands in line to buy a single twelve ounce beer for $10.00. This little trip down memory lane highlights the top 5 beers that led to the creation of someone who blogs about beer.
Growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I started drinking at a pretty early age (and I am not counting Communion wine or a sip of dad’s beer, although dad’s beer plays a part). I drank my first full beer in the middle of another arctic winter when I was in 8th grade and I am not proud to say that I took the beers from my father. My dad drank whatever was cheapest so Schaefer ended up being the beer I stole and hid in a snow bank outside of our house. We had a school dance on a Friday night which was big doings in a town like Iron River. During the day I took 4 Schafer out of the root cellar and put them in a snow bank behind the garage. When the sun went down my buddy Toby and I dug the beers out and drank them outside in the below zero weather. I still have a vivid taste memory from that first beer. The beer was so cold there was slush in the can, and it seemed insanely bitter (hard to believe considering the tongue peelers I drink now!). They went down so easy that we finished the four beers pretty quickly, chewed half a pack of grape Bubblicious, and ran the gauntlet through the chaperones to our first of many beer fueled nights.
After that night we got beer any way we could. Spot buying, liberating them from parents and relatives, going to parties and weddings that we had no business being at, you name it. As we grew a little older we were able to drink under age in a few of the bars in town, as long we timed it right and no adults we knew were around. It was at one of those local bars where I had my first official draft beer. The place was called Joe’s bar (yes that was really the name) and it was down the street from our high school. Katie was Joe’s wife and she had taken over the bar after Joe had died so it was nicknamed “Katie’s”. Katie’s eyeglass lenses were thicker than the bottom of two coke bottles so she could not tell how old we were. All we had to do was wait for our teachers to leave (a few of them stopped every night after school) and we were golden. It was Hamm’s on draft in a schooner (basically a chalice) for $.50 a glass. Heaven.
Sommbeer Note: I grew up on Old Style myself. Click here for my review.
Number three is Old Style. Iron River is only eight miles from the Wisconsin border so we had a heavy influence from the cheese head nation. Most people were Packer football and Brewer baseball fans and everyone drank Old Style. Old Style is my most nostalgic beer, probably because I drank so much of it! Back then they sold it in stubby bottles we called “grenades”. They were twelve ouncers and resembled today’s Red Stripe bottle. We could also get them in forties, long neck, cans and tall boy cans, but grenades were our favorites. I still sneak an Old Style past my taste buds every so often and I still love it.
A few honorable mention beers from my youth: Carling’s Black Label, so cheap that we would buy a twelve pack with the empties from our finished case of Meister Brau – (“tastes as good as Budweiser and it costs less” was the Meister Brau tag line back then and they were only half right) we drank before. Bud Heavy makes the list because we considered it a splurge to drink Bud. Old Milwaukee, Miller High Life, MGD, Red White and Blue, and Pabst Blue Ribbon also have a special place in my heart.
When I got to college I was at the point in my life where I would drink anything too thin to chew. I drank a lot of Olympia, Milwaukee’s Best, Mickeys Malt Liquor, and Bush but I also had my first “transition beer”. There was a bar on campus named The Riviera Café that we just called “The Riv”. They served the original Frankenmuth Dark at the Riv and it was one of my favorites. That Munich style Dunkel got me to start trying the German imports like Beck’s and Lowenbrau which got me on the path to where I am today. When Frankenmuth rebooted the brewery and released a dark beer I bought it immediately but sadly it was not the same.
Finally, the last beer on my top five influencers list has to be Guinness Stout. My first Guinness was their export stout that is sold in the bottle with the yellow label. The export stout is a little less dry and has a little more bite to it. That first Guinness got me to start experimenting with beer, and led me to try others later, like Stone Ruination, my first really hoppy west coast style IPA.
There are plenty other beers to mention but these five are the ones that I can really point to as my foundation. There were plenty of other cast members like Kessler Whiskey, Gilbey’s Gin, and CR Cellars Fortissimo but beer was, and still is my base, and this is a beer blog so I will keep it focused.
So that’s a bit of my beer history in around 1000 words. Lots of good times with a lot of interesting people, and thankfully the beer just keeps getting better.
Comfort is the direct enemy of growth.
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