Last year beer writer Ben Johnson started a series on his blog called “The best beer I’ve ever had“, starting with his own story of the first beer he drank while holding his newborn son, in the days after his son’s traumatic birth. He then put out the call for other industry people to submit their stories:
This experience has inspired me to explore the emotional component that sometimes accompanies a great beer and I’ve asked a handful of “beer folks”–brewers, writers, and industry folks–to detail their best beer experience in a series aptly titled “The best beer I’ve ever had.” I’ll share their stories with you here in the coming weeks.
Now, I’m not really a beer folk. I don’t work in the industry or have any real expertise, I’m just a punter. I loved the idea though, and felt like the sharing my story even if no one asked. Hey, you came to my blog, pal. Anyway, here it is.
In October 2010 we were travelling around Napa and Sonoma for a few days. In the couple of years leading up to that we had really begun to get into wine. I suppose Nellie was always there, but now I was attacking the topic voraciously the way I do when I decide I need to get up the learning curve. I’d always been more of a beer guy — in fact, we spent the first half of the trip tackling a number of top beer places back in San Francisco — but when in Napa one drinks wine. At restaurants, at wineries, at the B&B…one definitely drinks wine.
To be honest, we might’ve overdone it the first few days. Nellie was definitely worse for wear after one epic day of sampling followed by an early-morning hot air balloon ride, after which we drove over the mountains into Sonoma and I fell in a ditch. The trip felt like it was going off the rails, so we decided to take it easy the next day. Also, I was getting a little tired of wine — we hadn’t yet learned how to pace ourselves when sampling 15% monster cabs and the like, and it was wearing on me. Frankly, by the time we grabbed lunch on our last day in wine country, all I wanted was a beer.
We pulled into a little roadside restaurant called Café Citti, a regular stopover point for people on the wine trail, where we picked up some pasta dishes to go with a bottle of wine we’d picked up that morning. Just before our food was ready I noticed a few bottles of beer on display, and not just any beers: they were from the Russian River Brewing Company, a nearby world-class producer. A server walking past told me they also had Pliny The Elder, Russian River’s flagship Double IPA and 16th-highest-rated beer in the world (at the time of this writing, according to ratebeer.com) on tap. Our food was due to arrive any minute so I didn’t have time for a full pint, but the gentleman pulled me a small glass and I stood there drinking it, waiting in line for takeout Italian food. Double IPAs aren’t usually my thing, but that fortuitous sample at that exact moment tasted like the best beer I’d ever had.
Cover photo by Vince Bossi , used under Creative Commons license