Working for and adventuring through the world of RateBeer can lead you to a bunch of crazy beers, trips, tastings, and experiences. Such a site allowed me a perfect gateway to discovering and tasting beers I never dreamed I could through friendship, trading, and meeting people who all had a common interest: Beer.
But it wasn’t always that way. Back in my high school years, I worked as a busser and barback at Flossmoor Station, a small yet accomplished brewery in the southern suburbs of Chicago. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was able to strike up friendships with some amazing brewers through the years who have gone on to do big things, win many awards, and who I still talk to and call friends to this day.
Perhaps the most memorable experience for me was my discovery of sour beer through Mr. Matt Van Wyk and his wonderful concoction: Leftorium. I had no concept of sour beer back when I graduated college at the beginning of the summer of 2008. Away in Iowa, beer was a bit more standard and less diverse (Though operations like John’s Grocery and The Sanctuary in Iowa City certainly helped me discover beer through college). Coming home, it was exciting to be back in an area where beer was really taking off.. innovation and experimental beers were plentiful.. and there were so many options.
Matt’s Leftorium was my first experience with a sour beer. Today, I consider myself a full fledged sour fiend.. trading for and buying new one off beers from all sorts of American breweries.. buying lambic from overseas.. hunting brewery only releases from notable American sour brewers such as Russian River, Captain Lawrence, Freetail, Cascade, Upright, Lost Abbey.. the list goes on. But back then, I had no idea what I was getting in to. No understanding of the style. No idea such a beverage existed.
My rating of the beer still stands.. I remember the taste.. richer white wine barrel elements, stone fruit, lactic acid and citrusy fruit met cherries and firm oak tannins gave a dryness. It truly mesmerized me.. I was hooked. I had to get more. Surely, more Flossmoor sours have come and gone.. some better.. some worse.. more Chicagoland sour styled beers have hit the scene with some great offerings from Goose Island and tons of one off experiment’s have dazzled me at festivals and special events (Half Acre Barrel Aged Dripping, Pete’s old Clare’s Right Hook from his Rock Bottom days.. I think it’s a different beer at Haymarket.. and many of John Laffler’s amazing sour experiments including Napa County Stout and all the soured Sofie variants). Not to mention the world of lambic that offers some of the most complex and sour experiences you may ever experience. Still, I’ll always remember that one.. the first one.
I still look back on my first sour experience fondly.. and still find myself grabbing any bottled Oakshire (Where Matt landed after his Flossmoor days) sour beers from him whenever I can. If you’ve never taken the plunge, I hope this story inspires you to.
I grew up in Pennsylvania, so I was one of the lucky ones that always had a better alternative in Yeungling, or as we still call it back home: lager.
But my epiphany came during college when we’d drive 30 minutes to Williamsport, PA just to get Taco Bell. Seriously, my school, Lock Haven University, didn’t even have a Taco Bell nearby. After a few visits, we started wandering the historic downtown of Williamsport a bit more, and that’s when we stumbled into the Bullfrog Brewery for the first time.
In the late 90s, finding a brewpub was like finding a unicorn. “You mean, people can make their own beer?” we thought. So despite the high cost of a brew (in college dollars) we sat down and started going over the menu. It was a whole new vocabulary. Bruns, Flanders, imperial stout, IPA. Our eyes glossed over with mystery and curiosity. Unwittingly, I ordered a sour. It’d didn’t quite take at the time, but it did wake up my beer palate.
Only a few visits were made to Bullfrog in our last couple of years of school, but those adventures primed me for full conversion, which occurred just a month after moving to Chicago. Me and a buddy decided to attend Beer School at the Map Room, conducted by Greg Browne of Mickey Finns (and he’s still running it, by the way). That’s when I had my first Farmhouse ale, which remains my favorite style. It was the Saison Dupont that got me started that day, and the
Les Bière Des Sans Culottes that brought me home. I can still taste the straw colored funk of that pour, ad I can still hear Greg’s voice mumbling over the mic like the teacher in Charlie Brown. What an amazing conversion experience that was.
I started my site, Good Beer Hunting, the following week, and never looked back.
I’m sure we’ve all seen that one liquor store that for years has carried a great craft beer selection and somehow has flown under the radar. Well I have a place like that and it’s not far from my condo. This liquor store is attached to a bar. The bar had a pool table in the back, some sketchy looking regulars and it didn’t smell great. What the bar did have going for it was 75¢ Old Styles and $1 Jagerbombs. Those sorts of deals are gone now, I think it’s at least $1.50 Old Styles at that bar now. Almost eight years ago… early 2005, 75¢ Old Styles appealed to me. One day that winter I went into the liquor store that was attached to that “classy” bar and sort of stumbled onto craft beer. I was 22 and hadn’t been drinking for that long and when I did drink beer I went cheap or for what I knew. This time was one of those cheap times but I’m someone who loves to try new food and drinks too. After walking around the store for a moment or two I remembered the place was cash only and all I had on me was $10. Sure I would have probably got a 30 pack of Old Style for that but then I saw a 12 pack of Goose Island Summertime on a bottom shelf for $7.99, I thought it looked like a pretty good deal. Not thinking about the beer being called Summertime and that it was a cold winter day, I bought the 12 pack.
Once I got it home I realized that the bottle had a best before date or a born on date. The case was from two Summers before, hence the excellent deal. Even being that old, I still dug it and for the price it was a lot tastier than Old Style or Bud Light. In retrospect it probably wasn’t that great (a bit passed its prime) but I was drinking something different. A local beer created for a small audience with better ingredients. I liked that idea, my eyes had been opened.
We quickly learned that this liquor store had a reputation for selling beer past its shelf life for a discount. An awesome realization once I got into beers like Bourbon County Stout; I’ve found some amazing deals there on vintage Bourbon County over the years. That Winter I drank all the Summertime they carried and loved every minute of it. Once all the Summertime was gone it was hard to go back to those beers in 30 packs that didn’t have any flavor. So I began to explore other beers from Goose Island and explored some of the other breweries that were out there. A few years after that I started a podcast to talk about all these amazing beers I was discovering and quickly found out that there were many people out there like me who had gone through or were going through a beerpiphany.