Reader Derek Vizzi describes his discovery of craft beer. If you have an interesting story about discovering craft beer, send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Back in the day, Molson and Heineken were fancy, “imported” beers, and Bud Ice was acquired only for special occasions because of its lofty 5.5% ABV. But even back then, I was never satisfied with this yellow, fizzy ambrosia. To me, there was something that just didn’t seem right. Namely- everything. I soon discovered Yuengling. This was more like it: it had color, flavor, a name that some people didn’t know how to pronounce… I was finally able to distinguish myself from the naive pale-lager chugging masses. But soon, even the fine Yuengling just wasn’t cutting it. Beer was boring, it lost its appeal, and I decided to go on hiatus.After several unsuccessful experiments with the likes of Smirnoff Ice and mixed drinks, I decided to give beer another chance. However, Yuengling was still the archetypical high-end boundary of my scope, along with other such occasional “rarities” as Blue Moon and Hoegaarden. Then one day, at a restaurant in Jersey, standing there on tap along with all the cliché favorites, I saw a tap handle embossed with a fish skeleton: “Flying Fish Extra Pale Ale,” made in Jersey, a mere 15 minutes from my home. I had to try it. It was simple, yet different. In some ways it appeared like your typical mass-produced beer, but there was a range of flavors here I’d never experienced before. This is what beer was supposed to taste like.
A few weeks later, I returned with high hopes to try the beer again, but alas, something else had taken its place. Rotating taps? I wondered just how many different kinds of beer could there be to justify “rotating taps.” Well, after a little research, I soon discovered the craft and micro section of my local distributor. It was a tiny aisle, easily overlooked among the cases of Corona and boxed wine. I went looking for Flying Fish Extra, but what I found was the world… the world of beer.
After exploring this world on my own, I came to realize that there must be a culture out there, people who aren’t satisfied with watery, macro beer, and who congregate to explore this territory. Little did I know that all this time, I was a stones throw away from the best and most diverse beer scene in the country. I magnetized towards bars and pubs like Eulogy Belgian Tavern and Monk’s Café, with their 200+ beer menus, and I quickly came to learn of dozens of other great venues, each offering something unique.
Now, I actively seek out good beer and good bars, whether I’m traveling or just looking for something new near home. At this point, I’ve imbibed hundreds of different beers of all styles, and from dozens of states and countries. I’ve traveled out of state just to try new beer, I’ve taken vacation from work to experience Philly Beer Week, I’ve met legendary brewers such as Sam Calagione and Dale Katechis, I aspire to start my own homebrewing within the next couple months, and most importantly, I met the love of my life, my beautiful wife, through our common love for good beer. Appropriately, we based our wedding trip around visiting various beer destinations, including an unexpected, private cellar tour from Chris Lively, owner of the prestigious Ebenezer’s Pub, often ranked the #1 beer bar in the world.
And then, there’s my glassware collection. Over the years, the casual once-in-a-while obtaining of a pint glass here and there turned into somewhat of an obsession, with my current, ever-growing collection boasting around 150 pints and other signature glasses, representing breweries, brewpubs, and their wares (from Russian River to Westvleteren), to general symbols of my own geekiness (from King Crimson to MST3K). Shining like gems, each one has a story to tell, and is a reminder to me of good times and adventures spent both abroad and right here in Philly.
I’m glad to live in the Philly area, where the beer scene is inspired and inspiring, and knows no equal; and as someone who travels to find beer, I can make such a statement without bias. There is no beer scene I’ve seen quite like the one in our fine city.