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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In a Smaller World, Fewer Holy Grail Beers

Globalization is largely a fantastic thing for beer fans. It means that we can sample among the classics of Europe without having to actually travel to Europe. When I first came to the world of beer, the offerings were as scant as my knowledge: Canadian Moosehead was regarded as an exotic delicacy. (We especially loved the foreign-smelling skunkiness, which was the mark of authenticity.) If there is a downside, though, it's that there are fewer and fewer of those "holy grail" beers--legends spoken of in hushed tones by intrepid travelers, unavailable to the unwashed masses.

Among them was Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, a beer brewed for unlikely markets in Jamaica and Nigeria--among others. I recognized the quality of discussion that surrounded it from high school one-upsmanship. Oh, you think Guinness Extra Stout is intense? It's nothing compared to FES. (The poor saps who praised regular draft Guinness got mocked like kids on the debate team.) And indeed, it remains a rather elusive and unorthodox beer, brewed at different strengths in different countries--and, in the case of the sorghum-grist version in Nigeria, different ingredients.

Foreign Extra had always been on my list of holy grails--until last night. In a massive roll-out, Diageo is introducing this rare bird to the US. (It's not actually rare, accounting for nearly half the brewery's production.) I'll come back to a review in due course, but I thought I'd reflect on the sense of loss that comes with having tried such a beer. In the abstract, as the beer roams the perfectly-tended terrain of legend, it holds such promise. It suggests that the best beer in the world may still lay in front of you, untried.

The whole concept is flawed, of course--the best beer in the world may well be in a tank here in Portland, untroubled by legend. Still, we humans love our myths, and we service them--sometimes cynically--because we love the idea of hidden transcendence. Well, last night I transgressed and drank a bottle of mythic beer and am feeling regretful this morning. (Without divulging much more, I can admit that it didn't confer grace.)

I will have to console myself with one of those special beers from Bend tonight at Beermongers. Who knows, maybe I'll tell you tomorrow about it in hushed tones and start a new myth.

2 comments:

Soggy Coaster said...

Indeed, I have often been disappointed by "Holy Grail" beers. They tend to be very good, but it can be hard to live up to the hype, especially with IPAs for some reason.

Unrelated, but interesting: is Oregon the land of amazing, overlooked ESBs? I had two great ones last weekend: the cask ESB at Hopworks and the ESB at Calapooia in Albany. I know no one ever goes to Albany, but my goodness Calapooia has some solid ales.

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