Perpetual Oktoberfest
My husband, the beer snob—and how he got that way.

Perpetual Oktoberfest
My husband, the beer snob—and how he got that way.

It begins when the waitress approaches our table. “Care for something to drink?” she asks. I order a glass of cabernet, my daughter requests the soda du jour. I glance over at my husband, Kevin, who lets his menu fall to the table. His head tilts to one side as he asks, “What’s your beer selection?”

The waitress, who is either too harried or too careless to answer with a full list, replies, “We have everything. What would you like?”

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Cue the Jaws theme music, as I know what follows isn’t going to be pretty. Sure enough, my husband drills the waitress, asking for one obscure beer after another, thus cementing his point that the restaurant does not, in fact, have everything.

There are so many beers on the market it’s difficult to keep up. That is, unless you’re my husband—he knows beer. In fact, he’s what I’d call a beer snob.

Marriage to a beer snob means our fine dining often happens at restaurants with “brew” and “pub” in the name, where my husband’s conversations with the waitstaff rival the depth and nuance of a doctoral dissertation, which shouldn’t surprise me. Because in recent decades, beer’s reputation has gone from lowly to lofty. From the icebox of big-bellied, blue-collared Ralph Kramden to the hallowed halls of the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, beer has undergone a paradigm shift.

Thirty years ago, a man drank one brand of beer for life, and his identity was linked to his choice. A Budweiser man knew the virtue of economy, but favored flavor. A Miller man drank it because it was “the one beer to have when you’re having more than one” (hic). For the upscale imbiber, Heineken was it.

But times have changed. Now beer is less about identity as it is about an experience. The shift’s impetus can be summed up in one word: microbreweries. The first such custom brewery, called New Albion, opened in California in 1976. Since then, beer’s charm and variety has exploded to the point where beer now appeals to women. When I was growing up, my mother would’ve rather had me cradle a gin and tonic than swig from a stein. Today, if a woman mentions honey brown or strawberry blond, she’s not necessarily talking about hair color.

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Gone are the days when beers needed German monikers in order to be taken seriously. Nowadays, a Dead Dog, a Rogue or Bishop’s Staff is only a barkeep away. And the more outlandish the name on the label, the better.

With handles like Hop Devil and Dead Dog, how can Bud and Miller compete?

They can’t.

And that’s why some of the biggest macro-breweries in the United States are developing boutique microbrew names. For my husband, it’s become a sort of game to read labels closely to discern whether a beer is a true microbrew or a macro-brew fat cat masquerading as something it’s not.

Luckily, in Pennsylvania, we bask in a revered lineage of beer brewers. William Penn operated one of the nation’s first breweries in Pennsbury during the 1600s. And in our immediate area, some of the nation’s finest microbreweries and brew pubs make it easy to become a connoisseur: Iron Hill Brewery in Media, West Chester and now Phoenixville; Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown; and McKenzie Brew House in Chadds Ford.

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So while one beer may have stood out as Dad’s favorite 30 years ago, today’s suds lovers are dizzy with options—trying them all and mixing it up to their hearts’ content.

Makes you kind of thirsty, doesn’t it?

Carolyn McGlinchey last wrote about enviro-friendly funerals in the August issue of Main Line Today.

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