Two men’s journey to try every beer in the universe
I honestly never thought it would grow into this.
When my roommate Brent and I started out on our quest to sample the selection of “fancy beers” at the liquor store, it began as a simple social event. It served to bring us together and get us a little drunk while watching rerun episodes of Big Bang Theory, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and How I Met Your Mother. It was a nice, simple way to get together and try something new.
It all began with a trip to the South Albert liquor store to pick up provisions for one of our parties. For some reason, we ended up in the far corner of the store, staring directly at the row of imported beers. There was such a huge variety; beer from nearly every continent was waiting to be consumed. It was literally a world of beer lining the wall of the store. I looked at Brent and pulled a case of Tsingtao off the shelf. “Let’s try this one. I’ve always wondered what Chinese beer tastes like.”
Brent replied quickly, “Well, if we’re going to try that, let’s try Lion of Asia too.” Being a little sarcastic, I replied that we might as well try every beer on the wall. Brent turned to me and gave me a “can we do that?” look. Not knowing what it would entail, I said that if he really wanted to try them all, I’d be up for it. It was the start of a beautiful friendship. (I mean between me and beer, Brent I can still take or leave).
At the beginning, “the wall” as it came to be known, looked nearly insurmountable. There were so many foreign beers to try, and we knew that some of them would not be very good. I remember vividly thinking that we would never finish them all. There was just too much beer and not enough time in the day to drink them all. As much as I was enjoying the “fancy beer nights,” I had school, essays, and work to do. One night a week watching TV and drinking a case of imported beer was as much as our schedules could handle.
Then in February, major curling events started being broadcast on TV. Brent and I, both being avid curling fans, started to meet a couple nights a week to watch curling. We soon added fancy beers to the mix (beer and curling are natural companions, after all). Our one fancy beer night a week quickly became two nights a week, and the toll on my wallet started to become more pronounced, but we were having fun, it wasn’t that bad, and it was still only two nights a week.
Despite our slow pace, we started to make a dent in the wall. We passed from Asian beers into European beers fairly quickly as the snow melted, and by May, we were nearly halfway through the selection of beer available. After exams were over we had a lot more free time on our hands, and we were beginning to realize that the beer was going to run out.
Then came the point where the hobby that I thought was innocent enough might have gotten a little bit crazy. One night while drinking Carlsberg and browsing the internet, we stumbled upon the Manitoba liquor mart website and their wide selection of beer. In retrospect, drinking and looking at the Manitoba Liquor Mart website was destined to end in a trip to Manitoba for beer.
Yes, that’s right, an interprovincial beer run. Needless to say, when I told my Mom I was going to Manitoba for beer instead of coming home to see her for the weekend, she was not impressed. However, the trip the Brandon will go down in history as one of the best three-hour drives in my life. It was also one of the most ridiculous ways I’ve ever wasted money.
As we drove into Brandon, we noticed the bridge was being shored-up in an attempt to protect it from the floodwaters that were coming from Saskatchewan due to the heavy summer rains. Brandon had already experienced flooding that spring, and there were some lingering signs of the flood. It was quite obvious what we had to do: save all the beers we could. Breaking with the tradition of buying a whole case of each beer, we bought two of every beer available. The trip back was like the Noah’s Ark of beer, as we saved the beer, two by two, from their flooded home. It was truly something God would be proud of.
And I guess that is when the whole situation descended into a bit of a problem. Now, every night was beer night. We’d try up to three beers a night, and a lot of them were pretty dark. One night after sampling some especially dark beers, I took to the internet to proclaim my love for Elton John and Lady Gaga, and then proceed to accidentally buy The Fame Monster twice from Amazon. I am not proud.
But I didn’t let this deter me. The lure of Belgian beer was enough to overcome the temporary embarrassment of drinking too much Gulden Draak. By the time I started back to school in the fall, we were well on our way to finishing the Manitoba beers and were looking at the remaining selection at the liquor board back in Saskatchewan.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the fancy beer wall was mostly from the United States and Canada. Some of it was from Saskatoon. We were not particularly impressed by this, but being fully dedicated to trying them all, we decided to persevere. It was also about this time that I offered to write the feature on my problem – er, hobby – which lent the whole enterprise more urgency.
Of course, the lacklustre quality of the remaining beers did nothing to deter us in our quest to 100. It acted as a contrast to all the delicious beers we had been drinking for so long. The offensive, yeasty taste of Saskatoon-brewed Red Hammer contrasted the smooth, bitter taste of Beck’s. The disgustingly sweet and fruity taste of Australian Mountain Pepper Berry reminded us of how good the flavour of Czechvar was. And Dos Equis Lager Especial, while good enough for the most interesting man in the world, was certainly not nearly as tasteful as Salzburger Stiegl.
Finally, we hit the hundredth beer late last Saturday night, a dark and delicious St. Bernardus with the delightful picture of a drunk monk on the front (who says religion is no fun?). Needless to say, we celebrated with another beer.
Of course, the adventure (or as we dubbed it 60 beers through, the “Beerventure”) is not over. The liquor store still has a few beers left to be sampled, and we haven’t even looked at what Alberta has to offer. But at 100 beers, we decided it was high time to publish our findings and look back on what we learned from the process. As Brent is fond of saying “The Beerventure has been the most eye-opening experience of my life” and by putting it in the Carillon, we hope to open the eyes of people to the world of beer beyond the skunky world of Pilsner, Canadian, and Miller Genuine Draft because frankly, I just named three of the worst beers we tried.
We learned that Guinness, despite what people think, is far from the darkest beer available. It’s like drinking water next to some of the other beers we’ve tried. If you want truly dark beer, you have to go to Scotland. The variety of dark beer there is amazing, from Lia Fail and Ossian to Old Engine Oil, Scotland has the best selection of very dark beers in the world.
We learned that Canadian, despite having the most patriotic of commercials, is far from the best Canadian beer available. In fact, it is not something that we should be proud of as a nation at all. The only world-class Canadian beer that we found on this beerventure was Molson M, and even that was only average compared to what the rest of the world had to offer.
And finally, if you are looking for a really good wheat beer, it is tough to beat Germany. Probably the best is Erdinger, although Brent would definitely say it is Konig-Ludwig. Either way, you can’t go wrong with a German beer. They are really flavourful, but not overwhelmingly powerful. Hundreds of years of German craftsmanship has really augmented their ability to brew excellent beverages.
The experience so far has proven to be incredibly fun and wonderfully eye-opening to the world of beer. It changed my opinion completely on what was possible with beer, and turned me from a staunch rum-drinker into a beer fan. I am by no means a connoisseur, but I do know what I’ve found to be good, and I think that a majority of people, if they tried each beer, would agree. So go out to the liquor store and pick up a case of something you’ve never tried tonight. It might not be the start of a ridiculous adventure, but it will be something that you will enjoy.
Edward’s Top-Five Beers:
Erdinger is probably Germany’s best beer that is available in Canada. Shockingly, it is bottle-fermented, a method that can go horribly wrong very quickly (see Sierra Nevada) It is really flavourful, both easy drinking but strong enough to be appreciably bitter. Not to mention, their website is the best thing I’ve ever encountered on the internet.
2. Gulden Draak
Gulden Draak is a dark Belgian beer which, at 12 per cent alcohol, is still remarkably nice to drink. It is also really good at making me go on the internet and yammer on about Lady Gaga for several hours on Facebook much to my sober chagrin. In its tiny bottle, you’d never think it would pack so much punch, but it easily gets you tipsy with its malty, bittersweet taste.
3. Stella Artois
Stella is a really nice, light-tasting beer that is excellent for summer evenings after golf, or at least in my experience. It is kind of bitter, but goes really well with pretty much any food, and is the only beer I get when I am at the Freehouse. Plus, their commercials are really well done in the 1950s French arthouse style.
The best pilsner by far among the Pilsner’s we tried, Czechvar is pretty much perfect in drinkability and flavour. It is a little bit hoppy, but not too much, and the hint of bitterness really adds a lot to this beer. Since it’s been brewed since 1265, it better be good.
5. Molson M
The only real Canadian beer that can stand on a world stage, Molson M is really, really good. It drinks like a light beer, but is a full-strength beverage. While the “world’s first microcarbonated beer” sounds like a load of bullshit, the beer itself is not, and offers a lightly bitter taste. Surprisingly, it goes really well with cheesecake.
Brent’s Top Five:
1. Konig Ludwig Weissbier
2. Paulaner Weissbier
3. Erdinger Weissbier (both regular and Dunkel)
In my opinion, these were the best beers I have ever drunk. The selection is clearly slanted towards wheat beers, as they stand above all others in both taste and quality. Number five, Czechvar, is the greatest pilsner beer I have experienced. If you want tasty pilsners, I strongly recommend that you seek what the Czech’s have to offer, as they make many great pilsners.
Brent’s Bottom five:
1. Sierra Nevada
2. Australian Pepper berry
3. Innis and Gunn Rum Cask
4. Red Hammer
5. Sam Adams Boston Lager
These beers are defined as “beers I would not ever want to try again” and “beers I would not wish on my enemy”. Note that the majority of the bottom five list is from North America. Let’s be honest here, if we don’t start rating them hard, they will stop trying. For the love of all that is holy, please never try these beers – they were all unpleasant hurdles in the long, slow race that was the Beerventure.