This month's edition of The Session is about beer to the east. I had worried for a while about making sure I had the right be, the most easterly. But to heck with that. I am going to write about my entire relationship with the nation to my east, the U.S.A.
I have to confess something - I buy most of my beer in another nation. Easily 75% of my beer money is spent in America. I did it this weekend when I bought a 12 of Sierra Nevada Pale and a seasonal selection of Sam Adams, too. It's easy. I only had to go to the grocery store. For a Canadian, that is the most obvious reason for why beer culture seems more pervasive in the States. That and it is cheaper.
But it is not the only one. I now know that good US beer is better. Would I have said that twenty years ago? Not likely. I grew up in an world where being casually but not deeply anti-American was the norm. It was the flippant joke, a glib political stance. But then a pal got a job in Boston and told us about the beer bars. We had our '80s beer scene in Halifax and even had a brew pub but it was all within a certain range of flavour. When I think back, it's only about a decade since I had my first Anchor Liberty and only a few more years since I was making my first tenuous trips into New England from the Maritimes and bringing back beers by Shipyard. Prior to that "good" to me meant imports and usually UK imports. Even with the beginnings of a local craft beer scene in the mid-1980s, the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission - the local state monopoly to which I was in thrall - had the basics of Guinness and Newcastle Brown Ale and once in a while had an odd ball lager from Norway or Germany. And despite my years of studious home brewing and access to discussion of styles as I sat in the wilderness of PEI, when I moved to Ontario the LCBO seemed like nirvana - who knew there was decent choice at a decent price in the beer market.
That shine rubbed off soon. While I had had hints like the 1987 article "A Glass of Handmade" in The Atlantic, it really all changed for me when I first visited an honest to goodness beer store in the US of A. It was probably RSVP Liquors in Maine, the only store to ever refuse me taking pictures to illustrate a story. I used to get all woozy when I walked through the door what with the exotic selection of maybe 100 beers that I could not find up north. Soon, I branched out to other outlets but then mere change shifted to my world turned upside-down when I hit Finger Lake Beverages for the first time in 2005. I had to not touch a bottle for five minutes to let my brain take it all in: 700 bottles I had pretty much never seen before. Add to that the bright lights of Syracuse two hours to the south and trips to Clark's Ale House and The Blue Tusk and I was doomed. I had turned traitor and abandoned my own nation.
Now? I have been a Stateside beer hound ever since. Sure, I still like many Canadian craft beers but the stash is stretched to the limit with beer that is either made in the USA or available only through the stores down south who gladly take my money. America has taught me there is a thing called beer culture, beer magazines and trade papers. It has taught me that beer is worth thinking about. I would never have thought that possible but it changed me for the better through opening my eyes to possibility. In turn, I ditched my thin bigotry and started to see the land to the south differently, as a land of delights and freedoms. A place to explore and engage with. Now, as with this week, I even go to work related meetings south of the border as the opportunities that have developed through the oddest of connections have become self-evident. The good beer of the USA changed my life. Who would have thought that possible?