If you had asked me 10 years ago what my favorite beer was, I would have given you a look like you were crazy and told you that I didn’t like beer. This isn’t because I was underage at the time, but my exposure to beer hadn’t been a pleasant experience.
My first beer was the summer after high school graduation (yes, I was a late bloomer). It was a Budweiser Select and it was the nastiest thing I had ever tried. I spent the rest of the evening pretending that I liked the beer, but never actually opening a second can.
Fast forward to the summer between my Sophomore and Junior years of college. I was studying abroad in Japan. The legal drinking age over there is 20, so I decided to bend the rules of the program and have a drink every now and then. I loved the fruity cocktails and sake, but couldn’t afford to drink like that the entire trip. One night at karaoke a friend bought a pitcher of Asahi for the table. I figured it would be rude to refuse the offer so I had a glass. And another. And another. Before I knew it I found myself liking a beer! For the rest of the trip I enjoyed Asahi and Kirin like a good 20 year old in Japan.
When I came back to the states, I discovered that the Japanese beers served in America aren’t brewed in Japan. They are similar in taste, but just aren’t as good as the original thing. Another discovery that I made was the first Japanese beers were directly influenced by European settlers during the Meji period. With much gusto I decided to try my taste buds on some European beers.
In the small Kentucky town where I went to college the choices were limited. Most places only carried domestics, which I figured from previous experience I wouldn’t be able to appreciate just yet. Bass, Newcastle, and Guinness became my college drinks of choice.
My first experience with craft beer came in my last year at college. I went to a different watering hole than usual because one of my friends had a crush on the bartender. I couldn’t believe my eyes, but this place didn’t serve any of my imports. They had Mexican beer, but I had discovered at this point that those were not for me. I scanned the list until I saw one that carried my namesake: Abita Amber. Surely a beer with my name in it had to be good. And it was.
When I moved back home, I wanted to share my newly found appreciation with beer. Not having many friends left in the city, I decided that my mother was going to share my adventure. We joined the Flanagan’s Mug Club and began working our way down the list.
This is where New Holland entered my life. Dragon’s Milk. I had tasted bourbon barrel beers before, but this was THE one. It was so good, in fact, that I decided to try all of the New Holland beers. Monkey King: delicious. Full Circle: could drink it all day. Cabin Fever: amazing. Poet: the best. Mad Hatter: Wait… you mean I have to try an IPA?
Up until this point, I had been able to avoid IPAs. Hearing that they were bitter and an ‘acquired taste,’ I continually dodged them. I put down the 6-pack of Mad Hatter and sadly walked out of the store empty handed. My fear of IPAs was going to prevent me from trying everything New Holland.
But we know this isn’t the end of the story, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this today. New Holland paired up with a favorite restaurant of mine called Harvest. They were putting on a 4 course meal with beer pairing. The idea was a perfect fit for me. My mother had told me about this little gem so I was her date (not the other way around like I would like to tell the story).
I honestly can’t even tell you what the food courses were, but I remember the beers. The listing went, Monkey King, Poet, Mad Hatter, then Dragon’s Milk. The main course was being paired with the Hatter… I swallowed my fear and took a sip. Pure love washed over me. I not only drank my share, but my mother’s as well. It was so wonderful that I couldn’t imagine why I had been so afraid. Now I was bound and determined to try EVERYTHING that New Holland had to offer.
Over the past couple years I have tried all of the Hatters. Each one becoming my new favorite beer. So far I have yet to find a beer that I’ve tried from New Holland that I haven’t liked. (Even the Ichabod, and I’m not fond of pumpkin.) But my favorite beer would have to be the entire Hatter line. Its funny to think that in 9 short years I’ve gone to hating beer to loving the exploration of new beers (and finding some tasty gems along the way).