Once I turned 13, my grandmother encouraged me to join her with a Hennessy VSOP, on the rocks, every time I went to visit. Everyone else had their rye highballs, lagers and martinis, but Nana and I had a Hennessy. Tough to take, but sure prepared me for trying anything else with alcohol after that.
At 16, I was up in the Catskills at my cousin Bob's bungalow. One late afternoon, Bob and I went into White Lake, and Bob says, "you look old enough with your beard growing in - go into that bar and get a couple six packs". Sure enough, I went in, ordered two six packs of Bud and we drank them all the way back...several miles. Good thing there wasn't any traffic on those roads, because we were staggering all over the road by the time we got back.
When I was 17 and graduated high school, I went knocking on doors in the industrial park north of our neighborhood to find a summer job. I ended up getting a laborer job at Royal Guard Fence Company. Not knowing what it was, I was dumb enough to be willing to do anything. Spent that summer loading trucks, mixing cement, carrying fence wire and posts, sorting fittings, flagging cars away from the ironworkers fixing guardrail on the Southern State Parkway, and creating mayhem with the other laborers. Generally, at lunch and before we drove back to the yard for the day, we'd stop in a deli and pick up a brew. By then I liked Schaefer. "Schaefer is the one beer to have when you're having more than one." Malty 6 row barley lager, lightly hopped, and very refreshing when it was really cold. Learned by then that all I had to do was walk into an old man's bar or deli looking like I'd put in a day's work, decked out with a tool belt and work boots, and there'd be no questions asked. I especially remember stopping into this one bar after bowling on a hot night. Eight ounce Schaefers in a Pilsner glass were a quarter. It was so cold coming out of the tap, that I just remember that cool refreshing taste and fine carbonation as I downed about three of them in short order.
My father had been stationed in England during WWII, fixing ball turrets on B-17 Mitchell bombers. Pretty steady work given the short life expectancy of ball turret gunners. He spent a goodly amount of time cheering up the lonely British women in the local pubs and also had plenty of warm, dark British ales. So at every bar and pub I went to, I looked for a dark brew. Guiness just didn't do it for me, although just to be different I had that at times. When I was 18 and in college, a local pub opened up in our neighborhood, Potter's Pub, that became my home away from home.
I had also graduated to scotch by then, my godfather being a scotch drinker, I decided to hone my taste for scotch, having been through the tortuous hangovers of sweeter drinks. Anyway, Potters had Dinkelacker Dark on tap. What a new experience and when I wasn't drinking Johnnie Walker Black, I was having a Dink. They don't even brew a dark beer anymore, but I remember the rich flavor of the crystal malts being so much more distinctive than the American lagers I was used to.
After college, I kept looking for that dark beer taste, moved out to CA and found it in Dos Equis and Negro Modelo. Fortunately the craft brew industry eventually took off, and by the end of the 80's Sam Adams started showing up on California shelves. It became my new favorite, with some daliances with Pete's Wicked Ale and Anchor Steam.
Jump forward to December, 2011 and my kids go out searching for the appropriate Christmas present for Dad. Lo and behold they present me with this:
And that's how it started.