In this new series of weekly articles, we’ll be talking to brewers about the 6 beers that made them develop a relationship with craft beer and brewing, and led to them opening their own brewery. For the pilot episode, we’re going to set the mood by taking a moment to introduce ourselves. Meet Teodora, content writer and blogger at Beerologique, and the 6 beers that defined her relationship with craft.
Memminger Brauerei – Nenea Iancu
My first stop down memory lane takes me back almost 15 years ago, when I was a starving student earning well below minimum wage in bars. In those days, my go-to beer was Timișoreana, preferably by the 2.5 liter PET bottle and drunk at home with friends, because we were all too poor to go out. I don’t remember the first time I had Nenea Iancu, but it was definitely one of the first wheat beers I tried, and it was love at first sip. It packed more flavour than other beers of this type, and it was a far cry in terms of quality compared to the skunky lagers in green bottles I had when I did go out. It was also expensive, but more affordable than Paulaner, and I made a special occasion of it whenever I had enough money to buy it. I was also firmly convinced that it’s a Romanian beer, up until someone pointed out that it’s brewed in Germany – I think that was the first time I actually started reading what it says on a bottle label. Back then, I looked at it the same way I look at craft beers today: a niche beer (not that many people drank it in those days) that is worth seeking out (not every bar had it) and spending a bit more on (it was almost twice as expensive than your average lagers). Nenea Iancu taught me that it’s worth investing in quality, but it also taught me to appreciate the drinkability of a well made macro beer. I enjoy this beer today just as much as I did in the past, and I have very fond memories of it. And it’s one of the few beers that kept me tethered to drinking beer, at a time when I was beginning to gravitate towards ciders and whisky.
Timothy Taylor – Landlord
Timothy Taylor’s Landlord (or Timmy T, as I affectionately call it) was my first encounter with real ales. I was working in a pub in Surrey at a time, and I considered them flat beers that only the elderly drink, and that are a bitch to look after (anyone who’s ever worked in a cellar in the UK knows just how much work cask ale entails). The thing with Timmy T is that it wasn’t even a regulars’ favourite: it had too much ‘flavour’, and at 4.3% ABV it was ‘way too strong’. But I slowly developed a liking to it, and I soon stopped crossing the street to grab Tyskie (my go-to beer at the time) from the local Co-op. I didn’t have any notions of craft beer back then. All I knew was that TT, and the rest of its cask brethren, was a fickle beast that needed a lot of care, was best drunk fresh, and that all the drinkers and their mothers knew when it was off. It was a beer that trained my palate to a different breed of flavour and carbonation, and it also made me acutely aware that it doesn’t matter how good a beer is if you fail to look after your lines and cellar. It taught me about the frailty of a beer that is not mass produced, a beer that has deep roots in the local drinking culture. It was one of the first beers I had that, to this day, I consider craft (even though not everyone is on the same page as me when it comes to Timothy Taylor being a UK craft brewery). And had I not developed a liking for cask ales, courtesy of Timmy T, there’s no saying when I would have jumped ship from mass produced lagers into the world of craft beer.
Buxton Brewery & Lervig collab – Trolltunga
In 2016, while doing a working tour of the UK, we were managing a pub in Hampshire when my partner decided to head up to Buxton for a brewing course. And since you can’t visit that neck of the woods without checking out Buxton Brewery, a visit to the taproom was a must. It was there that he first tried Trolltunga, and decided to bring some home (it was available in bottles back in those days). I remember we were in the kitchen after work when he opened one and asked me if I want to try it. Now, for a bit of context, the beers I was into back then were cask ales like the aforementioned Landlord, and this beer was the polar opposite of what cask ale should be. It was mouth puckering sour, and I think I might have asked him if it’s gone bad, and telling him that it’s ok to pour it down the drain, because it must be infected. Many years later, after battering my palate with too many hop bombs, I slowly grew accustomed to the taste, and sours became my go-to beers. Yet every time I would think back on Trolltunga, I felt this stab of guilt, and dread at having missed out on something amazing. Luckily, I was able to source some cans from a bottle shop in Edinburgh last year, and seeing them in my new home was like being reacquainted with a book that you were too young to understand the first time you read it. The beer was perfect. It was a glorious mix of hops, wild yeast strains and gooseberries, delivered in little sips of nostalgia. It made me appreciate the fact that, even though you have a beer style you claim is your favourite, it’s always best to revisit beers you didn’t like at first. You never know what hidden gems you’ll find, and how they will enrich your drinking experience.
Ground Zero – Imperial Fuck
Imperial Fuck was the first Romanian craft beer that truly stuck in my mind. In 2016, after being back in the country for about 3 months, I had already tried some of the local stuff, but they were all pretty similar: traditional lager-styles with traditional-looking labels, in 500 ml bottles. But this one was different even just by looking at it. It was the first DIPA I ever had and the first sip was like a kick in the teeth: a powerhouse of bitter hops, malty sweetness and a hefty 9% ABV (it was the first heavyweight craft beer in Romania). It was proud and bold and sticking it to The Man with the word ‘fuck’ on the label. I remember drinking it and thinking: ‘Looks like the local boys have a pair of balls on them after all’. I had never drank anything like it, and for quite some time, it was my favourite Romanian craft beer. And even though DIPAs and I have fallen out (I much prefer sours now), I will always think back on Ground Zero as being the true pioneers of the craft beer movement.
Bereta – Citro
When Citro was first announced back in October 2016, it came garnished with a very important word: revolution. The Bereta lads published a note in which they were talking about a new breed of IPAs emerging in the States, and the way they wrote about it was pure poetry: monstrous amounts of aroma hops, fruity, creamy juice bombs, and the ensuing child-like joy of tasting a beer like no other. The ending was delightfully ominous: ‘Citro is coming. The first New England style pale ale brewed in Romania’. I was a massive hop fiend back then and I was instantly sold. I remember fidgeting with anticipation as the release day drew close, and when I got the bottles, I felt an almost pious reverence just holding them. There it was. The first Romanian NEIPA. A slice of revolution in a lager-riddled market. I was literally witnessing history in the making and it was exciting as fuck. Then I poured it in a glass. Now, the actual beer was quite anticlimactic. From the pictures in the note, I was expecting something thick, hazy, straw-yellow and lush with aroma. Sure, the beer was good, but it was closer to your usual IPAs in both colour and taste. Juicebag followed it about a month later and some of its versions were probably closer to what the lads intended for the first batch of Citro. But it didn’t matter. The wheels had already been set in motion, and even though NEIPA wouldn’t be recognized as an official style until May 2017, the local craft beer market would never be the same again. And for me, being there to see the start of the revolution was an experience like no other.
Bell’s – Two Hearted Ale
Two Hearted Ale wasn’t a beer that defined my relationship with craft as much as it was a wake up call. I became acquainted with Bell’s back in 2018, at the Beavertown Extravaganza. My partner and I were volunteering on the brewers’ stands, and man alive, there were some amazing names in the lineup. The organizers drafted me to work on the Bell’s stand, which made me awfully dismayed. I didn’t know who Bell’s were, which could only mean that they must have been some out of fashion geezers, like Fuller’s. I didn’t want to be on their stand. I wanted to hang out with the cool kids, pouring liquid hop burn at Northern Monk and having a go on the beer slushie machine at Omnipollo. But as I was manning the stand, making polite conversation with Larry Bell himself, I couldn’t help but notice that he was drawing quite a crowd, and that a lot of people were praising Two Hearted and telling him just how fond they are of this beer. I didn’t know it back then, but even though the current version of Two Hearted was born in 1997, this beer is almost as old as I am. It is a beer steeped in history, and just like the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, it is a timeless classic that can hold its own to this day. Sadly, I learned this two years too late, and the chances of me meeting Larry to tell him that I appreciate what he’s done for the American craft beer scene are slim to none. Yet the lesson will stay with me forever. Two Hearted taught me that it doesn’t matter how cool and hip you are now if you stop being relevant 5-10 years down the line. And it also taught me that enjoying craft beer is not about chasing trends and indulging in other people’s fallacies about what ‘true craft’ is. Rather, it’s about finding a beer you like, understanding the people, process and history behind it, and being able to enjoy it time and time again.