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May 5, 2010

Mug Shots: The beer bucket list

I’m often accused of being a cynic, a skeptic and a whole slew of other -ics and -ists better suited to beret-wearing, Gitane-smoking French academics than a purportedly wholesome son of the conservative and bucolic Hoosier countryside. Such charges, alleging my treasonable refusal to embrace the palpably untrue, are absolutely … valid.

It was in this spirit of aggrieved combativeness that I caught wind of GQ magazine’s recent list of 50 recommended beers, which it referred to as: “I’d Tap That! 50 Beers to Try Right Now.”

Perhaps the exclamation mark attracted the attention of content-deprived CBS, which knows that mere hyperbole never suffices for the skullduggery of television “news,” and thus duly modified GQ’s beer list into, “50 Beers to Try Before You Die,” further advising onlookers to consider it the “bucket list of beer.” Bucket list? As in, things one must do before kicking the bucket? Is this a joke?

The complete GQ list is very good and covers ample stylistic ground. It fulfills the magazine’s claim that drinking the beers listed will “instantly raise your beer IQ.”

But please, CBS’s unfortunate verbiage notwithstanding, do not confuse any of this with a beer aficionado’s ideal bucket list. Many, though not all, of GQ’s targeted beers are widely available in the Louisville area, and while that’s not a bad thing, it just isn’t the same notion as a bucket list.

To be worth its hops, this list must address wishes that extend somewhat beyond the mundane and everyday: not just great beers purchased at a package store, but ways and places to drink them — settings, countries, meals, breweries, festivals and modes of thinking outside the Bud.

I’ve never committed my own beer bucket list to paper. It exists in my head and evolves with my experiences. Fortunately, my bucket list already has a number of cross-through squiggles.

•Drink Rogue’s classic American ales where they’re brewed in Newport, Ore. (2006).

•Visit the Pilsner Urquell brewery, home of the truly original Pilsner-style lager, in Plzen, Czech Republic (1987).

•Attend the Great Taste of the Midwest beer festival in Madison, Wis. (2007).

•Have as many pints of draft Guinness and as many oysters on the half shell as I can eat, in Ireland, seated alongside a turf fire with a folk band playing (2003).

•Sample the incredible bounty of the American craft brewing revolution at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colo. (1997).

•Bicycle to and from each of Belgium’s six certified Trappist monasteries that brew beer, all on one trip, and taste the beer as close as possible to the source (2004).

•Experience Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, drink a liter Mass, eat a sausage and buy the T-shirt (1989).

•Enjoy an American-made craft brew from a genuine microbrewery at a major league ballpark (Wild Goose IPA, Camden Yards, Baltimore, 2001).

•Go on a pub crawl on foot in Bamberg, Germany, visiting each of the city’s nine breweries, drinking a half-liter of house beer at every stop, and doing it all in one day (1996).

Others remain on my personal bucket list, unchecked.

•Drink pints of cask-conditioned English ale in the London neighborhood pub where the late Michael “Beer Hunter” Jackson was a regular, and toast his memory.

•Spend a week or more in San Diego, eating and drinking at the many breweries and craft beer emporiums, including Alesmith, Lost Abbey and Stone.

•Cruise the Baltic Sea and find an Imperial Stout or Baltic Porter at each port city where we drop anchor.

•See the day when I can drink a draft beer from all five Louisville Metro breweries at Slugger Field and the new Yum! Arena.

•Help brew a batch of Schlenkerla Marzen at the Heller Trum brewery in Bamberg, have a pork knuckle for dinner, and wash it down with half liters of delightful smoked beer.

•Write a book about what I’ve learned — and forgotten.

•Have a beer — any beer will do — in Casablanca, Montreal, Pyongyang, Montevideo, Havana and Kinshasa.

Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany. Visit potablecurmudgeon.blogspot.com for more beer.