Renee Newman is the marketing and communications director for Discover Kalamazoo. She and her husband are allowed to reside in the same house as their two cats, Coco and Kit Kat. Renee loves hiking, mountain biking and sailing, but spends most of her time hoping one of the great perfume houses in France will agree the world needs a bourbon and brown sugar perfume.
I’ll be honest with you, the thought of writing this blog kept me awake at night. What could I possibly have to say about craft beer that hasn’t already been said? (…And with much more knowledge and eloquence, I might add.)
I am a craft beer lover. I’ve loved craft beer for more years than I care to think about (read: I hate admitting my age). My husband and I travel with well-worn, dog-eared copies of the Michigan Beer Guide in our vehicles. We’ve planned beer weekends: Spending hours poring over maps and Websites, reading blogs and reviews, plotting our course, and enjoying the adventure of discovering new places and faces along the way.
But, just because I am an old experienced craft beer lover, it does not mean I am an expert on craft beer. I know nothing about brewing techniques, designing beers, ratios, the science behind brewing, etc. I can’t articulate the subtle nuances in smell and taste, and I don’t pretend to be anything other than what I mentioned before: A lover of craft beers.
I prepared myself for my foray into blogging prior to my first beer tasting. I read about the brewery, I took notes while at the tasting; I took photos of the beers. Heck, I even stuck a tasting placemat in my purse to help me remember what beers I had tasted. I took my assignment seriously.
Then, something happened. I raised one of the Arbor Brewing Co.’s samples and inhaled the aroma of … oak. (Remember my disclaimer about not being a beer reviewer?) At about the same time, the man sitting next to me raised his sample to his nose, took a sniff and after a thoughtful pause said, “It’s like the smell of lightly decaying leaves.”
His description was so expressive and so vivid; I was immediately transported to a path in the woods after a light spring rain. It brought to mind the smell of the earth, just beginning to wake after a long winter. The time when the fiddleheads are pushing their way through the forest floor, the scent of wild leeks hangs heavy in the air and mingles with the smell of, yes, lightly decaying leaves. And when I took a second sniff of the beer, the oak was replaced by the smell of the woods on beautiful spring day.
Those eight words were not said directly to me, but I heard and was affected by them. I stopped trying to decipher subtle flavors in the hopes of penning an interesting blog and began instead to concentrate on the people and activity around me, and what they mean to my craft beer experience. I’ve spent the past four days immersed in the lives of people linked together by Kalamazoo Beer Week. I’ve overhead seemingly hundreds of conversations … old friends getting together for “just one” before moving on with their hectic lives. Beer connoisseurs discussing the merits of each pint. Established brewers giving tips to home brewing hopefuls. The good-natured ribbing of new friends. I’ve witnessed dozens of people planning their evenings. Websites are checked, calendars are synchronized, routes decided.
There’s a new air of excitement in Kalamazoo this week, so join me in raising a glass to everyone who has made Kalamazoo Beer Week possible – from the planning committee, to the distributors, the host locations, the breweries, the managers, servers, and the customers. You’re the best part of my craft beer experience.