Given that this is a goodbye letter, I suppose before I jump in, I should start at our origin story—back to the first time I tried you at the age of 10.
It was only a small sip from my dad’s Heineken. Still, that sip was enough for me to set you down in disgust and declare I would never drink you again in my life because I found you revolting. I couldn’t understand why so many adults chose your frothy bitterness over the sweeter, far more palatable sodas and fruit juices my mom let me have on special occasions (sorry for the harsh words, Beer, but first impressions do change, as mine did of you).
My freshman year of college at UC Davis, I still didn’t like you that much; I really only tolerated you. You tasted like pee to me each time I guzzled you from the red plastic cups after a beer pong opponent had sunk a shot. I never savored your taste and was always happy to chug you to make you go down as quickly as possible.
Sophomore year, my distaste for you lessened. Though I still didn’t crave you, I did enjoy your milder, lower ABV varieties: Blue Moons; Shock Tops; the Wells Banana Bread Beer.
It was when I took a beer brewing class my third year of college that my love for you finally began to blossom as I unearthed more of your layers and discovered the complexity of your hops, the subtlety of your flavor notes.
Down at the local Beer Shoppe, I’d drink you with my housemate (who was also in the beer class) while studying for the tests. Papers would shuffle against the tables, which were barrels. Pencils would sometimes get caught or slowed by the knots in the wood while you bubbled and frothed in a nearby mug.
The more I drank you, the hoppier I wanted you to be. Banana bread ales and the fruity sweet beers lost their appeal as I graduated to double and imperial IPAs like Drake’s Denogginizer and Dogfish Head 90 Minute.
Your variety never ceased to impress me, whether it was the spicy mango habanero IPA at a small liquor store in Midtown Sacramento; the “milk and cookies porter” (which boasts an 11 percent ABV); or the chocolate fig beer at the Davis Beer Shoppe. I even tried a bacon flavor of you once, and didn’t hate it.
A year later, I graduated from college and moved to Uruguay, where I was permitted to drink you outside in public. During the candombes drum processions, friends and I passed large glass bottles of Pilsen and Patricia amongst ourselves as we roamed the streets to the sound of beating drums while the smell of bonfire and barbecue filled the air. IPAs were harder to find down there, and when I did, you were more expensive—but so worth the price.
Upon returning to the U.S., my brief stint as a LYFT driver took me to different cities and regions of the state of California. You awaited me at different breweries in all of them.
I drank you in the former mining town of Blue Lake, where saws hung on the walls, logs stood in for tables, and a handsome orange cat washed himself unabashedly at the bar, inches from an Australian man’s half-consumed Guinness; in Mexico City, where I mixed you together with tomato juice, lime juice, and peppers to create a michelada; at San Diego’s Rip Tide Brewing where flights came served in a tiny surfboard.
Before I was diagnosed with Celiac disease, for most of the year 2020 I knew that our relationship had changed. In March of 2020, after having only two glasses of you, for instance, I felt sick the next day. Still, it was hit or miss; some nights you made me ill, but others you didn’t—drinking you just made me tired. I had no idea that your gluten was the culprit; I assumed I was just becoming more sensitive to alcohol with age.
In 2014, I remember my face souring after taking a sip from my gluten intolerant friend’s beer. To me, you tasted like pee. You tasted like frat party beer—flat and watery. I’m so glad those aren’t my only options, I remember thinking, while the gluten lord watched from above and laughed at my hubris.
Luckily your gluten-free variety has gotten better in recent years. Of the pale ale at downtown Oakland gluten-free brewery Buck Wild Brewing, many people have said: “It tastes like a Pale Ale.” That’s a high compliment for a gluten-free beer.
It’s been a journey, beer. You were so much a part of my life. That my birthday parties took place at breweries four years in a row is testament to this. Mention of the IPA obsession friends and family knew me for even made it onto my dating profile (alongside Burmese food, quiet, and hedgehogs). It took me a long time to remove it. Because letting go is hard.
But let go I know I have to. Though I must leave you now, I’ll look back with fondness on our time together, and thank you for many years of hoppiness.