As I mentioned in the first post, alcohol was certainly not part of my upbringing and I didn't really know anyone who drank, other than some relatives. When alcohol was mentioned, it was typically in a very negative fashion. This was not just because of the Mennonite stance on drinking, but also because of alcoholism in my mom's family (her dad and brothers). This family history has certainly made me a bit more cautious about alcohol, but on the other hand between Germans on one side and Irish on the other, it would be a bit odd not to have a bit of a taste for it.
One of my first memories of being around beer was at the State Fair. We would go up to watch the fireworks, but always outside the fairgrounds due to the fair being a "worldly amusement". One night a few other people were around our usual spot watching the fireworks as well and someone offered my dad a beer, which he declined. In retrospect, this was probably wise on my dad's part as the beer they were drinking was almost certainly some cheap swill, although I'm sure that's not the reason he said no.
My mom would also tell a lot of stories about her upbringing in the quarries outside Charlottesville VA. Her dad would make potato liquor, like many Appalachian folks. My mom told me the cops used to follow my dad home to the end of the state maintained road, but would never pull him over. I asked why and she said no matter how drunk he was, he could always walk a straight line anyway and pass the sobriety test.
After my parents split up right after I graduated from high school, my mom's attitudes toward alcohol moderated a bit and she would occasionally have some wine or even keep a bit in the house. Because of working in restaurants, I was increasingly around alcohol, particularly in the steak houses I worked in (Ruth's Chris and Outback). And as typical in many restaurants, there were many nights spent going out for drinks after getting out late at night. I was in school full-time and working full-time, so probably good I didn't do too much of that. But people would eventually find out my background and try to get me to try things. I had a few bartenders that tried their darndest to find a drink I would like. That's when I first tried some red wine and some cocktails I probably wouldn't even drink now, but it was a start. A lot of people say you have to develop a taste for alcohol, but that was never the case for me as long as something was quality. Must be the many generations of German and Irish ancestors.
Other than a few tastes here and there of nasty cheap beer, the first real beer I tried was on the Steve Taylor tour I was on in '94 the year I graduated from college. Sorry to sell you out Steve, although in his defense he probably didn't even know about it. My first beer was a Guinness, which most people think is a very odd way to start out. Actually Guinness is a very easy drinking stout, particularly on draft, but I think a lot of people look at the color and think it's going to be very strong. I can't say I completely loved it from the start, but I liked it enough to start trying to develop a taste for better beers.
It was probably around this time that I also had some buddies who were big into cigars and pipes, so I started out slowly with a pipe and graduated to cigars at some point. Don't remember exactly when. I tend towards being high stress (some would say uptight) and I found (and still find) that smoking a pipe can be very relaxing and a great way to slow down. It also makes you look smart, which is always a plus. A good dark or Belgian beer can be very good with a cigar, but scotch and cognac is better and so pipes and cigars were kind of my gateway to those drinks. That's what Mennonites (and other conservatives) call a slippery slope. I call it a a good pairing.
It actually took me quite awhile to get over my upbringing and not feel weird or bad about buying beer or liquor. It was certainly foreign at first, but I really couldn't find a good reason from the Bible why alcohol in and of itself was bad. The Bible basically talks about both the good and bad side of alcohol and warns against excess, just like it warns against excess in other areas. Anyway, this is really meant to be a theological treatise, just how my appreciation of alcohol evolved along with my food journey.
In more recent years, my wife and I have been homebrewing fairly regularly. I am fortunate enough to be married to a woman who loves beer, even enough to make it. We started homebrewing in January of 2007, a few months before our marriage in May of the same year. Since then we've been brewing fairly consistently, probably averaging a batch every 2 months or so. We've had a few really amazing batches, some failures and a lot of very good drinkable beers. We've stuck mainly to dark beers and some Belgian styles, using extract kits from Northern Brewer and Midwest Supplies for the most part. We recently tried a recipe online that is a clone of a Founder's breakfast stout, where we had to buy all the ingredients piece by piece. It turned out pretty good, although more coffee than chocolate much to my wife's chagrin.
It seems that whenever we go on trips, it's a fairly common occurrence for part of the trip to include trips to small craft breweries or local brewpubs. We recently did a weekend trip to Michigan with some friends and hit 4 breweries as well as The Hop Cat in Grand Rapids, one of the best beer bars in the country. If you like beer and get a chance, it's worth a visit. It's a pretty great way to spend a weekend. We also live near what is considered one of the best Belgian beer bars in the country, Hopleaf, although to be honest it's so crowded nobody goes there anymore, to paraphrase Yogi Berra.
From time to time I've been into wine as well, but honestly I keep coming back to beer. There is so much cool stuff going on in the beer world right now and more and more people are learning that there is a huge range of possibilities within the simple pint. Plus beer goes great with food and doesn't break the bank in the way wine often can.
We also appreciate good cocktails and love to try new recipes from various cocktail books, magazines and other spots. I'm sure someone could look in our liquor cabinet(s) and get the wrong idea, but there is a huge range of ingredients necessary to make the wide variety of cocktails people have come up with over the years, even just the classics. We love to try new stuff, but I would say the cocktails we keep coming back to include the following: the Manhattan, the Gin Martini, the Sidecar, the Mojito, the Loch Lomond and the Vesper. Pretty basic list, but easy to try with different brands, garnishes or bitters.
Anyway, learning to appreciate alcohol has certainly been an important part of my food journey. I think the only way to close this post is to quote something attributed to the great Ben Franklin: "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.". A quick Google search indicates Ben Franklin never actually said this or if he did he was talking about wine, but oh well. I still agree with the sentiment.