“We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone.” — Robert M. Pirsig, “Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance.”
Recently, I was invited to give a talk about beer at the Friday Forum of the Atlanta Soto Zen Center. As the program put it, “Samples of the brewer’s art will be provided.”
For those who don’t know much about Zen, it might seem rather odd that beer drinking would be welcomed in a quiet place dedicated to meditation.
But my good friend, who is a Soto Zen priest and an ASZC community member, assured me that the abbot, Zenkai Taiun Michael Elliston, and the other members were really looking forward to learning more about beer, and trying some, too.
Still, what kind of beer should I bring, I wondered. Thinking back to my early explorations of Zen, mainly rooted in popular books like “Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M. Pirsig, didn’t help much.
Finally, I decided to wing it, and asked my friend to go to a package store and choose a few variety 12-packs. We would taste and talk and enjoy while we learned about where the beers came from, what we liked, and why.
As it turned out, it was a great exercise, and dare I say it, kind of Zen. We had variety packs from Monday Night, New Belgium and Sweetwater. We explored the basics of brewing, several styles and how they evolved over time, and conducted a few sensory experiments.
It was fun to compare and contrast IPAs from Monday Night, New Belgium and Sweetwater with fresh perspectives devoid of preconceived beer geek notions. And it was fascinating to find out the favorites among the variety packs, which totaled 12 different beers.
Besides hanging out with some really interesting people and drinking good craft beer, the evening reminded me that variety packs are a good way to sample beer.
Breweries tend to use the 12-packs, which run about $15-$20, as a way to introduce new and seasonal selections. And some of the bigger companies, like Sam Adams, often include a beer you may or may not see again, like Juniper IPA or Cherry Chocolate Bock.
Right now around Atlanta, you can find variety packs from Boulevard, Great Divide, Left Hand, Magic Hat, Red Hare (in cans), Lazy Magnolia, Victory and more.
I’m particularly excited about a new 12-pack on the way from Sierra Nevada, which will include four different IPAs.
Dubbed the “4-Way IPA” it’s anchored by the popular Torpedo Extra IPA — the first beer to feature the “Hop Torpedo” dry-hopping device. Belgian-style Snow Wit White IPA is brewed with with seven varieties of experimental “dwarf hops.” Nooner Session IPA promises big hops and lower alcohol drinkability. Blindfold Black IPA is another take on the lots of hops with roasted malts style.
Are you a fan of the variety 12-pack?
— By Bob Townsend, AJC Drink blog.