The One That Got Away

Everyone has some amazing thing they experienced in their past that still haunts them to this day (in a good way).  For some, the “thing” in question is a person; for others, it is a place they visited; in my case, it was a beer.

I feel the need to preface the story I am about to tell by pointing out that I am not the biggest fan of Sam Adams beers.  The Boston Lager is one of the most overrated pieces of junk that has ever touched my lips (that list also includes Rolling Rock, anything produced by Sierra Nevada, and your mom).  And believe me, my lips have touched a lot of junk.  That said, one fateful day (around a decade ago) I found my “thing” in the form of a Sam Adams Grumpy Monk.

Still young, naïve and not yet jaded by terrible brews, I decided to get myself a Sam Adams seasonal sample pack.  Of course it had the standard seasonals, but nestled between some mediocre IPA and some other generic ale was something the likes of which I had never experienced:  a Belgian IPA with a bright yellow-orange label, a perturbed man-of-the-cloth disapprovingly eyeing a tankard of ale on the front.

Believe me, when I say this beer both figuratively and literally opened my eyes to the myriad possibilities and plethora of different styles of beer available!  My eyes wide and mouth agape, I drained the bottle of every last drop before any of my friends could even ask for a taste (as a matter of fact, I drank the paltry two bottles that came in the 12-bottle variety pack without hesitation; had I but known how this story would continue, I would have surely saved one…).

My beer was gone, but it would be back, I told myself.  And so I waited…and waited…and…wait…ed…


By this time I had uprooted and moved to Chattanooga, far from the friends to whom the fabled Grumpy Monk was no more than an elusive memory – an object no more tangible than if they had dreamt of it (as I still so often did); far from the store where I acquired the elusive package – probably now either under new management, relocated or shut down completely, never again to bless the palates of barely-legal beer enthusiasts such as myself with mystical seasonal brews that apparently only manifest no more frequently than once every decade or so.

Nevertheless, my stalwart hunt continued.  I tasted every Belgian IPA I could get my hands on.  I tried typical Belgians; I tried typical IPAs (most likely the reason I enjoy the styles so much now); I tried White IPAs; there was probably even a Wheat IPA in there somewhere.  But all fell short.  None could quench the unshakable yearning I had for “the One That Got Away.”

Indeed I had given up all hope of ever again locating the beverage (at this point existing as nothing more than a picture of an empty bottle that had been transferred from mobile phone to mobile phone, it’s image now as pixelated as my memory of the brew’s enticing flavor) as the years ticked by.

And then it happened.

There was a Sam Adams “Tap Takeover” at the local Old Chicago (Northgate Mall).  I nearly drowned in the wave of excitement that washed over me when I saw the all-too familiar (yet still not familiar enough) logo of the titular “Grumpy Monk”.  I readied my driver’s license and waited with bated breath for the bartender to take my drink order; each second felt like its own individual eternity as I sat, ravenously eyeing the bright yellow-orange tap handle.

“Next week.”  The words came, distant at first, then closer, as the bartender repeated them.  “Did you hear me?  The promotion doesn’t start until next week.”  I had been foiled again!  My pleasant wave of excitement had become a tempest of utter defeat!  I more than muttered a string of profanities and vowed to return as I slinked away from the bar and began what should have been the satisfied and triumphant walk to my car, but instead became a defeated plod that would be the offset of an arduous and incensing drive back home.

I waited until the promotion had been in full-swing for a few days and returned to Old Chicago.  The beer had been tapped; the keg was still pumping; it was finally time.

It was only a few (but still far too many) seconds later that I sat there, nectar in hand, and gazed at my prize.  Its clear golden body glistened in the fluorescent lights above the bar.  As I brought the drink to my lips, I inhaled every last whiff of the hop character that had gathered in the beer’s head.

And then I tasted it.  That’s the moment I remembered why I hate Sam Adams brews.  This beer was not the elusive memory I had spent the last decade trying to catch.  It was barely even worth writing a blog post about!  In fact, in the time I had spent trying to find the Grumpy Monk, I had happened across several other Belgian IPAs that far surpassed this disappointing excuse for a “Limited Release” (even Shock Top’s Belgian IPA is a vast improvement).  I sighed and forced down the rest of my ten-year lie.

This story has no moral.  It certainly has no happy ending.  It is merely a cautionary tale:  Sam Adams beers are not that great and sometimes the past is best left exactly there (especially if your judgement at the time is based on practically nothing).  Tastes change; bad beer is forever.

Jared MillerComment