If you don't count the night our downstairs neighbor got him drunk on dandelion wine—it was the '80s—my father has never been much of a drinker. My mother, on the other hand, subscribes to the scientific idea that a glass of wine a day is actually good for you. Enough that she owns two wine racks, plastic grapes that glow like Christmas lights, and curtains lined with such catch phrases as "Take Life One Sip at a Time," "Wine and Friends Make a Great Blend," and the slightly troubling "Home Is Where the Wine Is."
The other thing my mother has always been is curious. And I'm not just talking about the time she tried sauteed kale. She's not the most adventurous person (see: a Condé Nast Traveler story about the time we took my parents to Las Vegas), and that's not about to change now that she's turned 70, but at least she's open to trying new things.
A recent example has been her sudden interest in craft beer. Largely inspired by local coverage of the breweries that have rescued Buffalo, New York's bar scene from its longtime diet of Miller Lite and Labatt Blue, it's led her to look for bolder flavors than gateway brands like Stella Artois and Blue Moon.
The problem is she doesn't know where to start. Ask anyone who's new to well-stocked bottle shops and revelatory taprooms; they're completely overwhelming. It doesn't help that the industry's trendiest styles read as familiar as a foreign language to a generation raised on routine lagers and light beer.
I first noticed this phenomenon when my parents visited us in Minneapolis last year. Since Buffalo is a big pizza town, I suggested checking out the casual restaurant above Surly Brewing Company that specializes in Connecticut-style pies. While they were quick to order a blistered slab of clams, garlic, cream, oregano, and lemon—and still talk about it to this day—a sip of Surly's latest Darkness release was met with an incredulous response I can only describe as "what were you thinking?"
Which makes perfect sense. Why would anyone who's accustomed to tame flavors suddenly dig a dark and decadent Russian imperial stout? Frankly, I don't even like 'em that much; certainly not enough to warrant the wait times and price tags RateBeer-revered bottles often command.
With this in mind, I suggested another option on the lighter end of the ABV and IBU spectrum: Surly's Rosé-inspired lager. True to its tagline, the fizzy fruit bomb was indeed "crisp, refreshing, and pink as hell," everything a tulip of top-heavy Darkness is not.
I don't get this IPA shit. You know why? I think it's the millenniums.”
I tried to keep this minor triumph in mind over the holidays when my mom brought up visiting a new brewery and buying her a mixed six-pack. We sampled the latter while my family's longtime friends—a married couple named Pat and Ed—were over for dinner. Pat was particularly interested in my ongoing mission to make craft beer fun and approachable because her own son had failed at a similar attempt miserably.
"I think my son knows what he's ordering," she said, "But it's always the most disgusting, heavy, thick stuff. Do you get a big buzz off of it? You sure do, especially when you're used to drinking Michelob Ultra Light."
This refrain kept repeating itself throughout our session: the false equivalency of craft beer with two things, bitterness and booziness. Or as Ed put it, "I don't get this IPA shit. You know why? I think it's the millenniums."
When I explained that "millenniums" were in fact "millennials," Pat laughed and said, "Okay, boomer!" To which Ed replied, "Yeah, okay boomer! What the hell is that now?"
This notion—that craft beer is a generational thing—came up several times.
"It makes me feel old," Pat proclaimed at one point. "Like with a lot of other things, I don't get what the draw is."
"It doesn't really bother me," Ed added. "Not when you have to try beers like this."
This was a Rick and Morty-inspired sour ale cut with cucumbers, the one beer my mom wouldn't finish even four ounces of.
"I like pickles," she said, "But I don't like that."
When I countered with its low ABV level (just 4%), insisting it's much lighter than the craft beer everyone's loathed before, Ed said, "You could tell me it's water, but that's just brutal—really sour. The design is cool, though."
Far more successful was a chocolate cream porter from Big Ditch, one of the area's most consistent breweries. My mom wrote down its name immediately so she could buy a small case of it later, and Ed exclaimed, "This is one of the best beers I've ever tasted. It's great."
There's so many different kinds of beer now. And I'm afraid that if I order something I'm not familiar with, I won't like it.”
Determined to hear more encouraging reviews, I spent a couple more days introducing my mother to other kinds of craft beer. The biggest hit? Southern Tier's Nitro Crème Brulee.
"Mmmm, that's good—real good," she said with a smile. "I can't make out what's in here. It's some kind of fruit or something?"
After I explained the crème brulee connection and the widespread popularity of pastry stouts, she said, "That's what I mean: There's so many different kinds of beer now. And I'm afraid that if I order something I'm not familiar with, I won't like it."
This is why she often gets a Merlot or a Manhattan at dinner instead. At least she used to. Several months after my Christmas visit, my mother texted me about a beer she'd tried at Detroit's airport.
"I ordered a märzen," she wrote. "It had a smooth, mild, sweet malt finish."
When I asked her about it on the phone later, she said, "I told the waitress I don't like anything heavy and she said a lot of people like this. I tried it and, well, let's just say I could have had another glass."
She then brought up an IPA we had tried at a Buffalo spot called Community Beer Works. At the time, I'd failed at suggesting another sour to her ("it's too zingy!"), but a New England number earned the following response: "Oh, this is good. It's not bitter, and has a nice aftertaste."
I told her it's a hazy IPA. That moment—my 70-year-old mother saying the words "haze-y I-P-A," and writing it all down for future reference—I've never been more proud of her, even if she does keep a couple Blue Moons in the fridge every time I visit. After all, it beats a barrel-aged stout.
Illustration by Adam Waito