There are some places you expect to find good beer. Big cities. Brew pubs. Finer restaurants. Many coastal towns.
Then there are other places you do not expect to find good beer. Up in the mountains. Down in the hollers. Over in the swamps. Out in the bayou.
Traveling down South in the U.S. this summer, there are plenty of places I’ve discovered with good beer. Atlanta comes to mind. Many parts of Florida. New Orleans. Just to name a few.
But there are also plenty of places down South where I would not expect to find decent brew. Most of those places are what many people refer to as “the middle of nowhere.” Often “the middle of nowhere” in the South means a town so small there’s only one building, usually a one-room gas station/grocery mart. Sometimes there’ll be a few small houses or a trailer or two around. Sometimes the one-room gas station/grocery mart will also include a tire store or a gun shop, every once in a while a pizza joint or bait shop.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m in no way trying to make fun of such places. I’m originally from a small town in Kentucky that boasts a population of 450 people, so I’ve no bragging rights about coming from the big city or any other such nonsense. Besides, the North has more than its fair share of places that are “the middle of nowhere.”
It’s just that, you don’t expect to find good, quality beer in such places. Sure, there’ll be plenty of Coors Light, usually Keystone Light and often enough Budweiser. Natural Light is almost always readily available. If you head north some ways you’ll often find Iron City beer.
None of these are really quality beers. Oh, they’ll get you drunk if that’s the direction you’re headed, and they can help quench your thirst on a hot day, but these are not generally considered fine beers. I think even most Natty Light drinkers would agree with that, though they might think I’m a snob. Which I am. I’m a beer snob, though only an amateur one.
On with my story.
Recently I was visiting some family in North Carolina. One night while preparing to cook hot dogs and marshmallows over a bonfire, the folks I was with and myself decided we needed some beer. I offered to go get it. There was a little country store just up the road a couple of miles, but I didn’t expect to find great beer there. I knew I’d have to drive the hour or so it would take to get to a town of any size before I’d be able to get good beer. Still, I needed to gas up, so I stopped in that little country store. While I was in there, I figured I’d go ahead and grab a twelve-pack of Budweiser or whatever for my friends who weren’t as snobbish as myself. I rounded the dusty shelves in the store to face the beer cooler.
And my jaw dropped open.
They had tons and tons of Samuel Adams.
Okay. I caught my breath. Samuel Adams. Pretty good beers. But nothing too overly special for a true snob like myself. Still, it was much better than I’d expected to find. I opened the cooler to move aside some Samuel Adams cartons to see if there were any other surprises.
My eyes lighted on several six-packs of Anchor Steam Beer.
My jaw dropped again.
If you are a beer drinker and you’ve never had the opportunity to taste Anchor Steam Beer, you are missing out on not only one of the best beers ever from San Francisco, California, but you are missing out on one of the better beers ever brewed anywhere in the world.
I just couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe I had discovered one of the best beers there is right there in the back of a cooler in a store in a town so small there wasn’t even so much as a STOP sign, let alone a street light.
Days later, driving through another part of the Carolinas, I still haven’t been able to get that out of my mind. The luck I had. It could make one believe in fate. Heck, it could make one believe in God.
I spent a wonderful night that night with friends and family, sipping great beer and eating burnt hot dogs. But not only did I get to sample one of my favorite brews, but I also got to introduce it to plenty of others.
I’m glad I had to stop in that store for gas. It not only saved me a much longer driving trip, but it made me appreciate the South all that much more.
The only thing is, now I have a tendency to stop in every little town I come across in search of good beer. It was bad enough when I only had to stop in the cities. But now! Sheesh!
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