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Branching out from Budweiser

If you are in college, odds are you have tried beer. The unfortunate reality for many college students is that they have never had a chance to experience the world beyond Budweiser. They have been initiated into the universe of beer by the ubiquitous golden, mass-produced “smooth” pilsner that dominates the university social scene.

Beer, however, encompasses a nearly endless galaxy of styles and flavors at least as vast – if not more so – than wine. Chances are if you hate beer, it is just because you have not had an opportunity to truly appreciate it.

The Egyptians were the first to commercially brew beer. According to The Little Black Book of Beer, they used it in religious ceremonies and even as a form of currency to pay taxes to pharaohs. Centuries later, the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and quickly built a brew house, solidifying beer’s place in American history.

By the 18th century, many colleges had their own brew houses to supply beer to students, according to The Little Black Book of Beer. Room and board could be paid with malted barley. The availability of a diverse range of brews increased due to immigrants bringing their native recipes with them to America.

Prohibition brought on by the Volstead Act in 1920 effectively destroyed the majority of small breweries. The larger commercial breweries were able to survive the 13-year drought by producing nonalcoholic beer-like beverages. When the act was lifted in 1933, Americans were left with a much smaller range of choices.

Today, smaller breweries have made a comeback. When one enters the beer aisle at the local supermarket, the variety of beer choices is vast. But rather than the challenge of choosing from a sea of multicolored bottles, it seems that the average beer drinker takes the easy way out, in turn shutting out a world of flavor.

Beer can be divided into two main categories: ales and lagers. Ales are generally fruity, complex and heavy. Lagers are typically clear, crisp and cleaner tasting than ales. There are at least 17 major types of ale and eight different types of lager. Each type of beer is usually made with four principal ingredients: water, fermentable sugar, hops and yeast.

Hops contribute a bitterness that offsets the sweetness of the malt. Most mass-produced American beer is a light, smooth, pilsner-style lager with a minimal amount of hops. A pilsner is defined by The Complete Joy of Home Brewing as a golden beer with a creamy, dense head that tops a well-carbonated brew with an accent on the rich, sweet malt that the beer is made from. Because of this, when a person new to beer tries something different, they may initially find it unpleasant.

This can also be attributed to the fact the American culture puts so much faith in sweetness. The American palate has been so conditioned to expect sweetness that it is difficult to appreciate the complexities of something that is bitter.

So for those of you whose interest has been piqued, I propose a four-step rebirth in the appreciation of suds. This journey will take over your weekend and leave you with a keen knowledge of hops, malt, ales and lagers.

We begin our quest at a place closer to campus than you might think. The Yuengling Brewery offers tours of its plant and is located approximately a mile away from campus. Yuengling managed to survive prohibition and is now America’s oldest brewery. The tours are offered Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Yuengling manufactures seven types of beer, all of which are available for sample at the conclusion of the tour.

The next step in attainting an affinity for ales takes place on Saturday in Ybor City. The Florida Brewers Guild will be holding its annual beer festival. Tickets cost $20 in advance and $25 the day of the event. Tickets can be purchased online at Floridabrewersguild.com. Each attendee receives a Florida Brewers Guild glass in which they can enjoy unlimited tasting of more than 100 different styles of beer. The event starts at 2 p.m. There will be live entertainment as well as the announcement of the winner of the Best Florida Beer Championships.

After attending this beer bonanzas you might be exhausted and maybe even a little hung over. But the quest must continue if you endeavor to become a lover of lagers. On Sunday, Skippers Smokehouse is hosting the seventh annual Brewers Ball. Tickets to the event are $20 in advance and $25 at the event. The cost includes unlimited tasting, lunch and entertainment. The ball starts at noon and ends at 4:30 p.m. Trophies will be awarded for the best microbrews in Florida.

Now you have the knowledge you need to step away from the mass-marketed belch propellant. There is an entire world of hops and malt before you. So take the challenge: Go out there, grab a pint of something new, and when you take that first sip, imagine the history that brought it to your lips.