In lieu of doing actual work for our brewery guide this week, I decided to hit a dating app to find someone who could mansplain beer to me. After swiping left about a thousand times, I found the one: Chris Finn, a self-described “beer nerd,” a teacher in Albany schools, and all-around sweet guy. We met at Rare Form Brewery, in Troy, last Wednesday, and had a pleasant, informative evening together.
Jaya: I thought this could be sort of be half an interview, half a date. “Tell me what the best beers are and also, what’s your relationship with your mother like,” sort of thing.
Chris: (Laughs.) We could do that, for sure.
J: You are awesome. How often do you come here?
C: I’m not a huge regular here, but I usually come once every few weeks.
J: I told the bartender that I was here because you were a beer nerd, and he says “yeah, he is,” so that’s an endorsement!
C: They know!
J: They know. Let’s talk beers.
C: OK, so, (points to the flight of beer we just ordered), these are the light beers; they’re light in color, and also in alcohol content. Those can correlate but not always.
J: OK, so these are the wimpy beers.
C: Most of them are hoppy.
J: I thought hoppy beers were mostly IPAs and stuff. Aren’t these, like, Hefeweizens?
C: No. They’re all different. The first one is the Sabbatical, which is a rye pale ale. It has an extremely low alcohol content, which is very unusual for the level of flavor you get. It’s like Bud Light, it has less than 4 percent.
J: Bud Light, but good. That should be it’s tagline. OK, let’s get our drink on! Do you smell it first?
C: You don’t have to, but I like to. (Drinks.) it’s light in flavor and has a little bit of a spiciness to it, and it sits really well.
J: (Drinks.) It tastes like water.
C: It’s very light. The next one is Freshy, which is a hoppy lager. It’s very clean drinking, it doesn’t have a lingering aftertaste. If you’re talking in beer geek-ese, it has a very light mouthfeel.
J: (Laughs.) Sorry. Mouthfeel?
C: I tend to slip into that language.
J: (Smells the beer.) It smells like skunk.
J: That’s a good thing?
C: That’s their intention. It’s a lager.
J: (Drinks.) That ain’t bad. So the next beer is Sexy Beats. What makes this beer sexy, and do you want kids? That was a joke.
C: (Laughs.) OK, so I don’t know what they’re aiming for with the name. It’s one of those things with craft beer, and trademarking. You have to be as obscure as possible when you name things, because otherwise you could get sued, or at least get a letter. So they usually have some kind of meaning, but it’s not always a description. All the descriptive names have already been taken at this point.
J: So they’re just going for shock value, by now.
C: Yeah. At some places the names are flat out, like, extremely problematic.
J: (Laughs.) Tits and ass! The beer!
C: Sometimes they can be misogynistic, there’s a lot of misogyny. So Sexy Beats — it’s a New England-style IPA.
J: Ah, I don’t like the IPAs.
C: It’s hopped in such a way that instead of being bitter — although I haven’t had this batch, I don’t think — typically this style is more floral and juicy, like a tropical fruit tends to be.
J: Oh, wow!
C: They change it up, sometimes, so it’s hard to know exactly what it’s going to taste like until you try it. (Drinks.) So Sexy Beats — I’m getting a little bit of pine.
J: Yeah, smells like Pinesol, a little bit. Smells like Murphy Soap. (Drinks.) Hmm. It tastes like kicked apple juice. That’s what it tastes like. It tastes like when I was seven years old, and my mom accidentally sent me off to summer camp with a sippy-cup full of my next-door neighbor’s rye whiskey, that he used to sneak into the Saratoga Jazz Festival.
C: (Laughs.) Wow.
J: Yeah! I love rye now, but back then, not so much. It tastes like dirty socks.
C: And that’s interesting. Because the flavors that you’re picking up — I have read that for some people, that’s just how IPA’s taste. The flavor profile just doesn’t match up.
J: So, Earth to Troy — a lot’s riding on its shoulders!
C: It’s the Saizon. It’s got a little funkiness to it —
J: Is that a quality you look for in a beer? Funky?
C: Yes. It depends on the beer. It’s just like food. Certain kinds of flavors are desirable in certain styles. (Drinks.) OK, it’s got kind of an earthiness to it? Almost like…
J: Smells like pee.
C: And that’s actually a pretty common tasting note.
J: (Laughs) OK, we’ve got Pinesol, dirty socks, and pee. (Drinks.) Oh, that’s actually really good! You know, it only smells like pee. It tastes like beer! It tastes like . . . Coors Light.
C: (Shocked silence.)
J: (Riotous laughing.) “This date is over!”
C: (Laughing) I’ll flip the table.
J: So tell me: how did beer become this big . . . thing? I mean, it used to be wine. And now it’s beer!
C: Well, we’ve only just surpassed the pre-prohibition peak for breweries in the United States. A fact of the matter is, 140 years ago in this country, there were breweries everywhere. But Prohibition crushed that as a localized industry. When Prohibition was repealed, you only had these very large producers, who had survived by making these carbonated beverages. So there’s been this real resurgence of local beer-making. I think it’s easier to make well and sell than wine. Wine is only a couple of focused ingredients. Whereas beer — more ingredients. I think it’s more complex a beverage.
J: Wine is like — you need grapes from this fucking corner in France, or Chile, or wherever, and that’s pretty much it.
C: Whereas in beer there’s variation in what grains you use, and where they’re from, and what proportions they’re in, and how they’re malted, and how they’re grown and kilned and dried and roasted — and then there’s hops, there’s hundreds of varieties of hops, all with different flavor characteristics, and dozens of different kinds of yeast, with different flavor characteristics.
J: Do you brew?
C: Yeah. Been doing it for about seven or eight years. Sold my Magic the Gathering cards — putting that out there — to buy my first brew kit.
J: Nice! (Laughs.) Can I quote you on that?
C: (Laughs.) Go for it. I had those cards sitting in the back of a closet for years, and when I was in my late twenties, early thirties, I sold them all for like, $700 and went and bought a kit.
J: So you graduated to a slightly cooler nerd activity.
J: So why do you love beer?
C: It’s more about experiencing different flavors, and for me, a lot of the fun is — brewers are a very accessible bunch, they’ll talk your ear off about their own work, and their competitors’ work as well. They collaborate all the time on beers together. The competition isn’t between the craft brewers, it’s between craft brewers and the big guys.
J: Well Chris, this has been completely wonderful. And I really, really liked the last beer.
C: I’m glad! This was fun.