Misconceptions are broken down by the “pop” of a newly opened bottle of beer, as I sit down with Jim Araneta, certified beer aficionado and owner of the recently opened Craft, a pub serving the only kind of beer worth a hangover: craft beer.
The Beer We Know and Love
There is a number of different imageries that pop into your head when thinking of beer. If you look back into your childhood, you’ll probably remember TV advertisements with the Apo Hiking Society, dressed in matching pastel colours, dancing on the beach and popping a few bottles. You’ll probably also remember those gigantic neon-light billboards that were all over the Metro, with crude animations of beer being poured into a mug. And who could forget the “tough-guy” Sabado Nights ad, whose theme song stuck in everyone’s head, even if many of us were still too young to drink?
And in retrospect you realize that there isn’t much difference between then and now when you think about beer. You still have the famous endorsers and hundreds or even thousands of advertisements littering the city and clogging up primetime television.
Yup, not much has changed.
It’s been accepted as the perfect drink, whether in the height of summer on a beach somewhere or during the humid monsoon season after school or office hours. People, regardless of generational gaps, are happy to use it as a social lubricant or bridge (and, on many an occasion, producing new BFFs after a dozen or so beers). It seems that beer in the Philippines is one of those things that are as good as your Mother’s cooking: you can always go back to it and find comfort in it.
But if you think about it, there is only so much that the regular Joe or Jane really knows about beer. Many of us grew up with it, never really questioning it. We were limited by what we saw on television and advertisements, by what was sold to us on tap in the bars we frequented. And we were content with what we had.
And this is exactly why Jim Araneta decided to challenge the common sensibilities people have regarding beer. Whether or not people can really the handle the truth of what he has to offer.
The Underage Origins of the Global Beer Exchange
The sun is still out when I arrive in Global Beer Exchange, Makati. I introduce myself to Jim, who was expecting me, and we greet each other with a strong, firm handshake. I’m a little intimidated, of course; I’ve always been open to learning more about new types of food or drink, and this man is an expert. Before coming here I didn’t know what to expect; I wondered if he was a pretentious snob, or a total purist. But those silly misconceptions in my head easily fizzle down after hearing a familiar sound, the “pop” of a newly opened bottle of beer, as he hands me a nice cool brew in a glass and sits me down to finally chat.
“This all started when I was 19,” says Jim. He was living with his grandfather in Los Angeles, California, for a year. Jim recalls seeing his Grandpa come home from work, with a crappy 6-pack in a brown paper bag; his grandfather would give him a look and Jim knew that it was time to sit with him in the basement and crack open a few beers. He recounts, “We wouldn’t talk or anything, we’d just sit and drink beer, and that was our bonding time. When I look back, it wasn’t even about the taste, because what we drank was just awful beer. The truth is, for me, it was really just about the memories.” And it is exactly this involuntary memory of the “good times” that drove Jim to chase his passion.
He carried this curiosity with him from that point on, and continued tasting local brews wherever his travels would take him; whether he was in the United States, South America, Europe, or Asia, he would drink local and remember. So, with the wealth of experience and knowledge he has of beers from around the world, he built the Global Beer Exchange in 2008 to bring more styles of beer to the Philippines. Moving from its former home beside Greenbelt, the Global Beer Exchange can now be found in the newly opened Craft pub in the Fort Strip, Taguig, started by Jim and his partners to celebrate and share their passion for craft beer, and of course the good times to be had.
The Real Truth at the Bottom of That Beer Mug
And despite all those advertisements and endorsements we’ve grown accustomed to, I learned that day that all the different beer brands we see out there are basically the same thing. “What we usually have available are the Adjunct Lagers like Stella Artois, Heineken, Corona, Asahi, and San Miguel,” he explains. “These are [commercial] beers where some key elements are replaced by fillers and preservatives, changing the taste of the beer.” This made me think, and I ask myself, “If I have been drinking beer with substitutes all this time, then what is real beer supposed to taste like?”
I pick up the glass that Jim offers to me and I notice a nice amber color, with a nice, creamy, albeit receding head, which is what you call that layer of foam on top. Jim goes on to tell me that the thicker and more lasting the head, the more hops (a key ingredient that puts the “bitter” in beer), and the better the beer. I smell and sip and it reveals aromas, flavors, and a bitterness that I don’t usually encounter in a beer mug. Not that it’s unwelcome; in fact it’s surprisingly pleasant.
Jim asks if I like it, and I give him a thumbs-up and a nod. The beer master then proceeds without skipping a beat. “What you are having is a Craft Beer and an IPA [Indian Pale Ale] to be exact.” I continue to look at the beer and have a few sips to get more on to my palette. “There are only two families of beer: the ales and the lagers” explains Jim. “The lagers are the pilsner-style beers, which are light, refreshing, and crisp, similar to San Miguel, Stella, and Heineken. Ales on the other hand are more bitter and aromatic and much more complex, like the Indian Pale Ale you’re having now.” I start appreciating how and why this beer I’m drinking is so different from the ones I’m used to; after all, it’s impossible to understand a flavor unless you taste it. With a good-natured laugh, Jim throws out a favorite saying among beer enthusiasts, “People who drink ‘light’ beer don't like beer, they just like to pee a lot.”
Battle of the Beers: Old School Vs. New School
The whole boom of local interest in European beers recently is sometimes attributed to Beer’s Paradise, a small bar in Makati that carries almost a hundred types of Belgian and German beers. I’ve sampled my fair share of them as well, and I’m familiar enough with the brands to know which ones I particularly like. So it made me think, what is so special about the Craft Beers that Jim is proudly sharing with the public? To understand these beers better, we have to look at their roots in the beer-making traditions.
“You have the Old World beer producers, like Great Britain, Germany, Belgium, and Czech Republic; they invented the stuff.” says Jim. He explains that they developed and perfected the techniques and used only the local ingredients to produce their beer. And this is exactly what differentiates them from the “New World” beer producers from the United States and Japan. “If Old World beer is limited by tradition, New World is all about innovation—their beer is limited only by the creativity and imagination of the Brewmaster.” Jim elaborates: “In the U.S. you can still find good German-style beers or hefeweizen.”
He names a variety of different Craft Beers, like the Rogue Double Dead Guy Ale, Gordon Birsch Hefewiezen, and the Stone Brewing Arrogant Bastard Ale. “They even produce beers in Japan that use rice-wine brewing methods,” he shares. Some brewers add different ingredients to achieve unique, interesting flavors, like African honey, wood chips to give a smoky BBQ aroma, and there’s even chichi beer, a type of fermented liquor made of fruit and an essential ingredient, human saliva. That’s when I realize that the scope of craft beers is not geographical, like traditional beers and their methods; it’s simply unbound by any limitation. It is raw gastronomic creativity, with one mean kick.
Beer According to Jim
It was already evening by now, but a variety of beers were still being opened and tasted. Jim continued to show how much he really loved what he was doing. It was obvious from the grin in his face that came from talking about something so close to his heart—or maybe it was the alcohol kicking in, but probably a combination of both. He still had this strong sense of passion that comes hand in hand with authority on a subject, and it was far from condescending or snooty. Rather, he had a certain charm that made you feel comfortable around him when you talked about beer. He had received more guests by this time, regulars that he welcomed with a warm smile or a friendly pat on the back, exchanging easy words with them on the week they had or the beers they were about to taste. He prepared the tables himself and opened a few beers, explaining each one to them earnestly. It was as if he wanted to share what he saw in the fine brew.
And I suppose this is exactly the truth that Jim wants to offer anyone who’s open to trying something new. Through his weekly beer-tastings, like Craft's Craft Beer Thirstdays for instance, he’s showing us that beer has so much more to offer. Craft Beer is not just another bottled beverage with a spirit-infused, gold-colored liquid. Within each bottle, made with the finest ingredients its Brewmaster could find, hides a sensory experience waiting to burst into life, to fill your senses with aromas you never would have imagined. And of course the experience of it, hitting your lips and your palate, that undeniable feel-good experience—that’s what I’m guessing beer is all about for Jim Araneta. But if you would rather sit back and stick to the same old brew, that’s fine, too, but you’ll be definitely missing out on one hell of a ride.
Still thirsty? Stay tuned for more Beer 101 with Jim Araneta!
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