Pintful

Pintful: From beer novice to 500-brew challenge

john.frank@newsobserver.comJune 18, 2013 

Chet Bliss

  • What’s On Tap Big Boss Tap Takeover

    Friday at Village Draft House, 428 Daniels St., Raleigh

    A few specialty Big Boss beers and cask offerings are the featured guests at a tap takeover event, including a six-month-aged Countess Raspberry Ale and a limited batch Monkey Bizz-ness, a delicious Belgian ale. Info: villagedrafthouse.com.

    Lonerider Release Party

    5 p.m. June 26 at the brewery’s taproom, 8816 Gulf Court, Suite 100, Raleigh

    The new Hangman Barley Wine from Lonerider Brewing features twice the malt, hops and yeast of the average ale. It debuts at the Hideout at the brewery. Info: loneriderbeer.com.

    Sourfest

    June 27 at Busy Bee Cafe, 225 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh

    Once the purview of bottles, sour beers are getting a tap showoff at the craft beer bar in downtown Raleigh. More than a dozen sour beer kegs will fill the lines, including a few select offerings, such as Thirsty Dog’s Cerasus Flanders and Bruery’s Sour in the Rye. Info: busybeeraleigh.com.

For years, Chet Bliss considered himself a “beer wuss.”

The 42-year-old IT professional who lives outside Charlotte rarely ventured from his mainstay six-packs, Newcastle Brown and New Belgium’s Fat Tire.

“I didn’t have a palate that could even take different kind of beers,” Bliss told me recently. “When I had a hoppy beer, it made me want to spit it out.”

His situation mirrors many newcomers to craft beer who are expanding their taste horizons and helping to propel to industry’s rapid growth right now.

But what sets Bliss apart is his journey.

It started with inspiration from New Belgium. The Colorado-based brewery recently announced that it would open a brewery in Asheville. Bliss, who works remotely for Boeing, thought about applying for a job at the brewery, but he realized he barely knew anything about beer. He checked the beer shelves at Total Wine and Whole Foods and felt overwhelmed.

So he set a goal: taste 500 different beers in a year. Enough to earn the “legendary” badge on Untappd, a social media beer-tracking app.

Bliss began Feb. 20 with Hoegaarden, an easy drinking Belgian wheat beer, and continued at first with other approachable light-colored offerings.

By the time I met him in May at Good Bottle Co. in Charlotte, his palate was way more advanced. He shared a wood-aged, Belgian-style blended sour ale called Funkaversary, a special collaboration from New Belgium and NoDa Brewing he secured by waiting in a long line.

“The first time I tried a farmhouse ale, I really wanted to throw up. Now it’s my favorite beer,” he said. “I forced myself to try different ones. I read somewhere if you try something five times or more you can change your palate and you can make yourself like something.”

But Bliss’ reputation as a serious craft beer enthusiast is sealed with his challenge.

He gave himself a year, but it took less than four months. On Sunday, Bliss tasted his 500th unique beer: Sapient Trip Ale, a Belgian tripel from the Michigan-based Dark Horse Brewing.

He tasted the milestone beer at his Clover, S.C., home with little fanfare from his 5-year-old daughter, Madison, and his wife, Laurie.

What does his wife think? “She thinks I’m ridiculous,” he said. “She doesn’t understand.”

To accomplish his goal in 117 days, Bliss made mixed six-packs and ordered tasting flights at restaurants with samples of multiple beers. He logged 16 beers from small pours at a Charlotte area beer festival Saturday.

“Once I set my mind to something like that, I’m unstoppable, and I want to do it as fast as possible,” he explained afterward, a little sheepish about his zealousness. “I’m going to calm down. It’s not so much of a race now.”

The standouts along his journey were many. Bliss gave the top 5-star rating to 32 different beers. The Weyerbacher White Sun, a traditional white beer, and Bell’s Oarsman Ale, a sour wheat beer, were recent favorites, he said.

Bliss sums up his tasting adventure neatly: “There are infinite possibilities, and they are all really good.”

But it’s not over yet. He still plans to try new beers every chance he can get. And now he’s focusing his energies on homebrewing. He signed up for a class at a community college this fall.

“I’m never going to go back to drinking one beer again,” he said. “It’s just fun. It’s really opened my eyes.”

And his palate.

What I’m tasting

Mother Earth Brewing’s Windowpane series offers a treat for anyone’s palate. The Raspberry beer is a double Belgian style wheat beer fermented with North Carolina fruit and aged in chardonnay and pinot noir barrels. It’s a dynamic mix of subtle, yet rich flavors that is worth adding to your list.

Stats: 8.3 percent ABV, 750 ml bottles, about $17

Contact John at 919-829-4698 or jfrank@newsobserver.com. On Twitter @ByJohnFrank.

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