Friday, July 23, 2010


So what’s a “Beer Samurai”? Well, I had wanted to use “Beer Jedi”, but that was already taken. Knowing that George Lucas based the Jedi upon the Samurai, I settled on “Beer Samurai”. They’re just as noble and legendary and have the added benefits of being historical and it doesn’t sound nearly as geeky. It also allowed me to develop the code of the Beer Samurai and cleverly call it “brewshido”.
Many people use the terms “beer snob” or “beer geek”. This is how I traditionally define those terms.
  • A beer snob is one who will deride and look down upon anyone not drinking good beer. I have been known to do this from time to time, but I am usually respectful of people’s choices and I am always willing to help the uneducated learn about good beer. To this end, I have taken on a senpai or two in my time. Also, if I know someone who is drinking good beer, but does not particularly like a beer that I really enjoy or vice versa, I don’t get on them about their taste. I understand that everyone has a different palate. But I still reserve the right to believe that NO ONE’S palate is designed to appreciate the mass-produced American lagers…the beers that I love to call NASCAR beers. I have nothing against NASCAR, but if a beer advertises on one of the hoods or along the retaining wall in stock car racing, then it is a sure bet that it is made with corn and/or rice.
  • A beer geek is someone who will talk without rest, breath, food or water about beer, drinking beer, brewing beer, visiting breweries, attending beer events, cellaring beer, trading beer, collecting beer glasses, reading books about beer, cooking with beer and writing a beer blog. I am guilty on all accounts. There is no “however” here. I am a beer geek, but the fact that I like to share my knowledge and experiences with others rather than just attempt to prove that I know more than someone else about beer is a saving grace, I feel. I can instantly tell when I’ve met someone who knows more about beer than I do. In those cases, I shut up and listen and I learn. Most beer geeks won’t shut up long enough to pick up anything and when they do they’re just listening for the break in the other person’s stream of consciousness so that they can begin to impart their nuggets of joy again. It’s fun to listen to two beer geeks talk about beer. It’s like speed chess. You and they have not much of a clue what the other one did, but you know someone won. Beer is not about winning. It’s about the interaction and knowing when it is time to learn and when it is time to teach.
Based on these definitions, I decry belonging wholly to either classification and have therefore dubbed myself a Beer Samurai. The qualifications of being a Beer Samurai are based on the code of the Samurai, also known as bushido or the way of the warrior. There are 10 virtues associated with bushido and I have applied them here and renamed them brewshido.
  1. Integrity: A Beer Samurai should have a good collection of beer glasses: pints, pilsners, nonics, stanges, chalices, tulips, steins, mugs, beckers, tumblers, snifters and the like. When buying a glass with a brewery name on it you should never use that glass until you have actually poured the beer emblazoned on that glass into it. For instance, do not buy a footed pilsner with the words “Pilsner Urquell” etched on the front and pour Victory Prima Pils into it UNTIL you have actually drank Pilsner Urquell from it. Then you are free to pour whatever beer you want into that vessel. But be mindful to pour the correct beer into the correct glass. Some beers have hard and fast rules as to what glass to drink them from and with good reason. NEVER pour a Belgian stout into a stange unless you enjoy mopping. Different glasses are shaped to better enhance a certain beer’s best qualities. When in doubt, reach for a pint glass. Oh, and drinking from the bottle should be avoided. You need to smell your beer as you drink it. When you drink from the bottle your nose is left out in the cold. Even Jimmy Durante's nose would have made into a pint glass.
  2. Courage: Even if you’ve heard bad things about a beer with which you are presented or if it is a style for which you don’t care, man up and find a way to taste it and judge it objectively and fairly. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s bad beer. If I can drink Xingu, then you can handle a gueze. Only pass on a beer if your Honor will be undermined by accepting it. See below.
  3. Benevolence: Pass on your knowledge to those who are open to it. Be a sensei, but try not to bore the crap out of people who are not as enlightened and thrilled about beer as you are. Trying to convert an oenophile is usually time wasted, but many people are bi-booze-ual in this regard. When you find someone of like mind, hold nothing back. Engage in conversations in which both parties can listen actively and learn.
  4. Respect: Taste is subjective and not everyone’s palate is alike. Therefore, different opinions of different beers will arise from different people. Just because you like a heavily-hopped IPA doesn’t mean the person at the bar next to you will. Their palate may favor maltier brews. Listen and respect everyone’s opinion, even if they are a freaking idiot. My senpai is more of a hophead than I and I appreciate stouts in a way he may never develop. We will both find our own paths along the way.
  5. Honesty: If someone is talking about a beer that you have not tasted, do not attempt to comment on it. Do not pretend to have tasted it. Stop yourself and listen. Ask questions. Learn. No one knows everything about beer. Michael Jackson may have, but he has sadly passed on to the brasserie in the sky and takes that knowledge with him. Practice this phrase, "Hmm, I've never had that one. What's it like?" You may learn something.
  6. Honor: A Beer Samurai will never be caught drinking a NASCAR beer (or worse) and under no circumstances will they drink a beer with a piece of fruit dangling from the side of the glass or shoved down the bottles neck. If given a beer in this manner, politely remove the offending parcel of fruit and place on a cocktail napkin. Better yet, drink something that doesn't need to have fruit put it in to taste better. If you must drink something with fruit in it, switch to sangria. I'll see if there's a Sangria Samurai and post the link. Be right back......nope, anyone want to volunteer for that one?
  7. Loyalty: A Beer Samurai never lets a friend beer goggle unless by doing so it will create great entertainment value that can be enjoyed for years to come. Most of all, a Beer Samurai watches his friends' back and ensures that they stay out of trouble or, at the very least, supplies bail money. On some occasions it is necessary to follow their lead and wind up sharing the bench in the county lock-up.
  8. Piety: Always support and defend your favorite breweries. Find one or two or more and be sure to taste everything they produce that you can find. Visit often if it is geographically feasible. Continued support of the smaller craft breweries has the macrobreweries forming conglomerates to survive. That is why we now have InBev and MillerCoors. We are winning. Keep the faith!
  9. Wisdom: A Beer Samurai knows when they have had enough and refrains from starting fights, driving drunk or sexually harassing the hot babe at the end of the bar. There is a huge difference between a happy beer drinker and a drunken fool. They also take measures to avoid a hangover and know how to properly rehydrate so that they can return to work the next day so that they can make more money in order to buy more beer.
  10. Care for the Aged: Not all beers can be enjoyed the year they are brewed and need some time for the flavors to mellow. If you find a beer that you absolutely love, get more of it and lay it down for a while, but be mindful if it meets the criteria for cellaring and always date your bottles so you know how long they’ve been resting. Also, if you try a beer that you don’t enjoy, ask yourself if it’s because it is young and the flavors are too harsh. If so, it may become one of your favorites after sitting for a year. A Beer Samurai also understands that some beers need a few minutes to arrive at the proper temperature so that the full flavor profile can shine through. Understand the optimum temperatures for the beers you drink.
You too can become a Beer Samurai if you feel you can follow these criteria.

So I’ve explained the first half of the blog’s title…what about that second half? Journeying through New Jersey? The GSP will take you from one end to the other in under three hours. This is going to be a short blog, right? Wrong! The journey is never-ending. There is no destination. It is a journey through the New Jersey beer scene: its breweries, its bars, its brew pubs, its beer stores, its home brewing stores and the myriad beer events that take place each year within the borders of our beloved state. In some cases I may extend the reach into neighboring states, but only if these events are within a half day’s drive. I may extend beyond that if the event is particularly special like the Great American Beer Festival or Mondial or a tour of breweries through Belgium or Germany. In those cases they will be not be standard entries and I will refer to them as “Supplementals”.

I’ve been on the path for quite some time now, so the first entries will be a way to reminisce about what brought me here and allow you young padawan to catch up. It will start with my discovery of beer in college (I was a late bloomer in this aspect), through my first stage of beer geekdom which was extremely misguided and onto my Renaissance of beer appreciation. The last part constitutes only the past year or less. Once we get caught up then the entries will either be as events occur or just thoughts and ponderings on beer, beer tasting, beer pairings, cooking with beer, beer history and yadda yadda beer yadda beer beer beer.

Next time: The College Years


  1. I might have it backwards, since it was so long since I read 'Rising Sun'- I thought the Sempai was the teacher and the Kohai was the student. Either way, I am honored to be your student, as much as I have learned and to continue to learn from you. It's a great journey, and I'm glad to be on it.

  2. Sensei is the teacher for the whole dojo. Senpai (or sempai) is the most advanced student. In some systems the senpais are responsible for teaching of the kohai and the kohai serve the senpai. But the sensei is over all.

    So you're half right, but a senpai is basically a student/teacher. So I think senpai might fit better for you. In a sense, the sensei is also a student/teacher as they continue to train and learn.