Bob Tupper claims he and his wife, Ellie Tupper, never intended to criss-cross the globe in search of great beers. The adventure that began 35 years ago "just got way out of hand."
"We started in 1979," the history teacher said. By the early 1990s, the couple had logged notes on over 6,000 brews.
"At that point," Tupper added, "we had tasted enough beers that we had a sense of what really ought to be made that just wasn't being made."
Hoping to fill the gap, the couple approached Old Dominion Brew Co. to develop their ideal ale. The result -- Tuppers' Hop Pocket Ale -- pleased not only their palates, but also those of some of the most esteemed tasters in the country. The pale ale nabbed a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 1997.
"It's been a fun ride," Tupper said.
And it's not over yet. Last week, the Tuppers savored their 25,000th brew at the Lost Rhino Brewing Company in Ashburn, Virginia.
Up next, Tupper said, he and his wife are "hitting the road."
"We're in the process of writing a book on European beer travel," Tupper said. "When we started, there was just very little out there. We invented our own vocabulary in a lot of ways."
The "comprehensive guide" to 24 of the best cities for beer drinking is an opportunity for the Tuppers to share their approach to the beloved beverage with a wider audience.
Before he took off, Tupper offered advice on seasonal sipping, his "personal No. 1" brew and why we ought to give pilsners a chance.
What are some of your favorite foods to pair with beer?
It's always interesting to think about pairings of food because, in some ways, we've sort of signed on to conventional beer pairings and, in some ways, we haven't. It's very much a matter of individual taste. We live in Maryland, so we're obviously eating steamed Maryland crab with pretty much whatever is interesting and available. Pale ales or a good pilsner can work very well. Belgium witbier can also go very well with seafood. If you like those, I'd try an Allagash.
Tell us about one memorable beer-tasting experience
Because this beer-tasting adventure of ours has been such a personal experience, I'd say our No. 1 was a Thomas Hardy ale. It's one of the few beers that is really designed to be stored in a cellar. We had a few bottles that were about six years old. When we brought out daughter home from the hospital, we went down and got one of those. It was the first beer Ellie had had in, you know, eight months. I swear it was the best doggone beer I'd ever tasted in my life. Even now, it certainly is still the best beer-tasting experience I've ever had.
What's the strangest beer you've ever tasted?
I won't mention the brewery, but there's a brewery that's making a pepper ale that uses habanero and ghost peppers. You can't taste a doggone thing other than the ghost pepper and you know what? Two days later, you still can't taste anything but the ghost pepper. It's obviously there just to abuse the palate and see how many people can handle it. That's not that interesting to me.
Something that's really good, you know -- that really jumps out to me -- is sometimes just tasting a beer that is so really well-made. This is awfully conventional, but it really surprised me: We went to the Pilsner Urquell Brewery in the town of Plzen. It's the original pilsner brewery. The people there essentially invented it. Since the fall of communism, western dollars have poured into the place and it's all stainless steel now, which is nice if you like stainless steel, but the brewery used to be all wood. They've kept a couple of the fermenting vessels in the basement, and if you take the tour, they'll take you down into the cellars there and you can have it made exactly as it was back in the 1800s. It was the best pilsner beer I've ever tasted and maybe one of the best beers I've ever had -- just golden and nicely clear and well carbonated.
What beers would you recommend for summer barbecues/cookouts?
Well, obviously a good pilsner! There are some really bad ones out there and some really boring ones out there. But a good one is just wonderful. A lot of people like to drink hefeweizen around now, which is a wheat beer that's brewed with yeast that creates the flavor of clove and sometimes bubblegum and banana.
But, to be honest, I'm kind of counter-culture on beers for a given season. If I've just mown the grass, I'm not going to have a Thomas Hardy, but in the evening, when it's getting cooler, a beer with some strength to it -- an imperial IPA, say -- can be really good. When I'm actually hovering over the grills, I'm going to look for a pilsner or a helles, which is just a light lager beer and usually a little bit bread-y in character. A Belgium witbier can go well with warm weather and, oddly enough, a schwarzbier, which is a dark, bottom-fermented beer, can be very refreshing. It's a little bit tart and that can be nice when it's hot out.
What beers would you recommend to the novice beer drinker?
I'd start by asking them what they do like to drink. That's the most important. If they're wine drinkers and they really like that fruity taste in wine, I'd probably start with a gentle Belgian fruit lambic, like a kriek or framboise. If they drink whiskey, I might try to find a barrel-aged beer that has that vanilla and oak taste that they like. If they really like spicy food, I wouldn't give them that ghost pepper beer, but I might try to give them a beer with a bit of an edge.
Like anything else, though, I don't have a single set answer to that question. Personally, I always disregard any waiter that says to me, 'You have to try this beer. I love it.' I am not you and you are not me. Find out what I like and then make a recommendation based on that.