Malted Madness is a celebration of beer. Largely, we’ve glorified suds through our favorite medium: bloodthirsty head-to-head competition. Now, though, we pay homage to the most foundational of beer’s values… enjoyment. We asked our staff to remember the most memorable water, malt and hops they’d ever had and recorded their misty-eyed reminiscences. What we found — unsurprisingly — was that the true measure of beer is often when and where it’s enjoyed, and who with.

malted-madness-teaser-icon64 Beers. 6 Rounds. 1 Winner. It’s the Gear Patrol National Craft Beer Championship. Follow the Story This Way »

Scott Packard:
We were just out of the “Mog”– Mogadishu, Somalia — after over 100 dry days ashore and under what you might call tense and austere conditions. Our first port call wasn’t the most glamorous: Abu Dhabi, before it had grown, but it was far better than the steel beach aboard ship.

A group of us lieutenants made our way to the best resort we could find, one that allowed “infidels”. It was something out of a 70s James Bond film — women lazing about in caftans and hirsute guys in outdated swimwear and Ron Jeremy ‘staches. The in-pool bar was our immediate target. After changing into our green silky PT shorts — the Marine Corps’ unfortunate choice for exercise shorts in the ’90s — we jumped in and waded over to the bar. The beer choices were unfamiliar, but the seven of us quickly settled on the most whimsical, at least to a bunch of testosterone-laden Type A’s de-stressing after a significant emotional experience: a Dutch lager called Oranjeboom. We ordered Oranjeboom by the bucket, and while details of much of that afternoon and evening are sketchy, the beer and the buddies are etched in my memory.

Matt Neundorf:
When I was 18, I made my first trip across the pond to England. Traveling with my grandfather to see where he grew up and tracing back some familial roots, we stayed in Taunton, Somerset. Every night after dinner we would go for a walk that would inevitably end at the local pub. That first evening, though, slightly jet-lagged and somewhat gobsmacked, in a proper pub in England with my grandfather by my side, I enjoyed the creamiest stout I’d ever had. We still spoke about that beer for the next 16 years, and no single serve of Murphy’s Irish Stout’s has ever been as good.

Chris Wright:
When I hiked the Grand Canyon, the last leg of the trip out was a little slice of hell. The leader of the trip, my Aunt, a tough, seasoned hiker who could kick my ass in anything involving mental and/or physical conditioning, had taken care that there was something waiting for us in the parking lot when we finally slogged out on wooden thighs. It was a cooler stuffed with ice cold beers. They were normal run-of-the-mill lagers, but the first (and second, and third) sip felt blissful as the first seconds of a long-held early morning piss. For a few minutes, the cramps, sweat, dirt and blisters were forgotten as we drank and looked over the Canyon we had just climbed out of.

Bradley Hasemeyer:
Growing up a rule follower, I hadn’t had a beer until my Junior year of college, when I was doing a study abroad semester in Australia. I was studying (ish) at the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba, about two hours West of Brisbane. Drinking age was 18 and I was 20, which made drinking O.K. to my highly moralistic, legalistic self, so one night when we all gathered before heading to a party, the Freshmen and Sophomores in my dorm offered “American Brad” a XXXX Gold (Fourex). I’d say they offered me a “beer”, but that would be an insult. Made in Queensland, this beer brings great pride for Aussies, along with disdain for all other brews — especially Victoria Bitter from South Australia.

I took a sip. It was disgusting (for the record so was VB), but I drank it as fast as I could. Granted, it’s roughly akin to Coors or Budweiser and the ABV is about 3.5; still, the world started spinning like I have never felt before. Because Australian culture has kids brushing their teeth with beer, this inability to handle my “alco” was a crazy site for them, indeed.

The world was spinning, and so was my stomach. They asked if I wanted more. I declined, explaining I was just going to head back to my room for a little bit. I laid on my bed looking at the ceiling and wondering how long this unexpected swirling ride would last. It lasted long enough for me to realize that I needed to take it slow — which is still a rule I live by when drinking my beers. Lesson learned.

Ode to the Brew

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It’s a funny thing, beer. Our fascination with the stuff is one of the great stories of mankind. We became civilized, after all, in pursuit of it. Man couldn’t make beer without barley and hops, so he became a farmer.

From a devil-may-care attitude after that first home-brewed batch, to smelling the aromatic hops surrounding iconic breweries, from tear jerking Super Bowl ads, to the neighborhood street corner brewery, beer has the power to evoke real, visceral emotions from those in its presence.

Perhaps it’s because it’s not liquor. Liquor, in its own right, is flashy, an escape. Barring your old man’s scotch, it is easily and often abused. Jagerbombs and RedBull vodkas chase a fantasy. A cold beer, however, coexists peacefully with reality. It’s a kind word with an old friend; it’s a manly embrace when the home team wins; it’s chasing down salted peanuts while watching that historic no-hitter, or the Fourth of July and fireworks, or a chaotic family reunion, or a hot day down by the water. Beer is the pastime of many civilizations, the liquid torch of generations passed from us to generations yet to come. – Jonathan Gallegos

Ben Bowers:
In my late teens, the role of family lawn mower and landscaper fell squarely on my shoulders. Such was the will of my green thumbed mother. Shoveling yards of mulch, weeding on hands and knees and digging holes over summer weekends in the perma-sauna that is Louisiana wasn’t exactly the most pleasant of ways to pass the time. My dad, astutely sensing from his A/Ced office the poorly veiled bitterness oozing from my farmer’s tanned being, often expressed sympathy by handing me one of the various cold beers he kept in the fridge. It was rarely anything beyond a canned domestic, but slugging one back under the shade of a crepe myrtle sure made me feel like a man of experience, even if my lack of chest hair proved otherwise.

Jon Gaffney:
The best beer I ever had wasn’t even a “great” beer. I wrestled in college, and at the end of the national tournament my senior year all the wrestlers from the tournament turned one hotel into a huge party. My best friend on the team, Matt Sulzicki, bought me a celebratory six pack in honor of the completion of my career, a 12-year journey. It was a warm Sam Adams Lager, but it was and still is the best beer I have ever had. Cheers to you, Matt.

Amos Kwon:
When my wife and I got married in 2009, two of our good friends decided to brew homemade beers for the reception as a gift — one that was more than welcomed. A total of four kinds of beers with custom made labels and names were offered to our guests, all of them ridiculously tasty. The kicker was that with all the details spent on the wedding — from the decorations to the vintage auto racing-inspired place cards and table settings — the one thing that most guests remembered and talked about was the beer. In retrospect, we should’ve just had a backyard barbeque. It would’ve saved us a lot of time and money.

Jeremy Berger:
In 2003, after my first year of college, I was an intern on John Kerry’s primary campaign in New Hampshire. It was me and a handful of other aspiring politics nerds, several of whom are now working in government and one of whom remains a very close friend. For most of us it was our first internship and a pretty big deal since everyone except weenies knew Kerry would get the nod. Our first assignment was to travel to Berlin in the north country and go door-to-door identifying supporters and converting the rest. A friend of the campaign offered to put us all up in spare rooms. On the ride from Manchester we tried unsuccessfully to buy beer with a fake ID, only to arrive at the house and find a fridge full of beer, a stocked bar, and a feast of a meal waiting for us. We drank massively, as only young idealistic college students can, toasting to every member of the Senate in alphabetical order, as only young college students who think they’re really smart will do. One guy slept shirtless next to the toilet. In January we won the primary by 12%.