OK, teammates. Let's get down to business. There are times when we all get stuck with some stale and\/or skunky beer. It happens. (But it shouldn't.) Let's talk about stale beer. First, we need to understand the basics. Beer is not simply a beverage. It isn't like lemonade or your favorite cola drink. Beer is definitely a foodstuff. Historically and still today, beer is 'processed' more like a food product than it is like a drink product. If it was just a drink, brewers would simply adding flavored syrup or powder to water and create hops-flavored Kool Aid. (Lord knows, there are almost some of those operations around!) But beer is carefully measured, cooked, mixed, stirred, fermented, stirred some more - an exhaustive process that includes grains, yeasts, water, hops, often fruits and vegetables, and more. Beer is a food product, and as such it can go stale. There are a lot of things that go into making beer go stale. Time, light, and air are just some of these factors. Every time you go shopping for beer, you do so with the assumption that you are going to get a good product - fresh and refreshing. That isn't necessarily going to always be the case. The problem is this - most American beer drinkers have become so used to stale beer they think it is the norm. A few store owners will probably get pretty upset with me but, truth be known, if there isn't a decent turnover of a specific beer, the stuff left on the shelves is probably already stale. Look, the time-air-light issue is one Europeans are a lot more attuned to than are we Americans who have often been drinking stale beer for generations. ("Heck! Of course I have a beer. I got a case in the garage that's been sitting since last deer season!)" In many, many, many European eateries you simply cannot find an American beer - and it isn't a matter of European snobbishness. They won't serve American beer because it has traveled too long, too hard, and too hot to be of any culinary value. In short - the beer is stale, as it too often is on the shelf of your local convenience store. Still, not to despair. You can at least try to defend yourself from funky stale beer, (even if you don't know you're drinking the same!) When you are out shopping for a new beer to explore, there are some basic things you can do to try and limit you stale beer experiences. BUY LOCAL!!! The closer to home the beer was brewed, the better the chance it will be at least relatively fresh. Try to buy out-of-state or imported beer from a store that has a good reputation, a team of workers who know what the heck they are talking about, and at a place that enjoys a reasonable turnover of product.. Don't ever buy beer that you have to clean the dust off the label before reading the name. You are just asking for trouble. Make sure the cap is sealed very, Very, VERY tight. If there is any 'bleeding,' take a pass. If it is 80 degrees in the beer aisle, you might want to think about visiting another store. If you do get stuck with some bad beer, TAKE IT BACK! If your 'beer dude' has any class whatsoever, and if the store has a rep worth protecting, they will accommodate you. Most places are OK with taking bad beer back. Nobody wants to be known as being a dealer of skunky beer. Now, having said all that, you, my fellow explorer, have a degree of responsibility in all this as well. Don't buy a beer such as Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze or Russian River Temptation and then take it back to the dealer complaining it is sour. OF COURSE IT'S SOUR!!! It's a sour beer! Know what you are buying before you get overly indignant. Now ... try one or both of these. Juniper IPA Boston Beer Co. (Samuel Adams) Massachusetts God bless good friends. I probably would not have picked this beer out of a bunch of other options. But ...a fellow scout did so for me. Juniper pours a nice, crisp amber color with a rich light yellow\/beige head of foam that dissipates quite quickly. There is a lot of pine-like aroma to this wonderfully zesty composition, and just a hint of gin-esque juniper in the scenting, nothing to be off-putting to the faint of heart. This brew has quite an outdoorsy quality. Taste follows smell quite closely. There is a finely-tuned blend of outdoor character, but no surprises when it comes to the juniper aspect of this brew. At least not unpleasant surprises! Considering the suggested juniper tastes, this is nevertheless not necessarily an overpowering ingredient, but rather the brew is exceptionally well balanced. It is herbal, but by no means medicinal. I loved the sharp crispness which ended dry but still with just a hint of sweetness. Juniper is simply a pleasing, refreshing, IPA - and well, well worth sampling. Newcastle Cabbie Black Ale The Caledonian Brewery Co. Ltd. Edinburgh, Scotland This is another gifted brew that I might not otherwise have purchased, but am happy to have been given by a fellow explorer. Cabbie has a somewhat burnt brick color when poured and forms a slight creamy head that leaves a ring around the neck of the glass after disappearing. This beer seems quite dark when the glass is full. There are generous scents of rich caramel, and a strong background of chocolate and malty goodness at first nose. There really isn't anything else outstanding, but that isn't a bad thing. Sometimes the less complex brews hold the most upfront taste. I found Cabbie to be fulsome and well bodied. Some may find it a touch flat and dry for an ale of this style. Frankly, I didn't. I enjoyed Cabbie's mild chocolate tones, and even a hint of almost barrel-aged flavor. (A touch of rum or bourbon?) The malts gave this black ale a touch of sweetness, and offered up just a hint of vanilla. For some, Cabbies may simply be too light bodied for a black ale. For myself, I have tasted much better but certainly can't and won't complain about this delicious brew. It was just what the doctor ordered on a cold, blustery day. I'd suggest it is much more a winter offering than a summer ale.