Here’s to beer! It doesn’t always taste like socks.

By Jamie Balke Explorebigsky.com Weekly Columnist

For a long time, I disliked beers of all kinds. I realize that these may be dangerous words in Montana, but seeing that I am also a vegetarian, I am confident I’ve already been safely labeled as a lost cause.

Throughout the years well-intentioned friends and family, seeing my dislike for the beverage as unacceptable, ordered me various kinds of beer. They assured me they were awesome, even ‘life changing’. Perhaps they were, but being handed an entire bottle of a drink that you universally find disgusting with the expectation that you will imbibe it in its entirety and undergo a fundamental paradigm shift may not be realistic.

Recently, I was converted, sort of. As a result, I can now share with you a tip for indoctrinating your friends that find the prospect of beer approximately as appealing as the prospect of water seasoned with warm jock strap.

My foray into beers went like this. In June I took a vacation to Oregon with friends where, like Montana, there are a ton of breweries. My friends are accomplished home brewers, so we spent a great deal of time hanging out in said breweries while they sampled the varietals and lectured me on the history of brewing, as well as their own triumphs and failures. It was actually surprisingly interesting, and before long, I found myself lured into trying a sip here or there.

The key is to find one beer that you would voluntarily drink unprovoked by friends, and use that as a starting point. This moment occurred for me at the Rogue Brewery in Newport, Ore.

First of all, may I just say that even if you don’t like beer, the location is fantastic. Rogue is right water, and when we arrived the boats docked nearby were shrouded in a misty fog. Shortly after entering the building, you will find yourself surrounded by the brewing process as you walk past giant vats of beer. We waited for a table in the gift shop, and at this point, I’ll admit that I was in a slightly surly mood. We had been spending quite a lot of time in breweries, and I hadn’t yet developed an appreciation of beer.

My friends ordered samplers, and we all ordered lunch. My mood improved significantly when a giant bowl of macaroni and cheese was placed before my gaping maw, and my patient friends once again began the process of gently suggesting that I try a sip of the different brews. I believe these are tactics similar to those employed by some drug dealers.

Then it happened. My boyfriend offered me a taste of the Mom’s Hefewiezen, which is flavored with rose petals. The heavens didn’t open up, there were no angelic choirs, but I did think, that didn’t suck. In fact, it didn’t suck so much that I finished the sample, and a couple of days later, ordered a bottle with dinner.

In retrospect, this may have been the beginning of the end. It has reached the point where, to my boyfriend’s great happiness, I participated in what he referred to as a “Beer Quest” to search out Mom’s Hef in Bozeman upon arriving home.

Since finding one particular beer that I enjoy, with guidance from friends, I have been able to expand the scope of beers that I don’t have to choke down. In fact, I recently gave my boyfriend a home beer brewing kit for his birthday.

As someone who loves food, it has been very nice to participate in the enjoyment of beer, and the interesting brewing culture that before I only observed from afar. Don’t give up on your friends who hate beer, it’s all about the samplers.

Jamie Balke moved to Bozeman in the fall of 2009. She can generally be found behind the cover of a book, meandering down a trail or desperately trying not to kill houseplants.