Sitting at a bar waiting on a friend I was approached by the bartender and asked, “What can I get you?” I never give beer any serious thought as I like most anything, which is to say anything so long as it has alcohol in it. I don’t go crazy over what hemp beer is being tapped this week. I find it hard to get excited about anything hemp, and if I wanted to drink a shirt I prefer Egyptian cotton with a nice French cuff. Beer and wine are the new gateway drugs to one-upmanship and snobbery in the drinking world, much the same way kale chips and kohlrabi slaw is in the food world.
“Guinness,” and off he went to begin the ritual pour which I had been certified to do at Guinness while I was in Ireland. Truthfully, had I been allowed I would have forgone the ritual and did a keg stand while the crowd sang The Irish Rover. But beer folk are a funny lot and take these traditions seriously. To me beer should be comfortable and familiar. Beer snobs are like twenty year old sailors in a brothel on payday. They want to try everything but leave broke, empty, with some kind of rash, and never seem satisfied.
Settle down beer aficionados, I love beers of all provenance and styles. When I go to a chef friend’s place they don’t ask what kind of beer I’d like… they give me a beer and I drink it. I’ve never had a bad beer this way. I have had bad beer when left to my own devices, friends, bartenders pushing beers, and “buzz” about a beer being great. As with coffee, wine and cheese I like what I like, and the so called experts insist my choices are the result of ignorance or being dropped on my head at birth.
I’ve had so many beers that my liver shudders at the thought, and at one time in my mid twenties I could have driven a large nail to flush with said liver. I’ve had everything from Sam Adams’ Utopiasto Schlitz, I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty that if you have too many of any of them, you won’t notice a hint of apricot or how frothy the head is when you’re booting behind a dumpster at 2 am. So grab a beer you like. Grab one that helps you recall a favorite memory through taste, a place in time, a special event…
It was a warm fall afternoon on a patio overlooking a barren corn field at my aunt’s house. My father and uncle just got back from the farm where they helped bring in the last of the corn silage. They wore dusty white t-shirts and jeans that smelled of corn and diesel fuel. They looked like older versions of the 50’s era teens they once were. My aunt handed them both ice cold beers, and they both took mighty gulps to wash the day’s dust away.
I was nine, dad ruffled my hair then with a wink he handed me the beer and asked, “You want a sip?” My mother’s protest fading into the background I took a sip… a malted taste and icy carbonation I could feel, taste and smell all at once. Tipping it back again I started to chug. My uncle began to laugh his cackled laugh, and my father snatched the beer back while shaking his head and smiling his crooked smile. That was the only beer I ever shared with him. A rite of passage into adulthood usually reserved for your twenty-first birthday and I had done it at the age of nine, not knowing it would be the only time.
“Here it is” said the bartender startling me. I drink it in and in that first gulp I can taste for a brief second, that first beer I ever had. It’s not important that your beer was brewed using Icelandic glacier water, or that the hops are so rare that they are only grown in moonlight behind a man named Gunter’s house in Bavaria. What matters is that you like it. I’m certain that first beer my father shared with me was a mass produced can of ice cold crap to most beer folks. I’m equally certain that all these years and many beers later, it was the best beer I ever had.