Wash: (to a departing Zoe) "Bye, hon! We promise not to stop for beers with the fellas!" (sits down, starts the engines, then to Mal) "So, are we gonna sing army songs or something?"
I figure it’s long past time we ruminate about malted grains here on Earth-That-Was.
Yes, friends, gather ye round, for this post is about that grandest of libations: beer.
As Friar Tuck so eloquently elucidated in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, beer is a sublime beverage and a precious gift from God Almighty. Not so precious as the saving grace of Christ Jesus (not by a long shot), but it’s up there. I rank it somewhere between nachos (the most divine of all snacks) and cheesecake (the most heavenly of desserts).
I think almost everyone in the developed world by the time they reach their 30s has some kind of relationship with beer. Either eschewing it entirely (for reasons ranging from piousness to poverty or, perhaps, proclivity) else embracing it enthusiastically. I have been both of these at various stages of my adulthood — though my friends will attest, I’m not one who is oft found overboard.
When I was a lad, I despised beer. It smelled funny, tasted like carbonated urine, and made my dad’s breath smell garishly awful. Yet as I recall, he loved to come from work and settle into his recliner with with a cold one. The reason I knew that I disliked it was not because I stole cans from the fridge to sample in secret; rather, I know because there was no stigma about alcohol in our home. No one abused it, nor was it kept secret. If we wanted to try anything, all we need do was ask.
Later, I vowed to myself never to drink (or smoke, but that’s a bit off-topic for this missive). Such oaths lasted until my 21st birthday, spoiled one romance, and nearly ruined several friendships in my college years. Let’s just say that when it came to booze, we were all a lot less open and affirming of others’ views back then. In any event, I grew tired of the way I viewed my friends and lovers who drank with any regularity, but more than that, I became overwhelmed by a singular thought: One day, it would be very nice to go to a pub and have a beer with my dad. By not drinking, I am depriving myself of that opportunity for all my earthly days.
And so I decided it was time to do away with my self-imposed reticence and bite the bullet. I did what any self-respecting, moderately shy 21-year-old guy with no experience drinking (either in public or in private) and no nearby friends who were regular imbibers — I went to Safeway and bought some Guinness-in-a-can (dating a girl who grew up in Wales had at least given me some sense of proper brand awareness when it came to beer — although I think she’d probably give me an earful and an eye-roll for my mécanisme de prestation).
Nevertheless, I steeled myself against what was bound to be a horrid mouth-taste, took a swig1, and…
… it wasn’t that bad. It was definitely very different than the soft drinks I was accustomed to, but it was a long way away from the nasty, mass-produced swill my father used to drink with great satisfaction after a long day at the office. Thankfully both his palate and mine have come a long way since then. I blame moving to the Pacific Northwest with its abundance of microbreweries for that shift — in the midwest, in the 80s, Michelob, Miller, Coors, and Anheiser-Busch were pretty much your options.
At the same time, I could tell this dark beer stuff was going to take some getting used to. Maybe you had to work your way up to loving dark beer? All I knew was that beer of any color was definitely an acquired taste. And I set out to acquire a taste for it… for the love of myself and my friends and the one-day some-day pub crawl with dear old dad.
I tried gold beers and brown beers, amber beers and black beers, pilsners, lagers, IPAs and Hefeweizens. For a good many years I settled on Widmer Hefeweizen as "my beer" (I loved the cloudy, unfiltered nature of it). Then I toured the Red Hook Brewery with some friends and became hooked on something that you couldn’t even buy in a store – Chinook Copper. An unfiltered amber. Hmm, seems my tastes were definitely drifting simultaneously in two dimensions: unfiltered and darker. I took this as a good sign, since I was intentionally trying to get myself to a place where I could love The Guinness. After all, it seemed to be the pinnacle of beers: sophisticated, artistic, and celebrated the world over. Alas, Chinook Copper was only available in a pony keg, and I wasn’t about to drink one myself (at least, not before it went flat). I also was sharing a house with 4 other guys, and while I’m a generous sort, I wasn’t feeling that generous.
I continued my search for the next great beer and wound up being gifted a bottle Spaten Optimator by Aaron Todd. He also gave me a pewter-topped German beer stein as a thank you for being one of his best men2. Spaten is is an amazing brew, but at the time was nigh impossible to find. Grocery stores in Tacoma hadn’t yet jumped on the bavarian beer wagon, so the only real option for acquisition was a drive to Seattle. Back then I didn’t have a lot of friends in Seattle nor any concept of how to confidently navigate the broke-back maze of one-way avenues and thoroughfares, so laziness overwhelmed my desire for more Optimator. I treasured the gift but my romance with Munich’s finest was unfortunately very short-lived.
Not too much later I discovered another local brewer named "Mac & Jack’s." Given that they made their craft public in 1993 and I only started drinking beer in 1998, it was no surprise that it took me until the early 2000s to notice their presence. They were steadily growing in popularity around the greater Seattle area and pretty soon everytime anyone went anywhere (particularly Red Robin) they were ordering "Mac & Jack’s." I’ll be honest, I quickly became a fan. I had never been so impressed with an amber-colored brew, and it quickly replaced Widmer Hefeweizen as my "trusty fall-back" microbrew.
(I should also take a quick detour and tell you that I am a much bigger fan of their Blackcat Porter, a dark, chocolaty concoction that is sublimely tasty. There is a small pizza pub nearby that keeps a ready supply on tap and will even fill a growler to-go. What a wonderful surprise that was to discover! It’s almost a shame that the owner of the establishment, while a cheery and good-tempered man, doesn’t really understand the concept of customer loyalty or appreciation. But that, too, is a story for another blog post. Maybe. As a rule, I don’t air grievances publicly until they’ve been presented in private and resolution thereof has failed to materialize. But back to the beer… this gent also keeps New Belgium 1554 "Enlightened Black Ale" on tap, and it is, dare I say, even tastier than Blackcat Porter. Nom!)
About the same time, one of my best friends James Sanders and I used to split cases of Henry Weinhard’s Blue Boar Ale. From my perspective, he discovered this fabulous treat and sprung it upon our household unwittingly. (I, on the other hand, was responsible for introducing Krispy Kremes on a regular basis). Joe Karhan, his brother Mike, Hal Bell, and other passers-by would oft help us polish off a case on any given weeknight, usually while watching a game or a movie on the two-thousand-inch television3 I had crammed into the corner of the tiny little house… good times, great friends, tasty brew!
Fast-forward to the present and more than a decade has passed since my journey began. I eventually learned to love Guinness, and for most of the early 2000s it was my "go-to" beer, but I never again visited it in a can. I tried it in bottles, but there’s just nothing like getting it on-tap in a cold glass. And while I understand it’s regularly served almost room-temp across the pond, I like my beer cold. It seems to put the bitterness to sleep and accentuate the sweetness, although I cannot begin to comprehend why. Perhaps if I had studied food chemistry instead of computer science, I could fathom a guess. Usually when such ponderances arise, I just ask dad.
Speaking of dad, I really do need to make a date for that one-day, some-day trip to the pub that started all of this. While we’ve certainly shared beer, scotch, and other drinks over the years, the fantasy that inspired me has yet to have its true incarnation, and it would be a shame to go through over a decade of dabbling and deny myself the prize.
So, Dad, how about it? Fancy a beer? =)
1: straight from the can, mind you… I didn’t bother to pour it out because I’m an engineer and engineers don’t read directions. Even pictorial ones printed on the can)
2: along side Joe Karhan, another dear friend of mine I just want to give a shout out to — he’s a big fan of Fat Tire, a concoction I’ve never quite grown a taste for, sadly. I appreciate its merits, but it just doesn’t play the right notes for my buds
3: okay, I kid. It was only 58 inches: see it here
What’s that? Blasphemy, you say? Well, you’re certainly entitled to your opinion. Go get your own blog (or feel free to comment on mine… but keep it civil)!