I put letters into words into sentences into paragraphs that explode into coherent narratives.
Perhaps because I’ve spent the last ~5 years exterminating grammatical bugs from technical documentation, or because I’m genetically predisposed to noticing non-parallel structure, I tend to nitpick. I can’t read without testing each word, each sentence, swirling them around in my mouth, seeing if they work and how, or don’t and why.
As I was poring over the latest issue of DRAFT Magazine, I came across the ad shown below. At a glance, it’s a full page yet minimalist piece of anti-drunk driving copy from 2011 (part of the “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving” campaign), and overall, an admirable attempt to connect to beer enthusiasts and remind them of the seriousness and prevalence of irresponsible drinking. On the surface, it works. It catches my attention, and I get the idea.
But take a closer look:
Notice anything? The non-beer people might not see anything too strange. But this is an ad about consuming beer, in a magazine marketed towards beer-people. A magazine that is read (and written) by some of the country’s most enthusiastic brew supporters.
Anyone who knows even the basic facts about beer will realize that this ad is so inherently flawed, it had to have been written by someone who either 1) read all they know about beer in a SkyMall catalog on their connecting flight to New York an hour before this was due, or 2) didn’t bother to fact check anything because pffft who cares, it’s just beer. If they had only asked the managing editor’s weird nephew – the one with the big, bushy beard – to read it before it went into print, he’d have pointed out that:
- You don’t usually add pilsner as the base beer for a black and tan (never mind that “pilsner lager” is sort of redundant), you almost always use a pale ale
- If you do use a lager, it’s called a “half and half”
- Stout – the second, equally important part of the black and tan mambo – is an ale, not a lager
- There is no such thing as a stout lager (unless you mean a strong lager, or this fermented identity crisis)
- They suggest the drink be served in a frosty mug, which is to many beer drinkers a form of sacrilege (and the pictured glass is a weizen glass, not a mug)
- You would never casually “mix” the black and tan ingredients together as it would ruin the whole aesthetic (and point of the drink)
And those are just the obvious, glaring mistakes. I’ll say little of the fact that the “recipe” adds another “ingredient” (perhaps as a mangled, flaming garnish?) after the whole thing is already complete, which is baffling from a culinary and copywriting perspective. I’d also wager that most 10-hour-a-day working, pick-up truck driving, “tired workers” aren’t going to be ordering black and tans at their local watering holes (if said bars even carry a stout of any kind and staff bartenders who know how to pour one).
This whole ad is just bizarre. It’s like they got the framework right – a nice picture of a beer, a recipe connection to the content of DRAFT magazine – but then just stopped. And this isn’t from some local MADD group with no budget, or small time social advocacy movement, this is from the freaking US Department of Transportation in conjunction with the Ad Council.
I know what you’re thinking, “Who cares, Oliver?” It’s a fair question. The aim of the ad was to raise awareness about drunk driving, which I suppose it does. But I care. And I’m sure others still trying to rescue beer’s image from frat-houses and dive bars care too. Can you imagine the reaction from the wine community if a similar ad had been run in Wine Enthusiast claiming that Merlot was a type of white wine and Malbec hailed from Australia?
It’s a symptom of a bigger disease. Several of the speakers at the Craft Writing Symposium pointed out that despite our boom of talented, brilliant brewers and the complexity and breadth of modern American brewing, the image still most associated with beer is fizzy, yellow, and stupid.
This ad reinforces that. To put this into DRAFT magazine with so many obvious flaws strikes me as lazy, but more importantly, shows a complete disregard for the target audience. This ad suggests, through it’s ineptitude, that beer people are stupid. That we won’t notice the details because we’re just swill slugging monkeys. That the best way to connect to us is with a pretty picture and as few simple words as possible.
I’ll be the standard bearer who charges into the breach for my friends and colleagues:
Attention all media people outside of craft! Craft beer people are smart.
In a lot of cases, very smart. In a country with disturbingly poor scientific literacy, craft beer people walk around talking about yeast and sugar chemistry like other people talk about their favorite TV shows. Craft beer people have palates refined by hundreds of hours and ounces of tasting and understand the intimate details of how their tongues and noses and brains work. Craft beer people read closely, and carefully, and notice when they’re being treated like sub-drinkers.
There’s a reason craft has such a vocal, vociferous, possibly vexing fan base. We understand the product we love. We’re smart about what we buy and what we drink, all subjectivity about taste aside. We’re also growing – pretty rapidly – in numbers. So please, advertisers, and social media people, and whatever poor editor is dealt the “beer column” in your local paper: take the time to fact check your beer articles, keeping in mind that we’re as legitimate a sub-culture as wine or scotch or bourbon.
Craft beer is smart. If you don’t want to fall behind, you should get smart about craft beer.
(Same note as yesterday: If I missed anyone, it was not intentional, I just didn’t see your link on Twitter or in the comments of the announcement. If you don’t see yourself here, send me a link and I’ll add you.)
I broke my round-up in half, right down the perforated line on the edge of the blog, partly because of length, but partly because a full third of the entries seemed to follow the same motif. In a style I like to call “beer memoir” (memboir? Bemoir?), lots of intrepid writers dug down into their memory banks to lift out their favorite beer-splashed stories.
I enjoy this nonfiction format because it gives me more context about why beer is important to a person, their family, and their history. It fizzes in all those otherwise fuzzy details about their identity as human beings, not just as drinkers, and lets me connect to them on a personal level that is missing in a generic review. A beer memoir is a microcosm of what I think all beer writing should be, the heart of why beer matters, so bravo to all of you took exit 6B for Memoirtown.
I’ll start with our next Session host, Doug Smiley, who showed us through a touching homage to his home and family, that beer isn’t always about the fanciest ingredients. It’s more about who you share it with, and the memories you build around it. His Iron City is my Boddingtons; a single beer, that despite objectively better options, somehow sends out taste buds longing. I think we all have one of those, a generally “meh” beer made better by that adjunct we often overlook: nostalgia.
Ryan Mould wrote similarly, regaling us with tales of Maine, and summers, and cats named after brewing essentials. It’s very awesome to see where a beer enthusiast got his start, and in Ryan’s story we are taken on a quick literary tour of where he first learned what wort was, which I assume, cascaded into a life-long love affair. I feel like I know Ryan a tiny bit better now, and would love to pick his brain about the Shipyard brews he downed in those lost Atlantic days.
There are some stories that are so well written, so spot-on, that they stir up all the dust in the room spontaneously, and make my eyes water (which is totally different than crying). Derrick Peterman (or as I’d like to call him, Brew Dad of the year, 2014) gave us an incredibly insightful and thoughtful comparison of his infected batch of otherwise amazing homebrew, and his autistic son, Brandon. The comparison was no only apt, but so well articulated that I can’t help but want to read more of Derrick’s work. This was the only homebrew related post in the Session, and I think his metaphor could go even further, if applied to all the tribulations we face and try to brew our way through. He closes with a quote surely spawned from the purest corners of a compassionate heart: “If you’ve ever brewed a flawed beer and still loved it anyway, I think you’ll understand.”
Natasha (aka Tasha) captured the very essence of memoir, possibly infused with blackberry and spiked with raspberry, if we’ll allow such delicious abstractions. Her darting reminiscence and wishes for the future, all intertwined around BCBS Bramble Rye, left me with tart tastes on the tongue of my mind. I seriously felt like I could taste the bursting fruit of this blog post. I also find it interesting that BCBS Bramble Rye is now retired. A perfect conclusion to three perfect days that can never be recreated, except in Tasha’s memory.
A lot of us complain about seasonal creep in beer, all those pumpkin beer hitting the shelves in August, all those light, refreshing spring beers popping up while a lot of us are still cowering under the snowy hug of grumpy-ass winter. But Keith Mathais said “damn the man!” (partly due to no other options) and embraced the seasonal creep by drinking Christmas beer on Halloween. I think he touched on a deeper idea that we should just enjoy the beer for what is is when it is, but also about how our holidays, based on how and who we spend them with, are in his perfect word, “congruent.”
Vincent Speranza gave us what feels and read like a drunken night out in SoHo, circa 2000, longing for tacos, drinking beer from buckets. This flash back is similar to a lot of my own; lots of speculation about what actually happened, who I challenged to a foot race or a fight, just how exactly I wound up where, and the ever present, seething, burning desire to find something good to eat. If Vincent’s goal was to capture a 14 year-old blur on the page, mission accomplished, and I love him for it.
The next post could have easily been included with yesterday’s miscellaneous section, but Bill Kostkas was the only person (aside from Alan at Growler Fills) to raise his hand and say, “no, sir, you are silly. I am a beer reviewer and to not review a beer is insufferable nonsense!” But after stating that, also played along, and gave us a third party memoir, from the infamous (and famous?) Clifford Calvin. All I can say is, Cheers!
The Beer Nut (whose real name I could not find for the life of me) took us arid, deep into the lagery depths of The Grand Hotel Tazi, in Marrakesh, Morocco. This was one of the only posts to go international without already being international (if that makes sense) and Nut’s vivid capture of Morocco’s beer scene stood in perfect juxtaposition to the vivdlessness of the beer itself. If the pictures betray anything, all beer in Marrakesh, regardless of brand, looks exactly the same. Nut get +1000 bonus points here for claiming the Session was “under my aegis.” Swoon.
In the post that I think most explicitly aligned with the sentiment I was going for, Jon Jefferson pointed out that “Our emotions tied to memory are our strongest” and that “you can claim you are analytically tasting and all that but the reality is, our flavor and emotional memories are the guiding principles that we use when judging anything.” These two quotes sum up this Session for me: we’re nothing without our memories and experiences, and each and every one fuels what we see, taste, smell, hear, and touch. Objectivity does not exist when even a smidgen of subjectivity slips in, and I think Jon gets that. I’d be happy to try my hand at brewing Orangeboom, if Jon was interested, and a recipe could be unearthed.
To round-out this round-up, James’s post just, excuse my lapse in proper diction, fucking nails it. This is the kind of thing I want to read every day, that echoes the beauty of Good Beer Hunting’s recent treatise on Hill Farmstead Brewing. I get so much about Australia, James himself, and the myriad minutiae that bring him to write. It’s the kind of engaging word-smithery that I long for, and hope others will emulate going forward.
I’m so thankful to everyone who played along with my crazyness, and hope they pulled something from the detritus of an otherwise incoherent Session. Write on, sweet friends. Drink, and write on.
(My round-up will be in two parts, due to length)
Listening to Garrett Oliver talk about many beer bloggers and journalists “missing the story behind beer” this weekend at the University of Kentuck Craft Writing Symposium makes me especially glad that I got such a great (and varied!) turn out for my turn hosting The Session. I was worried that the topic might be a little too avant garde, a little too Dogfish and not enough Sierra Nevada. I was worried it might annoy some people, or turn them off with it’s open endedness and unabashed rule breaking. But I got 31* responses ranging from silent movies to poems to stream of conciousness word art, and each and every post tickled the creative corners of my brain with feathery delight.
*(If I missed anyone, it was not intentional, I just didn’t see your link on Twitter or in the comments of the announcement. If you don’t see your self here, send me a link and I’ll add you. You may also be in part 2, coming tomorrow.)
With this Session, I wasn’t just trying to be silly. My goal was to get you thinking in a different way, a perpendicular way, perhaps even in a way that opened the door to something beyond the contents of the glass. Beer seems magical when you sink down into the scientific beauty of fermentation, but again, to paraphrase Mr. Oliver – “Beer isn’t chemicals; beer is people.” And people are stories. And poems. And films and songs and photos. The beer is only the surface of an ocean of lives lived in, with, on, around, and because of brewing.
I’ll start with those who used my second favorite medium next to words: photographs. Stan Hieronymus – partly responsible for starting this whole Session thing – presented 5 pictures, not necessarily beer related, with a beer name and a brief caption. The simplicity of his post let my brain wander and create stories for each, sort of sensory deperevation through images, I suppose. My favorite was the picture of the old, worn stone stairs. I imagined some drunk monk slipping down these after hitting the trippel a bit too hard.
Bryan D. Roth also chose the path most-photoed, getting cheeky (possibly even illegal in some states) with his “reviews.” It’s good to know I’m not the only one whose cat harasses them when they’re trying to peacefully sleep in the bathtub after some BCBS. Also, good to know Bryan has cornered the market on beer, potato chip, and pajama pairings.
John Abernathy wasn’t far behind with his excellent snowy #beertography of 10 Barrel Brewing’s “Wino” (that, as an aside, I think he should enter into an @beertography contest on Twitter) or as it’s now known, for anyone looking for it, “16 Barrels.”
Following closely were the moving photos, mesmerizing machinations that seemed as if thousands and thousands of still images had somehow been spliced together by some modern sorcery. David Bascombe’s 20’s era silent movie (slash mime) throw-back of him tasting a lambic had me laughing out loud in my cubicle, especially with that dastardly grin at the end (I take it he loves lambic). Boak and Bailey (Jessica and Ray, respectively) cobbled together a montage that felt like a perfect nod to art-deco, fruit, and keyboard synth music/drum machines. Oh, and yummy beer. I take it they quite liked Thornbridge Chiron (It’s a party!), and it was particularly citrusy. I will admit I was slightly disappointed they didn’t opt for the creative flower arrangement beer review. Maybe next time.
Deep down, I hoped one of our musically inclined brethren would cover a song for us, but several people went the audio route, either way. Looke of Likey Moose (yes, I read your about page) compiled an eclectic beery playlist (to review Potton Brewery’s Shambles) that opened with one of my favorite songs of all time: Beer by Reel Big Fish. The rest of the list was pretty stellar too. I mean it featured The Cure and Elbow, so it was clearly very awesome.
Simon Tucker did something I really hoped someone would, and reviewed a not-beer in the style of a beer. His beer-like review of The Fall’s album “Grotesque (After The Gramme)” was equally hilarious and poignant. Being an American neo-punk kid (Op Ivy and Tiger Army all day), I went and listened to this whole album, and I think Simon’s review of it was spot on (and it sounds like he has great headphones that really make the kazoo shine).
I had intentionally opened this Session up to all writers, hoping to coax a few non-beer people into our weird world, and apparently it worked! Cameron D. Garriepy penned a vivid piece of flash fiction that captured how intimate sharing a pint can be. Her story definitely made me want to get my hands on a bottle of Spinnaker from Rising Tide (and read more of her work).
Following suite, in less fictional ways, were our poets. Dan at Community Beer Works wove an impressive A-B-A scheme short poem that had me wondering where and why they were alone that night. I guess there’s no reason to keep up the fight. Thomas Cizauskas gave us a operatic ode (but he didn’t sing it), confessing his true love for cask ale, ah, sweet mystery of life it be. To round out the poets, I’ll include Sean Inman’s complex and fascinating stream of consciousness (not really poetry, but poetic none the less) that was either channeling my madness, his, or some combination thereof. Lance agonizing gashes under necktie in time as sentenced, indeed, my friend (since writing this, Sean commented, and I figured out his nonsense wasn’t nonsense at all, it was a brilliant first-letter = blog post concoction. Well played sir, well played).
In the only attempt at the literally dramatic, Glen Humphries gave us a short scene from a play that could have been ripped from the daily stage-direction of any beer geek’s life. Especially that part about conversations where hops are never brought up. Those still exist?
And now for what I can only label “miscellaneous;” those brilliant smatters of beer-fueled wisdom and tap-tuned wanderlust that I can only lump together because of their eccentricity. Fellow NAGBW winner Alan McCormick had me going for a bit as he blatantly insulted me for all the internet to see, until I realized his non-review was a delicate, clever jab at Stone, and their well-known (and reviled?) Arrogant Bastard. Fellow DC denizen Jacob Berg waxed scientific about Lactobacillus, entertaining and educating us about Westbrook’s Gose and yeast in one fell, sour swoop.
Alan McLeod, author of much internet-renown, was either actually confused, or feigned confused by the topic, and gave us a short blurb from his book “The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer” that in a meta-sort of way fulfilled the requirements of this Session. It’s deceptively on-point, and I thank him for his humor. Dave Ellis offered a two-pronged post, the prior half about his dislike for generic reviews (which in general, I share), and the latter half a theoretical situation of drinking Mornington Peninsula Imperial Stout on the side of a massive mountain as a way to capture the awe-inspiring flavor (all in the voice of John O’Hurley).
Liam at Drunken Speculation went all graeca antiqua on us, and while Aristophanes is my classical jam, his apt chosen passage about the taming of Bucephalus from Plutarch’s Life of Alexander was surprisingly relevant to Dogfish Head 90 minute. If you studied the classics. And have no problem connecting modern beer to ancient texts. Can we expect a drunken translation of Parallel Lives from Liam in the future?
Pivní Filosof got all deep and recursive on me, delving into the paradoxes of fate, and the delicious dual-identity crisis that is Black IPA. Without knowing, I think we tapped into each other’s Jungian collective unconscious, as his entry is thematically, deliciously, tangential to my own.
Paul Crickard’s interpretation of the topic was among my favorite, and his romantic, thoughtful nod to either his partner or his long time favorite, or both, hid deliciously behind the head of literary ambiguity. Jeremy Short’s heartfelt defense of Coors Extra Gold really cut through a lot of the craft beer bravado, and I think can be introduced nicely with the choice quote, “Beer is a social drink and Extra Gold comes in 30 packs.”
Rounding out the miscellaneous post was #beerchat friend Tom Bedell, who quite literally tried to drink the new flavor (abomination?) from Jelly Belly. His pictures went very much appreciated, and that last one of Tom slugging down a “glass” of Jelly Bean Beer made this ole’ softie smirk. I too long for the IPA, or perhaps hop flavored Jelly Belly.
Bravo to one and all. You exceeded whatever random expectations I had, by a long, long shot.
More to come tomorrow, with more excellent writing, in what I can only call “beer memoir!”
Got a special gal or guy in your life who is really into beer? Need to show your love for them on this totally not manufactured love-fest holiday? Not sure how to express your undying devotion but also your appreciation for their great taste in fermented drinks?
This is my entry for the 84th Session, hosted by me, on this here blog. The topic: Alternative Reviews. Warning: this contains lots of words (even more than usual).
David raised his glass quickly but carefully, in one, thoroughly practiced motion. The amber sloshed perilously near spilling, the gyroscope of his wrist and hand the only thing from keeping the bar from a beery bath. “Here’s to life!”
The cry pierced the air above the bar, setting into motion an avalanche of reaction: displeased glares, questioning glances, humorous smirks. Even the drunk karaoke girls stopped to look at David, who by now, was standing on the foot rests of his bar stool like some inebriated half-giant.
Geoff looked at him down the glassy length of his shaker, smiling through his sip.
“It’s good to see you back to your old self.” Geoff said, as he set the glass on the bar. He picked it up again, looking down at the watery ring of condensation kept afloat by the bar’s waxy finish. He set the beer back down halfway on top of the first ring making a tidy two-ring Venn diagram. He turned to David, “Maybe you should slow down. You’ve had a hell of a few weeks.”
David looked back at him, eyes half glazed by the beer that was worming its way through the folds of his brain. “No man, I feel great! Why you gotta be such a cop all the time?” He waved at the bartender, trying to get his attention through the commotion of a Friday night.
“Because I am a cop, idiot.” Geoff had already slipped the car keys from David’s coat pocket into his own. He knew David too well, knew his tiny bladder and even tinier tolerance, and didn’t trust him not to fumble to his truck in three beer’s time, when he was well beyond a reasonable state to be awake, never mind drive. He checked the time on his phone. “Hey, Dave, man, I gotta run. Cathy’s expecting me soon and I’ve got a long shift tomorrow.”
“Aw man! Just one more, come on. COME ON!” David taunted him, holding one fist-defiant index finger near his face, scrunching up his nose and mouth, part demanding, part begging, part unsure he should even have one more himself. Geoff laughed, threw down two twenties, and shook his head. “Not tonight man. Next time. I got your tab though. And your keys. There should be enough there for a cab, too.”
It took another half hour to process that Geoff had meant his car keys; thirty full minutes of crawling around in the stale beer-fog of under bar, looking for any glint of metallic silver of Chevy logo. The beer had done its job, and was still billing hours to the client of insobriety, so David didn’t even entertain being mad at the long-gone Geoff. He smiled at fate, and let the beer decide with infallible drunk wisdom, that the best bet was to walk the eight some miles home, not call a cab.
The late summer air soothed his sing-along-sore throat, Vicks VapoRub on Colorado wind made of purple poppies, peeling pine, and that undeniable smell of coming thunderstorm. David loved August nights in Breckenridge, and for a while, lost in a alcohol-fueled flood of senses and emotion, he didn’t mind his hour long saunter.
He came upon the bridge, an old parker-style in need of paint with rust pocking its metal like acne on a teenagers oily forehead, and could smell the fishy waft from the river below. The crossing marked the halfway point of his trip home, that moment where he was equidistant between bar stool and bed, between drunkenness and sobriety. He took a moment at the center of the bridge to lean out over the rushing, storm-swollen water. Odd detritus lined the bank near one of the concrete supports: several mismatched tires, probably dumped there by Tom from the auto-shop on Lincoln; a soggy, algae stained futon that looked like a reject from an IKEA as-is section; a shopping cart upturned and abandoned at least a mile from its normal home at City Market.
The river passed by without noticing David noticing it, upstream looking exactly like downstream as if it didn’t matter where water began or ended, only that it flowed. If it hadn’t been so late, if he hadn’t been just one beer past buzzed, David might have dangled his legs down over the edge of the bridge and sat there a while, let summer sink into his soul, let the river wash away the night, let the peace of nature remind him how lucky he was to be alive.
As he turned to finish his journey home, some movement near the water caught his eye. A shape, tall and thin, a man down by the bank, near the access road, swaggering in shadow. Then he saw another man, a bigger man, approach from behind, thinking for a moment he heard shouting and crying on the back of the wind. He watched, too far to help, too close to cry out without jeopardizing himself, as the larger shadow slung something out of his pocket and snapped serenity in two with the crack of a cocked hammer colliding with primer.
Had his mind been clear, he would have immediately called Geoff, had the entire Breckenridge Sheriff’s department on the scene in minutes. But panic closed its powerful grip on his mind, and he could do nothing but run. Across the bridge, down a side street, through bushes and under trees. Muscle memory guided his feet, the world passed by, half buzzed by sprint, half buzzed by the the booze still sloshing in his stomach, and he soon found himself on his own front lawn, lungs grabbing desperately into the night for more air.
A viper, two green slits on dark grey, stared at him from across the room. His eyes adjusted slowly like auto-focus on a dying camera lens, regret manifesting behind them like two jack hammers of you-should-know-better. 11:03. Not so bad, given how late (or early) he had slipped into the silky caress of his down comforter after his mad dash home.
He knew he should call Geoff, but was worried he hadn’t really seen what he thought he saw, that Geoff would just laugh him off and tell him he needed to go to AA. Even if David had wanted to talk to him, he couldn’t find his phone, and weight of his eyelids and slouching slurch of his stomach suggested it might not be time to get up anyway. He let his head fall back onto the pillow and watched the snake disappear behind a horizontal curtain of black.
When he woke again, the viper was gone, replaced by two turtles rolling on into infinity. His headache had mellowed into a gentle sluggish fog, like his brain was covered with an entire bottle of Elmers. The hangover had cleared enough, enough at least, for him to sit up without worrying that a fault line might open up on the back of his skull. He dug around in his jean pockets for his phone, not surprised to see more than a few missed calls, mainly from his mother and Geoff, both of whom, he was sure, were checking to make sure he’d made it home in as few pieces as possible. He brushed away the notifications and nudged the phone with his thumb to call Geoff.
It rang four times before being deposited, like some lowly letter, in a voice mail box. “Hey man, it’s Dave. I’m fine, just really, really hungover. This is going to sound weird, but I think I saw someone get shot last night. Like seriously. I was pretty plastered, but I’m going to go check it out. Meet me at the old bridge at ten and I’ll tell you the whole story.”
The sun had long since exited stage West by the time he pulled into a spot by the old deserted fish packing warehouse. From here he could see the silhouette of the bridge like a lattice against the night sky, lights from down in the city giving just enough glow to make the sky look eggplant, not ebony. The night was calm except for the wind that swept down from the north in sporadic, energetic bursts.
David was late, but so was Geoff. Another fifteen minutes disappeared into unrecoverable history with eyes glued to the street that ran into pines on the far side of the bridge, waiting to see a squad car come rolling past the treeline. Another twenty passed and still no squad car, still no Geoff. Sick of waiting, David decided to see if he could find any evidence of what he witnessed almost exactly 24 hours before.
The water chilled the air near the bank, enough for David’s arm hairs to unfurl, stand up straight, like a frightened porcupine. He moved to where he thought he’d seen the shadow scuffle, searching the ground for signs of blood or foot prints or shell casings, using all of his best TV crime drama knowledge.
If anything criminal had gone down in the midnight deep, the river had washed away all evidence. David was sort of happy Geoff hadn’t shown up, and hoped he hadn’t even heard his voice mail. He’d obviously embarrassed himself enough the night before; no need to add this little costly piece of police involvement. He turned back, laughing at himself and his drunken hallucinations when he smelled the unique smoke of a clove cigarette. Before he could trail it to a source, he heard a loud pop, and pinch a stab of pain in his left side. Slick, stinking mud stained the knees of his jeans. His hands felt numb, like he’d slept on them for too long. The river and his vision danced red, then white, then dark.
He heard the beeping first. A whole cacophony of machine generated pings and dings, some high pitched and rhythmic, others low, growly, but random. Despite sending many signals from his brain, his eyelids refused to part, his mouth refused to open, his throat refused to produce sound. He floated, robbed of three of five, only smelling, listening.
David bobbed in the cosmic darkness for what felt like two eternities. He thought he was thinking about things, about philosophy and theology, chatting up Alpha and Omega over a pint of porter, learning all about life before, and after, and now. Voices from across the bar occasionally chimed in with comment, but one stuck in his mind like an echo: “You’re going to be OK.”
Voices outside the bar, muffled voices, some he thought he recognized, others as foreign as a Japanese tourist in Texas, started to become more common. He regained some audibility, mainly in grunts, but enough to signal to the distant disembodied speech that he was there, and should not be ignored.
Eventually Light snuck in, a piercing, awful light, as if he’d just emerged from some dank cave into the brilliance of a Gobi afternoon. Pupils constricted and dappled ceiling tiles formed a landscape, telling David he was lying down, in a building of some kind. A plus. Geoff loomed over him, a huge face hanging like a moon over his bed. “Dave!”
Two weeks later, the grape sized wound near his left kidney had healed sufficiently for David to be discharged. As soon as he was conscious enough to talk, Geoff filled in the hospital-induced blanks. He’d been late to the bridge because the battery on his phone had died, and he hadn’t heard the voice mail. By the time he had arrived, David was already face down near some old tires, blood seeping down into the river like a sanguine tributary. They’d gotten him to the hospital in just enough time to prevent him from bleeding out.
Despite many, many objections from the nurses, doctors, and Geoff himself, despite his near brush with death, David demanded they go out for a celebratory beer. Convincing him like only a best, old friend can, Geoff obliged him. “OK, OK. Just one beer. I guess you deserve it.” At home, David ditched the mint scrubs the doctors had given him since his clothes had been taken as part of the investigation to find the shooter. He threw on a fresh t shirt quickly, already imagining the lager sloshing sultry across his tongue.
He parked his truck and met Geoff by the door. The bar was lively, even for a Friday night, and a group of tipsy college girls were bullying the touch screen on the Karaoke machine. Geoff pulled up a stool, and helped David onto his, worried about disrupting the stitches. David nodded to the bar tender, ordering two ambers, two ruddy wonders poured perfectly into branded shakers. “I think this moment deserves a toast.”
David raised his glass quickly but carefully, in one, thoroughly practiced motion. The amber sloshed perilously near spilling, the gyroscope of his wrist and hand the only thing from keeping the bar from a beery bath. “Here’s to life!”
Beer magazines always objectify our brews, display them in unrealistically ideal poses and glassware that are so disconnected from what’s “normal.” These images establish a ridiculous standard of beauty and make us feel bad about the askew labels, slightly rusty caps, and greasy fingerprint smudges of our own beer.
Well I say, “no more!” No more making otherwise happy, healthy beers feel bad about themselves. No more perpetuating an unattainable stereotype of what is “beautiful.” No more faked, Photoshop foolery like we see from Vogue and Disney.
With some clever sleuthing and some help from some insiders (who will remain unnamed for their own safety), I managed to get my hands on some of the raw versions of the images they plaster on the glossy fronts of magazines – before they’re manipulated and edited into unrecognizable fizzy facsimiles
Warning, what you’re about to see might shock you with truth lightning.
1. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout
2. Southern Tier 422 Pale Wheat Ale
3. Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale Oaked
4. Avery IPA
5. Milwaukee’s Best Premium
There are few things that simultaneously sting and soothe as much as sorting through the assorted material detritus of someone’s life. All the papers, the scribbles, the notes left hanging in the pulpy ether, inken echoes of a person’s voice on every leaf. Even the things that don’t bare their literal mark carry grainy nostalgic gravitas, reminders of how that person drove down the highways of time, what prosaic hour-fillers caused a traffic jam of commitment and desire in those relatively few moments we’re blessed with consciousness.
I was helping my mom with some simple jobs at her house, changing a light bulb here, replacing a battery there, organizing her transition into fiduciary executorship even farther over there. After I’d gotten the smoke detectors to screech their new battery announcement through the whole house, she asked if I’d take a look at a box in the garage. A box filled with wine.
I expected to find some store-bought merlots and cabernets, maybe some of the proverbial “good stuff” that my dad had hoarded away as an apocalyptic just-in-case. She pointed me to the decaying ruins of a red and white cardboard cube with eight emerald bottles sticking out like prairie dogs viewing the plain from the safety of their holey home. The bottles looked familiar, but distant, that friend from elementary school whose face changed just enough from the evolution out of childhood and into adulthood that you only recognize them after a few minutes of guarded, remote study. I knew these bottles at one time, maybe even filled them and corked them, but couldn’t triangulate when, or why, or how.
They were unlabeled (the hallmark of Gray family breweries), covered in silky webs and solid dust, and gave no hint of their contents. My dad had been as eccentric in his brewing as he had in the rest of his life: there was equal chance this was carrot wine, rhubarb wine, banana wine, or possibly even sour apple.
The only way to find out was to pierce the cork with silver spiral.
As the soft cylinder popped out, I was hit with oakey, odd aromas. Out of the bottle it was brandy-brown, liquefied caramel, chicken gravy made from homemade stock. Syrupy legs slipped their glassy nylons, slithering seductive and sexy. This was no normal wine. Suddenly, as woody wonder hit my tongue, I remembered.
When my parents moved out of and sold my childhood home, my dad had found a carboy deep in the under-stair recesses of the basement. The airlock was Sahara dry, and we assumed the six or so gallons was lost to oxidation and history. He had no idea what it was, or why he’d forgotten about it, so before we poured it out on Dionysus’s grave, we sampled it. Turns out he’d made sherry. Possibly accidentally. Accidental sherry that had aged for five plus years in quiet, unmolested darkness.
I helped him bottle it, and just like he had, let its existence slip the fetters of my memory. By the time I found it, it had lived another five peaceful years, watching, waiting.
To sip a ten year old sherry, made by your father’s hand, is to reconnect to the way he spent his time. It’s his last vintage, the final fading fermentation of a life that reached full attenuation months ago. And now it’s all mine, salvaged from a dusty garage, plucked from my memory, planted in front of me to raise in cheers of life gone and life yet to live.
Every time I homebrew, I eat a bunch of the ingredients. I scoop big soggy spoonfuls of spent grains from the mashtun and scarf them down like a heaping helping of Frosted Flakes. I nibble on hop cones and pellets, immediately regretting the decision as my mouth is berated by bitter fury. I’ve even sampled the yeast, which I cannot in any way recommend.
All in the name of knowing my ingredients better. I’m still, to this day, amazed that four relatively basic foodstuffs can ultimately turn into something as complex and complete as beer. So today, I’m going to shrink myself down (using my macro lens). Aided by my friend, J. Cousteau (no, that’s too obvious…we’ll go with Jacques C. instead), we’ll journey deep into the heart of the beer, discovering the natural beauty hidden in what some people may regard as simple ingredients.
You ready to go Jacques?
20,000 Leagues Under the Beer
We begin our journey as all who inevitably give into their wanderlust do, lost in fields of grain that blow sweet starchy scents across the nostrils of the soul. The endless plains of husks split and broken mimic Grecian ruins, bygones of a time lost to time, myth and legends seeping from their cracked remains. Every story ever told over a pint dwells in the history of this American 2 row. What do you see, Jacques?
Ze grain, she is beautiful and enigmatic, like a mermaid with a fish face and human legs.
Um, yes. I guess. Well said.
But beer never stays in one state too long; dry becomes wet, sugar becomes alcohol, the beer itself ultimately graces our toilet bowls as blessed urine. Next we move into the sea of mashtun, that veritable Aegean trapped inside a red Igloo™ cooler.
The water swirls together with the simple sugars. Frothy bubbles rise as the near-scalding water sucks the starch from the grain with time honed practice and honored tradition. The mash paddle breaks up doughy balls, setting the saccharides to work.
Ah, ze mashtun, ver ze hopes and dreams of all ze sugars come together. Bath time for ze dirty soul of la bière.
Dirty bath time indeed.
As the grains are baptized by almost boiling, we explore the other ingredients. With Jacques help, I cast a net out across the beery world, hoping to ensnare the most lupulus of the humulus, to pull from the deep hop fields of Yakima Valley.
We find half a pound of pure paradise.
Ze hops, zey look like ze shit of a horse.
What? No. These are decadently aromatic Citra hops pressed into pellets. They burst with fragrance, singing a bitter song to balance out their grapefruit guise. They are the beating heart of the beer, arguably the most distinctive ingredients in the sweet concoction…
Regarde comme de la merde.
The grain is spent now, all its energy taken by the water, two separate spirits now joined as one in wort. It pulled its content and color from the medley of different malts, and after an hour long soak is ready for its long roil.
Ah yes, zis is when we sink deep into the liquid embrace. In ze wort we can return to ze womb, be one, again, with mother ocean.
Now you’re just being creepy.
To float free in ze stomach of life is all man seeks. Ze bière, she washes over us like crashing waves. She is bottled ocean, twelve ounces of jeux de vie.
I’m starting to regret bringing you along.
Sulfides soar skyward as the propane feeds an hour long boil. The beer is on the air, in the smells, in the wispy silks of evaporating wort forever disappear into winter’s chill. Some call it the angel’s share, some call it tragic but necessary loss for the cause. I call it the herald of the ale, the vanguard of a two-week war to be waged in white buckets and glass carboys.
Nope, not sniffing the yeast. Not with the whirfloc tablets or Irish moss, either. Where can an old French dude wander off to in a beer?
Oh. There he is.
Ze airlock, she bubbles with ze zest of life. Like millions of fishes saying hello from ze ocean floor, ze bubbles show the world below ze surface. It is truly magnificent.
Yea, totally. I was just thinking that exact same thing. Thanks for the insights, I think.
The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. Rebecca, of the great blog The Bake and Brew, hosted the 83rd session which was a spirited discussion on popular beer and community hype. You should check it out!
We, as beer bloggers, tend to get caught up in this beer appreciation thing, forever chasing an invisible dragon of taste, doing our best to catalog our experiences on the page or in a database. We get obsessed with the idea of quantifying our experience – either so we can remember specifics ad infinitum or use the data as a point of comparison for other beers – and often forget that beer is just as much art and entertainment as it is critic-worthy foodstuff.
So for my turn hosting The Session, I ask all of you to review a beer. Any beer. Of your choosing even! There’s a catch though, just one eentsy, tiny rule that you have to adhere to: you cannot review the beer.
I know it sounds like the yeast finally got to my brain, but hear me out: I mean that you can’t write about SRM color, or mouthfeel, or head retention. Absolutely no discussion of malt backbones or hop profiles allowed. Lacing and aroma descriptions are right out. Don’t even think about rating the beer out of ten possible points.
But, to balance that, you can literally do anything else you want. I mean it. Go beernuts. Uncap your muse and let the beer guide your creativity.
I want to see something that lets me know what you thought of the beer (good or bad!) without explicitly telling me. Write a short story that incorporates the name, an essay based on an experience you had drinking it, or a silly set of pastoral sonnets expressing your undying love for a certain beer. If you don’t feel like writing, that’s fine; plug into your inner Springsteen and play us a song, or throw your budding Van Gogh against the canvas and paint us a bubbly masterpiece. Go Spielberg, go Seinfeld, go (if you must) Lady Gaga. Show me the beer and how it made you feel, in whatever way strikes you most appropriate.
Was there something you always want to try or write, but were afraid of the reception it might receive? This is your chance. A no judgement zone. I encourage everyone who sees this to join in, even if you don’t normally participate in The Session, or aren’t even a beer blogger. This is an Equal Creation Opportunity. All I ask is that you not be vulgar or offensive, since this blog is officially rated PG-13.
My goal is to push you out of your default mode, to send you off to explore realms outside of the usual and obvious. I want you to create something inspired by beer without having to worry about the minutiae of the beer itself. Don’t obsess over the details of the recipe, just revel in the fact that you live in a place where you have the luxury of indulging in such beautiful decadence.
Post your responses in the comments of this post on Friday, February 7th, or tweet them to @OliverJGray. I’ll do a round up on the 14th so if you’re a little less than punctual, no worries.
I’m really looking forward to seeing what everyone creates. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me in the comments, on Twitter, or at literatureandlibation at-sign google mail dot com.