In a recent editorial, or “Beer Smack,” as they’d have it, the Alström brothers of Beer Advocate urge beer-lovers to become knowledgeable about beer and the brewing process. After all, they say, “the internet is littered with misinformed beer geeks.” And I said, Hey, that’s me they’re talking about!
Because, let’s face it, I know plenty of people in my immediate friend group who know more about beer than I do. I can’t keep straight all the hop varieties that begin with “C,” I never measure the gravity when I brew, and I thought “Grisette” was the name of a new Muppet.
Some people think that’s all there is to beer. But to me real beer is nothing less than spiritual.
Several cities ago, I found myself sitting at a bar on Dupont Circle, my idealism newly squashed under the weight of corporation-sized nonprofits. I was with my new roommate, a stranger who said “know what I mean?” too much. The bar was called The Big Hunt, and, at least in my memory, part of the seating area looked as though it was in the belly of a whale, ribs and muscle arching across the ceiling.
It had just started snowing when the bartender introduced himself: Chaz. He was my height, bald, and much older but youthful in the obvious strength of his body and personality. He brought us craft beers, a hummus plate, and when the rose guy came through, he bought two and put them in shot glasses in front of us.
Through several roommates and even more jobs, Chaz remained the constant. He took me to the fanciest restaurant I’ve ever been in, had me over for a Thanksgiving, and took my friends and I out the night before I left the city. Eventually I learned his last name was Powers.
Say what you want, but this is about beer. It may sound crazy to you, but this is beer to me.
In the next city, off the green line in Brookline, I learned about beer styles from a bartender named Matt, who I called Larry for years. He was there at my first beer festival, and again when I took my father to his first. An hour in, my dad placed a hand heavily against a pillar and said, “Whew. I’m pretty lit!” We had two hours left. I taught him the pro technique of taking a slug of water in between each sample of beer.
On the way out, a chant of “U-S-A!” broke out spontaneously and apropos nothing. The subway ride home was reminiscent of the drunken crush after a Sox game, but more convivial. On the platform a man pointed a weaving finger at me, “How come you’re still standing straight?”
They’ll say, that’s not beer and you know it, and I’ll say there is beer there, there is.
Once I went with my boyfriend, Scott, to the Redhook Brewery, the one in New Hampshire, to see The Dandy Warhols and some other bands I don’t remember. Behind the bar was a wall of glittering beer mugs, each belonging to someone who liked their beer a lot, because you had to drink a lot of it to earn a mug. It was rainy outside and humid enough under the tent that it was sweaty and claustrophobic. The Dandys had a huge screen behind them with psychedelic swirls of color in constant motion that matched their trippy guitar distortion. Eventually the swirling colors and sounds were in my head and I soon felt very swirly and panicky inside.
Scott took me out of the crowd and we stood apart from everyone, almost out from under the canopy, breathing in the smell of rain and drinking our Long Hammer IPAs. I could hear the music and the crowd and the rain on the tent over us. I took a sip of my beer and I let it sit on my tongue. I could taste the summer and the storm and my future and Scott’s future and our past that stretches on still.