Friday, January 24, 2014

Beer, again

I do envy beer drinkers. "Having a beer" just sounds relaxing and refreshing. Except for real beer connoisseurs, and of course they exist, it seems one does not, with beer, worry over the experience as one can with wine -- as in, will I understand what I am drinking? Will I detect the hints of raspberries, tar, earth, and leather? Is the temperature right? With what shall I pair it?

No. Instead, you just have a beer. I indulged recently because a customer at the store raved about a particular brewer, and said, judging by our brief conversation, that he was sure I would like this one. The bigger boutique sellers are overrated and unimpressive, he said. Among other brief lessons he also said that you can always tell the difference between a lager and an ale, by pouring each into a clear glass, and inspecting them. A lager, of whatever color, will be clear because lagers are so filtered; an ale will be cloudy because they are not. I'm not sure he's quite right. My beer was clear, but said "ale" on the label.

Well, at any rate, I had a beer over the weekend. I gave it two pours into the glass, just like he said, to develop a good head and let it oxygenate and give off some of the gas that gives you gas if you slurp it down from the bottle. And I drank some. I suppose it was very fine, but alas, the pleasures of beer escape me. If you want to replicate the experience, dissolve one aspirin in a glass of water, and drink that. I've had different beers before, the "hoppy" ones, and to replicate those, I'd suggest you dissolve a dozen aspirin in water, and drink that.

I have an elderly colleague, legendary in the south side's wine business, who has been kindly asking me every time he comes in to the store how I am getting on. When I first started I confessed to him my lifelong ignorance of beer. He was laboring along beside me lugging a case of wine, dressed in his dapper suit and tie, trench coat and newsboy cap, aged eighty-six (he, not the cap) -- and he shrugged with a slight grin. "You haven't missed anything." I felt reassured.

Being rueful about beer also reminds me of this scene from the old novel I Claudius, in which two barbarian brothers holler at each other (across the Weser River in A.D. 16) about their different tastes in refreshing liquids. The one brother, loyal to the Romans, has become a wine snob:

HERMANN: You're wrong, brother. That wasn't me. You must have been drinking again. You were always like that before a battle: a bit nervous unless you had drunk at least a gallon of beer, and had to be strapped to the saddle by the time the warhorns sounded.

FLAVIUS: That's a lie, of course, but it reminds me what a barbarous gut-rotting drink your German beer is. I never drink it now even when there's a great consignment come into the camp from one of your captured villages. The men only drink it when they have to: they say that it's better than swamp water spoilt by German corpses.

That tasting note is a bit unkind, I fear. Aspirin-water would have been quite sufficient.

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