Food for Thought
The Amazing, Wonderful, Incredible World of Beer: A Memoir
When health is bad and your heart feels strange,
And your face is pale and wan,
When doctors say you need a change,
A pint of plain is your only man.
I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.
Beer. Generative of the superlative, lingual lubricant of the laconic, tear collector, the good, the bad and the canned: as Bukowski said, it makes the flowers try harder. Something is happening in the world of beer. And why? And what is it anyhow? Sex, violence, water, hops, malt, yeast and barley. And probably a lot of television. And certainly not corn or rice.
At times it seems foodies will often have us believe cooking and appreciating food began only earlier this decade. Of course as they say, a commodified diet is a qualified diet: slow, local, organic, fresh, vegan, gluten-free, ad infinitum. What does this all have to do with beer?
Let's begin, anecdotally...
The 1990s. A non-school night, to be sure. I am dutifully attempting to log on to AOL via a 26k modem for the fourth time in order to write a report for school on the importance of Dolly the Cloned Sheep and how humanity will never recover from this bold step into modernity. In the living room, the brothers are enjoying up to eighty channels of cable television. The mother is quietly reading The Celestine Prophecy. In the kitchen, the father sits at the dining table, always in the same spot, surrounded by dogs, eating pretzels and drinking beer. Short of hearing, the incessant verbiage of talking heads from a rolling cable news network blares into the room, but there he reads, undoubtedly yet another Robert Jordan novel, trying to escape the workweek with Tolkeinesque scenarios featuring elves and wizards and the like.
Crossing into the pantry to refill my mechanical pencil, I am accosted: "Here boy, take a swig of this." The father hands me a longneck, beaded just so with icy sweat across its paper label. Apprehensively I sip. Absolutely disgusting I think. Swill. What is this nasty, bitter conconction that tastes vaguely of gym socks and the surrounding effluvium of those 12th grade skater kids?
"That's pretty good," I say.
"Its called an India Pale Ale. An IPA. Tasty, right?"
The father nods a hint of approval, ducks his head down and returns promptly to his elves. Later, I do an AOL keyword search for "IPA" but get no results save for the International Phonetic Alphabet.
Fast forward. College. Not exactly BMOC, more like Medium. Well, intermediate between small and medium. The sizable! I am victorious at clearing The Mighty Beer Horn, a staple between my roommates and I for fighting boredom and worshipping stupidity. The Horn held two-and-a-half (count 'em!) 12oz cans of the most transparent, most yellow, most flavorless lager: where had I gone wrong? Family values, I think. Tradition between boy and son. Had I heeded my father's wisdom? We had not spoken in several years (we communicated only through sign language).
Indeed, I was a prodigal, longing to return home, if only I could recall where home was. Unfortunately, all that came to mind was the many hours I spent maintaining my GeoCities page...
Since college, beer has exploded. The major American brewers are all in decline (and most are not American-owned anymore either). Drinking imported, craft, micro or nano beer is in. Pairing "food" with "beer" is considered fodder for study on the level of sommeliers. All a bit uncanny really: I remember my dad getting excited over finding bottles of Xingu at the liquor wholesaler in the eighties.
But times change, and all for the better it seems (um, specifically only referring only to beer in this case). People, it seems, have discovered, there are other kinds of beer besides lager. The joys (and savings) of homebrewing are in ascendant, and microbreweries and brewpubs continue to experiment with new recipes.
Where to start learning? NYPL can help.
- Great American Craft Beer: A Guide to the Nation's Finest Beer and Breweries by Andy Crouch
- Beer by Michael Jackson
- Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher
- Great American Beer: 50 Brands that Shaped the 20th Century
- Beer Advocate Beer ratings and reviews.
- Brew York, New York Local beer blog.
- NYC Beer New York City guide to breweries and restaurants.
Home Brewing Resources:
- The Complete Joy of Homebrewing
- Home Brew Talk
- Tasty Brew
- BeerSmith Brewing Resources
- Brewer's Friend
*Always drink responsibly. Also, keep in mind, a beer's sessionability is correlated to its sociability.