The great men of the movies—your John Wayne’s and your Humphrey Bogart’s—they did not drink beer all the time--most interesting men aren’t wont to--but when they did, they might sidle up to the bar, unkempt from adventures too numerous to elucidate on and with their hearts and backs both in shambles, they would shout out to the bar-keep, “Get me a beer!” In response to this, a portly old-timer would wipe his hands along an old washcloth and pour forth a frothy brew, then slide it on down. Order completed.
Feeling a bit like The Duke one night, and a little worse for wear, I sauntered into a watering hole; leaned up against the bar. I rubbed my hands along my tired face and the bartender, a clean-cut man in his twenties, asked me, “What can I get for you?”
Get me a beer, I replied, staring off as if to check on my horse, but really just catching the score on a game playing on a corner television.
“What kind? Would you like to see a menu? We have sixteen beers on tap.”
Looking him dead in the eye, I, of course, asked to peruse the menu.
We are pretty lucky to live in a world where our taste buds are allowed to be that finicky girlfriend who will settle for no less than perfection. After all, the characters John Wayne played strained their coffee in a sock and drank it black as pitch, brewed over campfire. Meanwhile, many of us are particular about which establishment we prefer our coffee from; many of us even have a preferred bean from which to make the stuff.
Likewise, if we are financially able, we can even have some say in what it is our food ate, and how it was treated, before it was slaughtered for us to eat.
No complaints, here. This is all, as I have said, good stuff. There isn’t even an argument that could be made against it. Who doesn’t want chickens to be free in the range they roam for their interment before making their way to our bellies? If we don’t like one coffee and we like another, why in tarnation would we opt to remove that choice? If I don’t want gluten in my food, I shouldn’t require an allergy to have it removed.
Far be it for me to say anything. Except one thing.
While some may applaud the elevation of beer from its place among the working stiffs with no penchant for the refinery of grapes to an industry of as much refinement (in Connecticut, the land I call home, so too do at least five micro-breweries), I say: sure, but tread with caution.
For while I may not opt for Bud Light much to my father’s chagrin, I do find the conversations of bartender’s waxing poetic on the amount of hops and the proper glasses for particular beers a bit surreal. Then again, I am still fine with tap water, thank you.
Because, according to the European Beer Guide, beer is the world’s most widely consumed and it is even perhaps likely to be the world’s oldest of alcoholic beverages. As our third most popular drink overall (behind water and tea) it can be a substance that can unite and blur cultural and geographic lines (and not just due to alcohol content).
Sure there are lagers and stouts, pale ales and porters, wheat and lambic, and you might not readily confuse one for the others. I, myself tend to prefer stouts, while my favorite beer is a lager.
Yes . . . a particular lager. A guy professing to you about the potential ills of beer snobbery has a beer, a beer quest even. I will scour the city for this beer. That beer is Coney Island Lager, and it is the holy grail of beers, except that, at times, it does exist and it is available.
It is available only in the New York Metro area. And even then, quite unevenly. You can find it in most of Coney Island and in a handful of carefully selected spots in Manhattan. If you are outside of there, you are outside of luck.
Whenever I can, I purchase this beer. I drink it, and I cherish it. It is quite good. Outside of New York you may have heard of Coney Island Brewery, but likely not the lager. You may have tried their Mermaid Pilsner, or their Amber Ale, or their alcoholic variations on root beer and orange pop. When purchased by The Boston Beer Company (the folks that bring you the Samuel Adams beers), the Coney Island name was decided to be utilized more towards their stranger off-beat concoctions: an artisan microbrew for those discerning and adventurous aficionados of beer.
So now, not only can I not say “Get me a beer,” but if I dare to saunter up and bellow, “Get me a Coney,” I am as likely to get alcoholic orange fizz as I am to get beer.
So we are all victims of this war.
After a long night’s shoot for a short film on the streets of Hartford, CT, some of the cast and crew opted to hit up a local establishment for a couple of brews before calling it a night. It is a simple, locally run bar with dartboards and baseball games playing when appropriate, and I believe they only took cash.
You walk up and you order: “Could I get a couple beers?” (unless whiskey or whatnot is your poison of the evening).
The bartender nods his head: “Bud or Heineken?” Simple as that. You pick your choice and move on with your life.
One of the actors walked into the establishment and the bartender comes up to him. “What can I get for you?”
The actor extends his hands and, connecting his thumbs so that his hands form something of a field-goal stand, he politely asks, “Can I see a beer menu, please?”
“We got Bud or Heineken,” the bartender says.
And that was somehow funny too, in a sort of overly-cultured/lack of culture sort of way. Coming from a place of endless variations of draughts on tap, this actor was highly cultured in the sense that he knew what sort of beer would tingle his taste buds best, and likely what level of hops and ABR he was looking for in his beverage. But, interestingly enough, this highly cultivated gentleman of the nightlife was not attuned enough to situation, people, and surroundings to know what, judging by the laughter at his extended hands turned into invisible menu, was rather obvious. He stuck out like a sore thumb.
And perhaps that is the tricky thing: the balance between our taste buds and society. We no longer drink wine poured out of jugs into goblets while we slap each other on the back and eat turkey legs from the bone. Hell, most of us would have been classed out of that entirely. Now, likewise we cleanse our palette and swish the grape around our mouth; we note how the color of the wine holds up to the light. In other words, some of us are classed out; some of us fake the funk; and some of us just drink what we like, which may or may not come out of a box.
Beer then too is evolving, and adjustments need be made for a situation. It would likely be a no-brainer to not bring a box of wine to your illustrious friend’s hoity-toity cocktail celebration, yet it would be expected at your pal’s annual cookout. You simply need to adjust the barometer for beer, which is simply often at 180 degrees from wine.
You know when not to bring the box of wine, so why have that surprised look when your friends scoff at your offerings of Mother’s Milk Oatmeal Stout and refined Belgium wheat ales that you brought to their beer pong party? First of all, that’s a lot of thankless extra dollars spent. Secondly, now everybody is going to be going after your beers to carry around fashionably while still utilizing their Miller High Life in the Solo cups.
When you are having dinner, drink what you want. Even pair it! Why not? It’s your food, it’s your mouth. Let nobody tell you what works best.
But I’ll tell you what I don’t want to see: After a hard day of some communal labor, some sporting event or what-have-you, and in jolly spirits you all opt to go out and get merry with some spirits and you toast over . . .
“Hey, guys . . . what do you all want?”
“Well I’ll take a Corona.”
“Do they have any IPAs? Maybe a session?”
“See if they have any Nitro.”
. . . and then after 5 minutes of discussion and three mix-ups from the wait staff your drinks are served.
No! Because you can drink your Young’s Chocolate Stout from the comfort of your own home! You are here to interact with the world, with real people! In the age of the Internet and multiplayer gaming, this is becoming an especially rare thing.
So order a beer, dammit! Tell them anything! Get us the cheapest! Tell them to pour you the best they got if you’re feeling lucky and well cushioned in the pocket. If a friend gives you the business about your choice, pat him on the back and hand him the beer anyway (unless, you know, he really is allergic to gluten, then you might want to listen to him).
I’m not saying anything dramatic here, nothing crazy. I have already confessed to you I certainly have a particular beer preference. We are at a good place—let us not taint the illustrious history of beer by trying to make it more erudite than it need be. I don’t need a hop count, I need a taste test. And if you’re buying, I’m drinking.
I saunter into a watering hole; lean up against the bar. I rub my hands along my tired face and the bartender asks me, “What can I get for you?”
Get me a beer, I reply.
“What kind? Would you like to see a menu? We have thirteen beers on tap.”
I glance away from the barkeep to a man at the bar, tossing back something of an amber nature.
“How’s that?” I ask.
“Not bad. I like it.”
“Get me one of those.” Drinking at home is cheaper, but a good conversation and a little company—that might be priceless.