beer, Special Report

Aw Naw–a Blog Hijack

Apologies to the state of Colorado, and to blog readers, for this hijacking,  but “50StatesofBeer” misquoted me, his wife. It’s a tiny correction, but an omission that gets at the heart of what I love and hate about craft beer. When we first sipped Polestar Pilsner, taster number one said it was unremarkable. My response was fierce disagreement. It tasted just fine. Moreover, it did not demand that I sift through the fucking cabinets to find food that would render the beer more palatable. It’s a distinction I make for two reasons: 1) Beer that makes enormous demands on the palate undercuts, for me, what I used to love about the beverage; and 2) Craft beer gets us in a froth.

Let me begin with a forthright assessment of Polestar Pilsner. It was eminently drinkable. One could consume many bottles of Polestar Pilsner without seeking a block of dark chocolate to hold simultaneously on the tongue so the palate discovers some unanticipated, alchemical magic. (We did this with a coffee stout one week. If high-quality, European-imported dark chocolate need be consumed in tandem, there’s a problem with the beer).

Now, I like food, I like beer, I like food-beer pairings. But I prefer to like each element on its own. And we’ve had many a beverage during this adventure that required a chef’s attention to make one sip go down well.

Remember when a draw on a Camel paired well with an uncomplicated pale amber liquid in a red solo cup? I do.

Perhaps I’m just nostalgic for my first memorable food pairing–tobacco. Remember when a draw on an aromatic Camel paired well with an uncomplicated pale amber liquid in a red Solo cup?

Red Solo cup

Hell, yeah.

I do. This brings me to the Milk Stout we sampled from Left Hand Brewing: I loved the hint of smokiness in this beer. I liked that flavoring in the “In-Tents” from Base Camp of Oregon, which advertises itself for campfire consumption in the wilderness. I argued on the margins of the Oregon-beer tasting that the place and time of a beer’s consumption affected our like or dislike. Now I’m wondering if my enjoyment of the smoky flavor derived from roasted malts isn’t reminiscent of a place far removed from a campfire –the bar scene of my youth. Everyone smoked. The low-roofed joints hadn’t experienced fresh air since Eisenhower left office. After a night out, I remember stripping off clothes and leaving them outside my bedroom door because the  smell was too overwhelming.

Stripping off clothes–ah yes,–that brings me to another point about craft beer and its fussiness. There was a time when beer offered a logistical path for navigating a way out of a corset-tight, straight-laced, proper southern girlhood. Let me say to the craft beer world, some of your products have the opposite libidinal affect, particularly beers that can be described as “viscous.” These are beers with an effervescence that makes the mouth feel full. It’s reminiscent to me of how the body feels the instant before regurgitation. It’s such an off-putting sensation, I have often stepped away from the beer tasting all together, and gone to bed with a morally complex novel full of ambiguity.

Perhaps, dear reader, you will argue that my thoughts about exquisite craft beer would be better paired with a shot of Patron.

Perhaps, dear reader, you will argue that my thoughts about exquisite craft beer would be better paired with a shot of Patron. In the world of country music top 100 hits,  tequila now occupies the rabble-rousing, good-times that the consumption of beer once did. Am I just feeling middle-aged? It’s just hard to imagine someone ordering up one more round of “Sour in the Rye” to keep the party going.

Being on the front tasting line of America’s latest beverage craze has been as enraging as it has been congenial. Craft brewers often mistake the “fun” I associate with beer for “misogyny.” The number of labels depicting women bare-shouldered, bare-breasted, or straddling some engineering contraption while raising a glass of cascade-hopped, roasted-malt brew has been absurd. More often, these beers have made me furious.

So I’ll end by thanking Left Hand Brewing for avoiding this pitfall. I enjoyed everything except the Oktoberfest. We’ll talk off-line about that one…