one man's ceiling
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
i was zooming around, checking up on some favorite sites, feeling i've been a little out of it on the web these days when i came across an article in the NYT concerning big beers. it reads a little condescending to my eyes, as if the NYT was telling new york sophisticates that beer is the new gin, that it's okay now and then to order something other than a merlot. as if new yorkers wrote off beer with ralph cramden, something folks in new jersey "do", but just might be the hip thing this season.


i used to think fancy was something to aspire to, to become (as i think david hockney once said) "restaurant rich"; wealthy enough to not have to look at the price of items on a menu before deciding on what to order. when i was young i used to think that sophistication came as a price of growing up. beer in college, wine snobbery in young adulthood, cocktails during middle age and beyond. yeah, and we thought we'd have to give up punk rock and dig into jazz when we hit 30, as if our appreciation of such things couldn't co-exist. thus we became the prime demographic for the bad plus, but i digress.

and growing up what other models did i have to judge by? my parents rarely drank, even when visiting my grandparents whose house was overflowing with booze. guys out on the back patio playing five card and drinking tall cans of pabst, ladies in the kitchen doing the same or occasionally mixing up some rum. and stealing a sip of beer from an uncle was only expected if you were to hang out on the patio.

but why, i wondered, would adults turn down soda to drink this cold fizzy liquid that tastes like urine?

college taught me the error of my thinking. some beer from oregon (why can't i remember the name? oh, because i'm OLD!) was making a name for itself, brewed in small batches and sent in numbered editions north to seattle and south to california. it was smooth and clean and didn't taste like shit... i meant, schlitz. then anchor steam beer made a revival in the bay area, and microbrew pubs appeared and all of a sudden i felt like history had finally come around to the origins of beer and in no time we'd be drinking mead from buckets just like they did at the beginning of the industrial revolution.


anyway, it's been a long slog and in the end i find i prefer the relaxed atmosphere of an unpretentious pub that serves up tasty food matched with quality craft beers. cheaper than chi-chi places where an out-of-work actor who can't afford to eat at their own restaurant is doing their best to belittle you for your choice of shoes, wine and entre. do i want to pour over a wine list as heavy as the gutenberg bible, do i want to take classes to learn how to "appreciate" wine? do i want to sniff the cork, approve of the beverage before it's decanted to all? do i need ceremony to make myself feel superior and deserving?

no. i want something with a unique taste that compliments my meal. a beer will do, thank you.

but as my zuska and i have discovered there's a world a beer out there just as complex as the wine world but a lot more funner. yes, funner. take life as it comes and order from the beer list anything that looks interesting. it's how i first tried the allagash white ale on our trip to maine last summer. and that in turn lead me to try the allagash tripel at our local pub. my oh my! what heaven! and more recently...

allagash curieux. it's beer, allowed to age inside a cask formerly used to age jim beam. the carbonation is fine but not sharp. the beer is smooth but full-bodied. and after you swallow, the aftertaste is pure jim beam without the burn. curious indeed!

that same night my zuska tried a brew called interlude, which is partially aged in wine casks. now, here's a beer that tastes like beer, slightly sweet, and with a fine wine finish. more to zuska's taste than my own, but not in any way offensive. except for the price. served by the bottle we got dinged for $30. for. a. bottle. of. beer.

okay, it's a two-person size bottle (or one person if you're used to japanese beer)and we've since discovered that retail is about a third, but that's still a bit pricey. perhaps a beer aficionado with an open mind would like it as a gift? it's definitely a celebration brew.

but it's all really just a beer and, price and brewing techniques aside, unpretentious. you don't have to smell the cork or approve it, you just open it up and enjoy it. i'm looking forward to doing just that sometime in the future. how many beers can do that?
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recipes and musings on food -- and anything else for that matter -- from a guy with a sticky brain who likes food. perhaps he likes food too much.

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