Notes from the Cellar: Mmmm, ahhhhh … (burp)

Sound Consumer August 2009 | by Jeff Cox, Beer and Wine Merchandiser

Give a man a beer and he’ll waste an hour. Teach a man to brew and he’ll waste a lifetime.

I can still taste it, that first, purloined sip, furtively gulped from my dad’s can of Olympia. A single, stolen swallow (… and a lot more).

A strange, adult flavor that made my sweet-seeking little palate recoil, while leaving its indelible mark, planting a seed that would flower years later in an inexplicable, never-quite-satiated affinity for that hauntingly sweet bitterness. The acerbically green flavor of hops, rooted in the directness of dirt, the whole washed in the essence of cool, clean water.

Summer of ’76: somewhere in Montana, hitchhiking across America and Looking for Adventure, whatever came first. Taking a break from the heat and the highway, walking into town for a drink of water, waylaid by another looking glass, the dim interior of a century-old tavern, high ceilings, creaking, bare wood floorboards, a cool refuge with just two drinkers, a bartender and a silent jukebox in the mid-afternoon torpor.

Packing all my 17 years of worldly experience into as much nonchalance as I could muster, I ordered a tall, cool one. Pride, thirst and satisfaction combined in as perfect a euphoria as I’d yet known when that cold, crisp elixir slid down my waiting throat.

August of ’79: my second day in Seattle, lured into the public house twilight of the Unicorn by the aroma of meat and potatoes. “Getchye a beer, lad?” says Angus, the amiable, curmudgeonly everyman. “Uh … I’ll have a Bass,” I stammer, digging into three more years of studied nonchalance as I quickly read the list on the back bar.

Jackpot. Ooh baby. I lick my chops and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand as the gates to a whole new realm of beer swing open before me…

There’ve been at least as many beers as days since then, but it all started with that first sip. Maybe I sensed, as I entered the looking glass at that tender age, that this was a beverage that has its head in euphoria and its feet in the blues, a potion that could unleash laughter and the muse, while reminding us, in its earthiness, of the sod that waits to embrace our bones.

Perhaps I was lured by the delicious paradox of an ambrosia that could be both cause and cure for those very blues, a bitter-tinged taste that can lead a man down a dark path, offering just enough joy to dull the pain of that sad journey — or an exuberant exclamation point to moments of pure pleasure.

Or maybe it just tastes too damned good not to have another. As one inspired soul so aptly put it, “a man has to believe in something — I believe I’ll have another beer.”

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