In the very back of our refrigerator rests an untouched six-pack of Michelob. It was purchased several weeks ago for a visiting friend whose drink of choice is beer. That friend decided not to drink alcohol during her visit, however. So there the beer sits behind a jar of Spanish queen garlic-stuffed olives and a package of fresh tofu. The olives, of course, go in my martini.
This six-pack now taunts me each evening at the 5:00pm cocktail hour. I hear its sneering ridicule and personal animus aimed at my once resolute love of all things hoppy, bitter, nutty, and foamy. Rather than trying to emotionally appeal to me with nostalgic and happy memories of lagers and stouts consumed in earlier days, it instead mocks me as a gin swilling, single malt sipping, Claret quaffing, tassel loafer-wearing elitist. This is class warfare and its taking place right in my very own kitchen.
Just as Marco Rubio once embraced bi-partisan immigration reform, Donald Trump was pro-choice, and Hillary Clinton eagerly wooed Wall Street executives, I too have “evolved” on a matter of elemental importance within my own caucus. I refer specifically to the drinkers caucus.
At some point in the mid-to-late nineties I switched from being a beer drinker to having a preference for cocktails and wine only. I don’t recall exactly why this took place, though an increase in disposable income and a higher salary may have been partially responsible for the change. An overdose of John P. Marquand novels at the time might also have been an influence. I was one linen suit away from buying a fedora hat and ordering a sidecar.
Still, I do have fond memories of beer. There was a time when once I finished my 3:00pm black coffee, all I thought about for the rest of the work day were the paramount concerns of draft vs. bottle, foreign vs. domestic, and dark vs. amber. Likewise, weekend afternoons consisted of activities with friends followed by heated debates on the philosophical merits of whether a de facto 5:00pm start to happy hour applied to Saturdays and Sundays too. A glance at old pictures from college and my early years in Washington, DC show all of us either with beers in our hands or one sitting in the fore or background.
When the microbrewery and brew pub phenomenon hit the U.S. in the 1980’s, I remember my dad being fascinated by it. Primarily a beer drinker himself, he was tantalized by the possibility of having a beer that was actually brewed in the same place where it could also be served.
Never having been a barfly even in his youth, and except for the very occasional draft beer at a German or Hungarian restaurant, my dad’s consumption of beer was pretty much by can or bottle only. I can still vividly recall his bringing home a 32 ounce bottle of Stroh’s as he arrived home from work, which would always last him two days. To my recollection he never bought a six or 12 pack. When I reached my very late teens, I do remember a bit of unfortunate controversy related to a mysterious unburdening of the content in those bottles. Careless accusations and recriminations were made, and sadly (or fortunately) no one really got to the, ‘er, bottom, of that.
I was nonetheless proud on his first visit to DC to take Dad to a brew pub. I immediately ordered us a sampler right after we sat down. I’ll never forget the way he studied the menu as he slowly sipped each one to see if it matched the brewer’s tasting notes. Including that sampler, we each had two beers followed by splitting a third so that he could experience as many of the offerings as possible. I remember riding the subway back to my apartment and us laughing through most of the trip. Excluding his time overseas during the war, and possibly a handful of times when he attended college as a commuter during the Depression, I am fairly certain that day was most likely the only time in my dad’s later adult life that he enjoyed an overextended beer buzz. On later visits to DC, I took him to more brew pubs. But he always limited himself to one beer, and I obediently followed suit.
My enjoyment of beer continued unabated. On two trips to England I went absolute bonkers over the bitters and ales found at every pub. It was head and shoulders better than any beer I ever had. With every trek we made out to the tiny villages in the West Country, and later the Isle of Wight, I couldn’t believe how wonderful beer tasted the further we even got from London. I had reached my zenith in sudsy appreciation. Stonehenge? Yeah, sure, fascinating. The honey-colored stone villages of the Cotswolds? Uh, sure, okay. Queen Victoria’s Osborne House? Yawn. Say, when’s the next pub meal?
And then at some point in my late thirties I suddenly lost interest in beer. Perhaps it was the carbonation, or maybe I simply got spoiled from the exposure to English beer and nothing afterwards could compare. Or further still, perhaps it was the knowledge that draft beer is a major contributor to calcium oxalate kidney stones, which I happen to produce. Over a sustained period I began a transition from beer. Cocktails and particularly wine were attracting my taste buds, as was the concept of pairing certain foods to discover a whole new world of epicurean pleasures. There finally came a point when on the rare moments I did have a beer, it no longer really tasted very good to me. My taste buds had moved on.
I’ll still have a beer now and then, particularly at a ball game. It just seems really wrong to be holding a Syrah while screaming at a third base umpire. Some things are sacred.
But all the same when happy hour hits now, I’m thinking martinis, manhattans, or maybe that expensive 12-year-old whiskey I rarely open served neat. And unlike the eccentricities of earlier days, moderation not only allows me to enjoy it more but the numbers on my chart at the doctor reflect an overall healthier experience with it. “I’ll take lower cholesterol and a smaller belly for the win, Alex.”
So if you’re in the neighborhood, I’ve got a six-pack of Michelob to offload on you. Just do the secret knock on the door and we’ll let you in.
Until next time…