Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace
From a few years ago, me mugging with the bronze buffalo sculpture at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Where Has All the Good Beer Gone?

My relationship with beer changed sometime over the past five years or so. It wasn't a conscious transition, but a subtle, nearly unnoticed shift in my taste and behavior.

Like many guys I know, my appreciation for beer developed around a keg at fraternity parties. Sure, I had quaffed a beer or two in my high school days, but not in amounts of any significance. By the time I reached college at the ripe age of 18, I had probably consumed no more than 12 to 18 beers in my life. Far too few to have a favorite brand. My brand of choice was whatever someone had sneaked out of his parents' refrigerator. Judging by some of the crap my adult friends have tried to foist on me from time to time in the years since, I'm sure I drank a few plundered beers in my high school days that were something just short of elephant whiz. Did I care? Heck no, I was drinking BEER!

I refined my taste for beer in college.

It was a happier time when I headed off to Wittenberg University at the close of summer of my senior year in high school. Located in Springfield, Ohio, Wittenberg is affiliated with the Lutheran Church. I was active in the Lutheran Church in my youth. I consider myself a recovering Lutheran. My father was a Lutheran minister. In fact, he went to Hamma Divinity School, which was part of Wittenberg years ago. That's how I became familiar with Wittenberg. We lived just off campus for almost three years as my dad matriculated through Hamma.

He had to work his way through school to pay for it and to support my mother and me. My sister was already married and out of the house. He earned his way by working for the university as a campus cop, construction crew foreman and assistant manager of the book store. I had the run of the campus and the use of many of the facilities. It was a tremendous three years and when it came time to apply to colleges, there was only one place I wanted to go.

For liquor, the drinking age in Ohio in those happy days was 21; but anyone over 18 could drink what they called near-beer or 3.2 beer. At 18, I could stroll into a bar in Ohio and order a draft beer. This was also long before the Political Correctness Police and we were able to drink on campus. Once I was in a fraternity, we could drink anything we could get someone to buy for us because the university didn't police our parties or really give a hoot about whether we were drinking grain-alcohol-based punch or 3.2 beer. There was always a senior or two living in the house who was over 21, willing to make liquor-store runs.

I had four years to hone my beer-drinking skills. I took full advantage. I drank it by the buckets full.

I didn't slow down for decades. I loved beer! I went through my Heineken phase, my Bud phase, my Corona phase, my Sol phase and my Miller Lite phase. I developed a real fondness for craft beers and micro-brewed beers. Whenever I am out of town, I still try to locate a local brew pub to sample its small-batch stout or porter. I have stumbled across some great ones.

When I made my exploratory visit to Greenville nearly four years ago, my first stop was the Blue Ridge Brewery downtown. I'm not kidding; it was my first stop. On my second Greenville visit, I joined its mug club. I had belonged to such a club at a raw bar in Delray Beach called Rosie's. A bunch of us had mugs there. You paid $10, got a 22-oz mug that you decorated and then you got to enjoy mug-club specials. You also only paid for a 16-oz draft whenever they filled your mug. Sweet!

There wasn't much in the way of information about the mug club and its perks on the place-mat at Blue Ridge, but heck, I wanted to join. The mugs are one-of-a-kind locally-made pottery mugs with silly faces on them. I had a choice among five or six available mugs and made my pick. I was told my first beer was free. I had another after that -- a stout, no doubt -- and asked for my tab. Imagine my shock when the tab arrived and reflected the cost of my second beer and the $75 fee for the mug club. Yikes!

Well, I reasoned, I am going to be living here and I want to be a part of something. I still had money in those days, so I forked over the dough. What the literature also failed to mention is that this isn't a one-time charge. Nope, they expect you to pay some sort of renewal each year. It's been nearly four years and I have managed to avoid the renewal fee so far, so I have no clue what it is. But when it eventually catches up with me, I'll take my mug and go home.

The point being, I haven't lost my taste for a good beer. However, I can no longer drink beer in volume. Where there was a time, when properly motivated, I could sit down and drink half a case of beer in an afternoon, I couldn't begin to attempt that today. Even drinking something as innocuous as Miller Lite, four or five beers and I am full. Moreover, when put in the position of drinking beer exclusively for three or four days, I just get sick of it. What has happened to me? Decades of training down the flume.

What brought all of this to mind is a bottle of Moose Drool. Crafted by the Big Sky Brewing Company in Missoula, Montana, Moose Drool is a brown ale. It is one of my all-time favorite beers. The Drool has become a staple on our annual ranch outings in Wyoming. There is a bottle of Moose Drool sitting in my refrigerator. I see it every time I open the door. I brought it back with me last year in the wood box I use to transport my bottle of Makers to the ranch.

I know when I take my first sip of this beer, I will be immediately transported back to the front porch of our cabin at the ranch where we sit, talk, tell lies and drink. Buying a bag of peanuts in the shell to eat while drinking my prize will only intensify the experience. I am waiting for another spurt of warm weather, so I can sit on my porch and take this beer's full measure.

It's an issue of taste not volume. I can still really enjoy one bottle of great beer.

1 comment:

  1. Falstaff was our first beer of choice (referring to my friends). Never did take to Miller Lite or any of the lights. I have found in drinking craft beers that two a night are satisfying enough. This allows me to drink better beer. I'll go up to $10 a six-pack at Total Wine if something really looks unique. But $75 for a club membership, and with renewal fees down the line? I don't think so.

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