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Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Joy of Beer

Before the Oscars, NPR replayed a Fresh Air from December in which the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman discussed his own alcoholism. "A couple glasses of wine is just not interesting to me at all," he said. "It's not a great pleasure for me to have a couple glasses of wine. That's just kind of annoying. (Laughs) Do you know what I mean?--why aren't you having the whole bottle? That's much more pleasureable."

Last night, I had a couple glasses of beer--the first since my accursed flu struck me down a week ago. We went out to Belmont Station, where I spent a huge premium to get glasses rather than pints. Sally had the Russian River Salvation (a full pour) while I started with Cascade Pas D'Anglais. We were there an hour or more, she stopped at the one while I went on to a second glass, of Ommegang Hennepin.

Unlike Hoffman, the joy of beer for me comes from two sources: the wash of sensory experience of the beer itself, of course. We are experience junkies, and beer delivers a range not available in any other product. The fact that there is alcohol in the beverage is--let's not fool ourselves--a part of the experience. Whether a sensation comes, tickling the base of the skull, loosening the joints, this isn't paramount. But the possibility of it, like waving your hand through a flame, enhances the experience. That's not the reason we drink beer, but like every other element we admire it for its own sake.

The second reason I love beer, and the reason living in Portland is such a joy, is the hunt. It is possible, on any given night in the big city*, to encounter a novel experience. The Russian River Salvation Sally had last night--what a bizarre beer! The aroma was distinctly meaty, like holding your nose over a platter of lamb and mint sauce. The palate, among other things, was bloody, metalic. I have been drinking beer for 20+ years and there were flavors in that beer I've never encountered. I wasn't a huge fan of the Cascade. It was fine, and I could see where the experiment was headed, but I found that the notes were subdued. Ron brews an absolutely astonishing number of beers, and some of his experiments thrill me less than others. But isn't that also the joy of the hunt--you never know. The Hennepin? Ah, Hennepin.

Anyway, good to be back in the saddle again. After our draft pours, I picked up the new Ninkasi, a Southern Oregon pale, and Fallen Friar, so reviews are on the horizon. Cheers--

*Small town.


  1. Well said, I think the broad definition of alcoholic would probably put me in that category as I average around a pint of beer per day but really I think alcohol in this country has too much of a negative connotation. In Europe wine and beer is more part of every day life, here your labeled as evil if you have a drink every day. I guess that's why Oregon wants to increase the beer tax, because all of us drinkers are "sinful". Sure alcohol is part of the experience but for me it's such a second thought as what I really enjoy is experiencing new things, I test my homebrews all the time to see how they are coming along, really it's a very educational experience to see how thing evolve. By the way I had a bomber of Ninkasi's seasonal last night, it's quite a tasty pale ale, kind of reminds me of Caldera's pale ale.

  2. I know a few people that can't drink just one or two. It is sad that it can't be enjoyed and social for all people.
    Last night The Highland Stillhouse in the OC tapped Pliny the Younger and that is a tasty beer I might add. It was nice to have one tapped fairly close to home and not have to worry about the keg going dry in 6 hours. They may still have some today if anyone is interested or has not tried it yet.

  3. Do you know anyone that can't enjoy more than one or two? *shrug* Ordinarily two half-pints is my soft limit; three is pushing it, four is past it. It sucks; I'd love to be able to consume more, but I get horribly ill very quickly, lasting for quite a while afterwards.

    I made a rookie mistake at the Barleywine fest on Saturday; after having had barely anything to drink for the past month (wisdom teeth extraction followed by the Worst Cold Ever™), I went in and sampled practically everything they had left (which wasn't a whole lot, and they weren't "full" samples mind you - they were all shared with a handful of people - but it was enough to severely inebriate me)… I didn't even make it back to the car before I threw up the first time, and I would spend the next several hours shivering in the car dry-heaving every 20-30 minutes. That continued well into the next day while safely at home in the supposed comforts of my own bed (which was conversely too hot and too cold); it was more than 24 hours before I could eat anything and keep it down. I wish I could say this was the first time, but this has happened at every fest where I've consumed more than 8 or so 4oz samples; it doesn't even seem to matter the strength of the beer, as much as it does the quantity - I just can't handle more than 2 full pints, if that.

    *goes and crys in beer*