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Monday, January 21, 2013

Getting to Know a Beer

The view south from the Astoria Column.

In very rare cases, I order the same beer twice when I go to a pub or restaurant.  Almost always this is the result of poor selection.  If there are beers I haven't tried on the menu but suspect might be tasty (an ordinary circumstance), I feel duty-bound to try them.  This means that I very often pass on a beer I like a great deal.  Fully 78.3% of the time I pass up a beer I know I like, I end up with the lesser one.  It is a huge downside to blogging about beer.

Over the weekend, I was in Astoria under staggeringly blue, warm skies to celebrate my continuing obsolescence.  (Extreeeeeeeemly late 30s if you must know.)  Because I was on a celebratory vaction, I abandoned all regular duties and indulged my native instinct to pursue that which I like rather than that which is novel.  So after less than an hour in town, it was off to one of my fave breweries, Fort George.

Thinking of possibly the annual "North" beer or maybe an 1811 Lager, I decided to at least sample on of the one-off experimental beers, brilliantly named Java the Hop.  It was a coffee IPA, exactly the kind of beer for which I was preparing such adjectives as "abomination" and "horrible miscalculation."  But miracle of miracles: it worked.  The coffee was more an aromatic note than flavor, and the hops were ratcheted way below usual Fort George levels.  Thus did the beer harmonize in a completely unexpected manner.  I always know I like a beer when I think about it the hours or days after I last tried it.  So it was with Java the Hop and, after a day at the beach sunnier and warmer than many I've experienced in June, Sally and I headed back to Fort George.  And then we had another sunny day tromping through the forests around Astoria and another evening at Fort George.  (I should note that Sally was not forced their against her will on account of my birthday trump card; she suggested the third return herself.)

In any case, the point of all this is to say that if you really wish to know a beer, it's not enough to have four ounces or even a pint.  You need to try it on different evenings, in different settings, in different moods.  Only then will you learn its secrets--and your own.  Was it really the beer you liked or the novelty?  Was your mood so good you'd have enjoyed used dishwater, or was it really the beer?  How well does the beer wear?  What more did you discover in the beer after you've tried it on day two or three?  What did you lose?

I am happy to say that Java the Hop remains a remarkable discovery, one I continue to think about even now that Fort George is no longer handily located just down the street.  It will actually come to pain me in coming months and years to think about it because, as a one-off, it will probably disappear from the surface of the planet without a goodbye or longing glance back.  It will reside only as an itch in my brain.  But that's a good thing.  Now I properly gotten to know Java the Hop I, at least, will remember it fondly. And it's also a good reminder that the ADHD attendant with beer geekhood comes clothed in a massive blind spot.  Like bad lovers, we hook up with beers for a few moments, stimulating our adrenal glands before moving onto the next pint for another hit.  This mode may offer pleasures, but they're necessarily different than taking a beer our on several dates and really getting to know it.  You can fall in lust with a beer after a pint; to fall in love you must get to know it more slowly.

Bonus pic 1: the view from Saddle Mountain.

Bonus pic 2: white forest, or the birches
of Saddle Mountain.


  1. I have similar experiences with movies as well. I have my favorites, but try to watch new ones whenever possible, some of which are terrible. On occasion, I'll find that movie that makes me think of it and as I watch it a second and third time, I notice something new. These movies usually end up being favorites.

  2. You would enjoy Asimov's book, in part part an exploration of these ideas:

  3. I'm sort of the opposite. I, too, blog about beer and often do reviews and have a loose set of rules about these things. When I'm trying something new, most of the time it's in my home. I'm in a setting where I've now committed myself to being alone with a beer, thinking about it, and arriving at conclusions based on a familiar set of parameters. And if I like it in a certain way, it increases the likelihood that I'll give it a go if I find it in a bar, enabling me to again try the beer in a different setting. This is sort of how I develop new, reliable relationships with particular beers. But, most of the time, when I'm in a bar my state of mind changes completely. I much prefer something I trust because my mindset has changed from evaluating to something different. Something less scrutinizing.

  4. my strategy while buying beer by the bottle or on tap is basically purchase 2-3 new beers to 1 established favorite

  5. You are absolutely correct. A variety of factors (such as mood, location, company, etc.) affect initial impressions of any beer. Well, that's my opinion. I tend to like sampling to find a favorite, as Ezra suggests. But that's just puppy love. You really do have to experience a beer in a variety of situations over time to develop a truly refined relationship.

    Sounds like you had a fine birthday weekend excursion. Well done.