Monday, January 12, 2015

The PC: Gimme a pigfoot and a bottle of beer.

The PC: Gimme a pigfoot and a bottle of beer. 

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

This will come as a surprise to many readers, but I’ve never considered myself the smartest person in the barroom.

Happily, even when you’re not the smartest person in the barroom, plenty of options remain open, so long as you’re willing to find the folks who are, and to learn something from them. I may have evolved into a passionate, opinionated, contrarian and reasonably articulate leftist, yet these are traits developed over many years, and sharpened by reading, questioning and listening.

Consequently, the most valuable lesson I’ve learned in this regard is that the smartest people in the barroom are well aware of how little they ultimately know. In a world so large and complex that we’ll never be able to grasp any more than small shards of the profusion, wisdom surely reinforces the wonders of the journey itself.

As a case in point, there is my own experience with Bank Street Brewhouse, which will turn six in March. What a long, strange trip it has been. Somewhere around 2008, going into the project, I caught a fleeting glimpse of something mistaken for certainty, and for the briefest of moments, concluded that this ephemeral “craft” beer industry snapshot was a reflection of permanence.

I might have saved a bucket of borrowed money and stayed at a Holiday Inn Express instead. To paraphrase Mikhail Gorbachev, history punishes those who think they’re the smartest person in the barroom – when they’re not. NABC makes great beer, and many people like it. Granted, we haven’t grown like we thought, and dull moments have been few and far between, but our brewery business perseveres.

What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger … and you can insert your own tired cliché right here; the one I like has to do with the constant bombardments of WWI trench warfare, but let’s return to the point: The value is in the journey, and lately it has occurred to me that mine has come full circle.

I’m okay with that.

Back in college, when I knew next to nothing about anything, it was a matter of personal pride to be known as a beer drinker, as opposed to a wine enthusiast (too pretentious) or a garden variety omnibus drunkard of the sort I routinely encountered while working at the package store, seeing as there simply is no future, least of all mine, in anyone’s ability to drink a quart of whiskey or vodka every single day.

Beer was different, at least for me. Back then, it may have been odious swill, but it was my odious swill, and even then, there was an inkling in my cosmos that beer might yet connect those various other dots floating aimlessly within my psyche. In many respects, it eventually did, although first I had to do my fair share of listening to the denizens of the barroom … the ones who were smarter than me.

As my education progressed, it all seemed to fit together. Beer was about science, art, geography, history, capitalism and socialism. Beer was an avocation, and later it morphed into a vocation. It still is, although I’d be lying if I said that it’s as much fun as it used to be.

So, the journey continues.

Recently I saw an essay purporting to explain the differences between a beer geek and a beer snob. After glancing at it, my first reaction was to sigh deeply before finally deigning to accept a new, probably temporary certainty, which has been building for years: That’s it; I’m done.

It’s back to being a “beer drinker” again, with no qualifiers necessary – no geeks, snobs, hopheads, sourpusses, crafts, imports, gypsies or Trojan Geese. Just a plain ol’ beer drinker, and mighty proud to be one.

Don’t worry; I’m not going soft, merely deploying a version of Occam’s Razor to pare the propaganda and protect what’s left of my patience, not to mention sanity.

You won’t see me drinking a Silver Bullet any time soon. American low-calorie “light” lagers still disappoint, and always will. Also, I as yet will insist on knowing where a beer was brewed, and by whom, and if the information is handily offered on Rate Advocate, I’ll even go there to read it, while continuing to ignore th crowd-sourced reviews amassed below.

Aesthetics, mood, locale, and personal preference still mean a great deal to me, and I’ll espouse them. I’ll write about them, talk about them, teach them, and try to embody them in whatever I do with beer as an individual, and NABC does with brewing as a company.

(As an aside, kindly note that for me, my role as educator remains free of bile and jaundice. Last weekend, I conducted a tasting for 16 relative adult novices, few of whom knew hops from barley. I gave good story, and they asked sensible questions. Perhaps they looked to me as the smartest person in that particular barroom, but the fact is we all learned something from the experience.)

What matters to me right now, in 2015, is that I know enough about the small shards of difference when it comes to beer to satisfy myself and help others into the tent. Knowing just enough about beer makes me both proud and happy. However, to take it a step further and expand upon the immortal words of the British rock band Wild Beasts, it no longer is valid for anyone to “confuse me with someone who gives a fuck.”

You don’t need to know where I drank it. If I tell you, it’s because I’ve found the location to be something genuinely worthy of note.

I don’t need to be informed by crowd-sourced beer rating aggregators. If I praise a beer, it’s because the beer deserves it.

There’ll be precious few selfies, and even fewer photos of the beers I’m drinking, because seriously, haven’t we been looking in the mirror long enough to have seen and learned absolutely nothing? Maybe once in a blue moon, so long as it isn’t Blue Moon.

Make no mistake: Chase all the brightly colored barrel-aged butterflies you wish, and more power to you. At the same time, there are reasons why coaches truly worth their pay teach fundamentals to athletes. It’s because in the end, fundamentals win games.

The simple fundamentals of being a beer drinker.

Back to basics.

Playing John McIntire’s Reverend Pengilly to Burt Lancaster’s Elmer Gantry.

I like it already.

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