Monday, June 13, 2016

THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: I know I’m gonna change that tune.

THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: I know I’m gonna change that tune.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king
I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing
Each time I find myself flat on my face
I pick myself up and get back in the race
-- Frank Sinatra, “That’s Life”

Growing up in the Hoosier heartland, I wanted nothing more than to like beer.

A girlfriend would have been nice, but you can’t go around asking for too much out of life.

In the beginning, I didn’t like beer because beer didn’t taste good. This didn’t stop me from drinking it. Although beer didn’t taste good, its effects were quite good. The effects kept me coming back for more until finally, the flavor made sense.

It is no exaggeration to state that in due course, beer became highly sensible. It was my life’s work. Beer served as governing principle for a variety of personal interests, ranging from history to geography, through politics, and including food, travel and recreation.

Beer connected them in a way iced tea simply couldn’t manage, and frankly, then as now, iced tea consistently annoys the hell out of me.

Beer was the way I scratched various itches – to write, to teach and to connect with other people. Beer taught me how to speak, so I could speak to others – about beer, and also about these other interests of mine. Beer was my hobby, and it became my profession.

I had a good run, and then it got complicated. Through it all, I drank enough beer to float a battleship around. Just the same, I never had the slightest physical difficulty stopping.

At the peak of consumption, my physician ordered tests requiring me to be dry for a month. It wasn’t a problem. The lab cruelly botched the test, and it had to be done a second time.

Thirty more days? Still not a problem. There were no spiders crawling up my wall, and the hours passed without delirium tremens.

(As an aside, note that I’ve no intention of arguing with those who can construct brilliant causal links to alcoholism from the scantest of sources. Do you drink alone? With others? Near your cat? Wearing a hat? DING DING DING – dude, you need treatment now … and we accept all major credit cards.)

That’s fine, and it may even be true, but you can count me out, so kindly bugger off, although the writer (and reformed alcoholic) Pete Hamill probably was right when he pointed to memory loss from drinking being unkind to writers.

Point taken ... Jim?

Physical effects are one thing, and psychology quite another. The hardest part about reduced alcohol intake always has been the damnable persistence of the real world.

Even during times when my beer consumption was relatively light, going without a dose for a few days would lead to a noticeable uptick in mental acuity. There’d be vastly enhanced clarity, followed by an existential query: Who really wants to see this miserable, pain-filled, stupid world in such excruciating detail?

I guess it depends on whether you have any interest in changing it. At any rate, I do remember when this whole thing began, when I adored beer’s effects and couldn’t get past the flavor. Forty years later, the ground is shifting, and I’m not sure what to make of it.


Beer remains a physical entity. Beer exists in the material world, where it derives from natural ingredients and a predictable process, one guided by human intelligence toward an end.

So far, so good.

And yet, beer also is a deeply held symbol, for me as well as others. For us, beer is a real object that does double duty by representing abstract ideas – about the ideal economy, the primacy of localism, cultural norms, a universal brotherhood of beer lovers, and perhaps the meaning of life itself.

Thus, the crux of the problem, for while my beer symbolism used to be bright and rosy, it has become vexing and complex. It almost seems I’ve come full circle. Now I like the taste of beer, but not the effects.

Recently the missus announced her intention to go shopping in Louisville. Did I wish to be deposited at a local brewery to await her return in the company of one or two cool, pleasing pints?

Diana’s such a sweetheart. I duly accompanied her for shopping, but killed time with a stroll rather than a beer. Afterwards, she asked why. As I haltingly tried to explain, she shifted into social worker mode and helped me understand that my relationship with beer is going through a rough patch for both physical and psychological reasons.

It’s easier to explain the physical reason.

Two or three years ago, I began having adverse reactions to certain beers. To be sure, allergies are familiar to me, and just last month, I had pesky sinus infection, but these beer-related issues are different. My head will be reasonably clear, then the beer triggers a painful sinus shutdown.

The reaction doesn’t happen all the time. I’ve ruled out wheat, barley and grain, as I continue to eat bread and cereal without any problems. Wine and liquor don’t cause it, and neither does most lager. The only logical explanation is an allergy to certain types of hops, especially those more commonly used in ales with more alcohol and higher IBUs.

I still like the taste of hop bombs – but the physical effect can be a colossal buzzkill. What's more, drinking any alcohol late in the evening interferes with my sleep, and if the drinking starts too early, I can’t write worth a damn.

Whatever happened to those days of beer + repetition = blissfully passing out?


By far, my biggest problem with beer is psychological. Simply stated, beer now symbolizes discomfort more often than it does pleasure. When I think about beer, the imagined flavor is appealing, but the dissonance is never very far away.

This needs to change.

My spoilages of symbolism have been widely documented. Most recently, NABC business affairs have stubbornly resisted being settled, and it’s frustrating to contemplate the time it will take to rectify it.

Concurrently, perhaps I underestimated what it would take to adjust to civilian life after 25 years in the food and drink business. Whether private or professional, divorce remains difficult.

Beer now reminds me of these facts. It’s like a bad flavor in my mouth, except that even before electing to jump from a moving train, my disillusionment was manifest.

“Craft” beer got big, wide and depressingly shallow. As a result, much of the plot was lost. We started by revolting against business as usual, but today, “craft” is a business like any other. I remain a reluctant capitalist – and the Bank Street Brewhouse experience proved my limitations in such a role.

Of course, I stand by each and every one of my tried-and-true rants about narcissism, co-opted concepts, sellouts, beer rating aggregators, white whale hunters and pestiferous multinationals.

Furthermore, I’m still enamored of beer’s rich back story – of the stories to be told, the fellow travelers to be revealed, and the educational opportunities waiting to be uncovered. I’m confident the pendulum will swing back in my direction, hence my diet of Sinatra classics.

I’ll be back in the race, but which race isn’t clear. For now, beer symbolizes uncertainty – and it won’t always be this way. As equilibrium is restored, the widening of my palate has been welcome, whatever the impetus. Drinking gin, wine, and even bourbon on occasion has been fun, though overall, I drink far less of them than beer in the rare old times.

Bizarrely, for the first time in decades, the clarity of relative sobriety is appealing. Perhaps this owes to being in unfamiliar surroundings, worried that missteps might be magnified into problems. It's the same way I felt long ago, in Europe for the first time. Caution can be good.

I may be too old to rock and roll, and too young to die.

I may be aging, though I’d hate to think I might be growing up.

Know that I’m optimistic. I’ll come to like beer again. There’ll be an opening, then it can start all over, building enthusiasm from the grassroots, the way that makes the most sense for me.

Right now, it’s time for a Lillet spritzer. No judging.

Consider it rehab.


June 6: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: A Mile Wide sidewalk superintendent.

May 30: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: “The Drinker” (A Book Review).

May 23: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: A few beers on Estonian time (Part Two).

May 16: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: A few beers on Estonian time (Part One).


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