Monday, October 17, 2016

AFTER THE FIRE: These old, old habits die hard.

AFTER THE FIRE: These old, old habits die hard.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

"Never be afraid of the obvious, because it's all been done before."
-- Noel Gallagher

Throw out the tired qualifiers, strained excuses and special exceptions. Any year we have the opportunity to travel is a very good year, indeed, even on those rare occasions when Donald Trump is running for president.

You may insert any relevant jokes about “running away,” “he keeps me running” or “running on empty” – or, conversely, just get the “runs” and be done with it.

Verily, whether a lush, teetotaler or embracing any state of bibulosity between these extremes, our collective electoral agony finally ends with Election Day, November 8. Speaking personally, I’ve already made my choice, and you cannot sway me.

It’s Sicily, and we leave shortly after the election. I know very well where I’m going to go when the volcano blows – Catania, at the foot of Mount Etna.

However, the object here isn’t to recap the year’s road trips. Nor will I dare explore the implications of a strange dream just the other night, in which Michael “Beer Hunter” Jackson turned to me and said, “If most Trump voters are white males, and if most craft brewers are white males, then isn’t it time to start over?”

Rather, it is to concede that whenever you hear me claim to be a drastically changed man in terms of personal habits, I’m stretching the truth just a bit, not unlike America’s major party political candidates.

In fact, while the Curmudgeon continues to soft-pedal his ties to beer and the brewing biz, it remains that these old, old habits die hard, and each of our travel opportunities in 2016 has been (or is being) preceded by a thorough examination of the best beer options nearest the destination in question.

Which is to say, I haven’t entirely stopped being fervently judgmental when calculating my discretionary spending decisions and exercising them for better beer, although I do my level best to avoid reading reviews at RateBeer, Beer Advocate or anywhere else.

If I can’t survey available options and make these critical distinctions by now, relying on my knowledge and experience, then those many years of liver abuse were plainly squandered.

The good news is the pace of that particular assault on my body definitely has slowed. Nowadays, thinking back on the exploits of three decades, it flummoxes me to have consumed so much beer. It wasn’t always drinking; it was sheer swallowing.

I’ll likely spend the remainder of my life trying to remember – first, to recall what actually transpired, these memories being frustratingly elusive, but moreover, pondering a consciousness once capable of impelling this powerful urge to imbibe. It’s hard to say why, now that I no longer feel that way.

Well … not very often.

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Returning to within earshot of my point, it seems to me that when you’re drinking far less beer overall, decision-making becomes more efficient and streamlined.

Spectacular arrays of Barrel-Aged Sour IPAs at multi-taps and other hyper-specialized beer bars eventually come to factor less into the selection equation. Having done my little bit historically to develop these concepts, I’ve nothing against them. It’s just that in the present time, a clean, well-lighted local spot with a good beer or two on tap suffices perfectly well.

After all, I’m probably only having two or three beers, anyway. That’s the great joy of a vicinity like Madison, Wisconsin, because even the VFW posts there have draft New Glarus Spotted Cow, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. It’s hard to find an establishment that doesn’t offer a few solid “craft” options.

This sensibility is less developed in metro Louisville, although it’s getting better. Consider a place like Vic’s CafĂ© in New Albany, an old school bar with quality food at reasonable prices, as well as bottles of Bell’s Two Hearted for three dollars, every day.

In short, no longer must we segregate ourselves in armored beer geek siloes, surrounded only by fellow IBU-counters. As better beer proliferates, so do our options for those times when we’d just like to have a good beer or two, an honest bite, and a seat in the real world.

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Returning to the notion of travel fulfillment, I’m a longtime advocate of walkability. Accordingly, my advance scouting usually means examining the Google Map in great detail without autos in mind, calculating the distance from hotel to beer bar or brewery, and poring over public transport options.

In a pinch, I’ll estimate the length of the drive – for purposes of a taxi, if nothing else. Naturally there are times when one must drive, and when this occurs, you go to New Glarus and fill up the trunk, making for many happy evenings on the porch once you’re back home.

For a beer lover, there are obvious dividends to urban wandering on foot, which simply cannot be replicated in a motor vehicle. For one, to walk is to be exposed to far greater detail than can be experienced in a car. More importantly, activity stimulates the metabolism. You can eat, drink and burn off calories during the walk itself.

Of course, walking doesn’t absolve the drinker from potential issues with perambulation while intoxicated, but these pale in comparison with drunk driving.

The ideal scenario for me is a looping circular stroll, beginning at home or hostelry, and meandering toward a brewery tap or beer bar, perhaps walking for an hour or two, maybe more, time enough for the pints and bites at my stop to be a genuine reward.

The way back can be a directional potpourri. At every conceivable byway, the more sessionable the pints, the better to augment my quota with an extra one for dessert.

At the end of the drinking day on the road, there are no right or wrong itineraries. For me, the ultimate goal of better beer always was to incorporate it within everyday neighborhood life, not sequester it in a gated community, aloof and removed.

This is my objective when traveling, too. Urban revitalization and palate renewal are birds of a feather, better observed afoot and awake.

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October 10: AFTER THE FIRE: The Great Taste of the Midwest is the best beer fest of them all.

October 3: AFTER THE FIRE: New Albany’s Harvest Homecoming occupation isn't alleviating my "craft" beer Twitter depression.

September 26: AFTER THE FIRE: The seasonality of Oktoberfest in time, beer and year.

September 19: AFTER THE FIRE: This week in solipsistic beer narcissism (2014).


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