By Cold, Hard Football Facts brew guru Lew Bryson
The Chief Angry Troll pointed out something last week that struck a chord with me ("'Pundits" We Love'"). In praising the Boston Globe's Bob Ryan, Mr. 225 Club noted that "It's considered gauche in sports writing circles to actively cheer for athletes... But Ryan gives you the feeling that he actually enjoys (heaven forbid!) the sports that he covers and wants you to like them, too."
The Double-Smoked One hit a nerve right there; "beer writers" have a similar veiled agenda. We aren't supposed to be drinking the beer we write about, we're just tasting it. You're not supposed to suck down big mugs of it, and God forbid you should actually catch a buzz. "I drink it for the taste," they'll say, "not to get drunk."
Bullshit. There's times when the buzz is exactly why we're drinking it. You and I both know it. Why lie about it?
Here's something I wrote after coming home from Oktoberfest a couple years ago, where I caught a load that would have made Papa Hemingway proud. "Six million people visit Oktoberfest every year. They're wearing big goofy hats, and gingerbread hearts around their necks, and glowing jewelry ... the ones coming FROM the Fest, that is, and they're all happy drunks. Cool, I think, soon I'm going to be like them!
"Because dig it, folks: you don't go to Ofest for the food, or the rides, or the music, you go for the beer, and you drink a lot of it because it's really good and there's kind of an atmosphere of drink-drink-drink-drink, and ... you get drunk. It's not about responsible consumption at this point, you're here to get a buzz on. Not falling down, puke-on-your-shoes drunk, because that's frowned on, but buzzed, a bit sloppy, that's cool. And you know what? It's good to have a load on with 100,000 happy Germans."
Yeah, me, the "professional beer journalist," mightily buzzed. And it was good. It tasted great, at least the first two liters did, but it was all about the bliss, and the good times. This was beer as lubricant, beer as good cheer, even beer as mystical shamanistic drug.
I was blessed just this past weekend, on a perfect afternoon in upstate New York with my wife and her three brothers and our new best friend: a 5-gallon keg of Stoudt's Oktoberfest beer. The beer's good, we're smiling ... it's an early fall beauty of a late summer afternoon, and we were getting our mood on. It's something we humans do, and the teetotalers might as well face it.
There's a guy at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Solomon H. Katz, who has developed a theory that the discovery of beer led hunter-gatherers to farming, so they would have a steady source of grain to make beer. This led to surpluses of food, which led to the creation of specialized labor and the rules for living together that we call civilization ... all because humans back in 8,000 BC wanted to get their mood on, just like us.
It was a religious thing back then: howl at the moon, suck down some sacred Sumerian suds (probably gritty and sour in the day, but Cuneiform was too hard for beer writers to learn, so nobody cared), then really howl at that big-ass moon, baby, 'cause she's howling right back at you.
Beer made you one with the gods, it put the world in a different perspective. Herodotus, considered the father of history, wrote in his "Histories" that the Persians would not make a final decision on important matters until they had discussed it while drunker than a swamp full of frogs.
Religion still rules at brewing monasteries in western Europe. Much is made of monks who brew, and we're told they drink the moderate table beers. Maybe. But they are famous for beers that would knock a Sumerian on his ass – and give his donkey a good buzz as well. Abbey-brewed doubles, triples, and even mighty quadrupels crack the sound barrier in alcohol terms, ranging from 6 percent to a god-like 10 percent.
It's not about religion these days. It's about personal enlightenment, expanding your own space, getting happy. In its most beautiful form, the buzz is a warm expansive feeling that puts you right in the zone ... what zone, it doesn't really matter, but you're so damned centered in it you won't want to leave (except for a trip to the pissoir), and that's where the only tough part comes in: maintaining. It's always a tightrope walk between slipping out of the zone into dry mouth and headache, or overshooting your bliss and knee-walking into Stupidville. It's the risk you have to take to attain greatness.
You'll want to exercise some kind of caution when you're sucking beer's electric teat, of course. Don't get drunk among strangers or old fraternity brothers, or you're likely to wake up minus your clothing, duct-taped to some public statuary. Or maybe not, if they're the right strangers, as I found out on that same Oktoberfest trip:
"I realized I was inebriated. Rather than get worried about being drunk in a foreign city, I decided that since it was Oktoberfest season and I was in Munich, and I wasn't driving, that I should just relax and enjoy my buzz. And I did. Out into the night, into the U-bahn to the hotel – hey! I was one of those people now! Yup. Smiling, leaning on each other, funny hats (I was wearing a soft pretzel on my head at one point), and maybe a little limber."
I do drink just for the taste sometimes, because there's some damned good beer out there. But when I find a good one, and the time is right, it ain't all bad to get out a bigger glass and get down with your inner Sumerian.