Saturday, July 16, 2011

What’s the sound of your beer?

I celebrated the start of the long 4th of July weekend at the Surly Goat. Walking in the cool of the West Hollywood evening I anticipated the treasures on tap. Always, tap one: Pliny the Elder.*

Annette was dominating Pacman in the back when I arrived at 8. The barstools were occupied and a cluster of folks sat at the outside tables, enjoying the waning light and the pleasant cool. I’d suggested meeting early since I know how crowded the goat can get but the place was relatively quiet.  

We grabbed seats at one of the long wooden tables. After a brief briefing on beers of note I went to the bar to order the first round. Annette counts Sierra Nevada her favorite beer, so I knew I was dealing with an IPA girl. I told her with loving and lavish details about Russian River, and how they’d won first place, again, in the American home Brewer’s Aassociation top 50 best beers.*

I asked the pigtailed bartender for a sip of the Dogfish Festina Peche, fully expecting not to like it. I really don’t care for fruit in my beer, unless I'm toasting matriculation, marriage or new motherhood with Lambic instead of champagne, the latter which gives me a headache even if we’re just in the same room. But I had to try. Tart and fruity, I couldn’t imagine a whole pint of it. But then, as I lingered at the bar thought how the bright, crisp acidity made it a great candidate for a late afternoon out of doors. Say, at a 4th of July beach BBQ.   

For now, it was Pliny for Annette, and a Maharaja for me. I sat a pint and a half on the table and we sat and sipped and chatted. Classic soul and rock were pleasantly distracting: I occassionaly slipped out of the conversation to sing along to little Stevie Wonder affirming that everything is all right.  

And everything was. I realized I was in fact enjoying the king of beers. No pretender to the throne, Maharaja is hoppy, smooth and deep. Beer Advocate throws around descriptors like pine, grapefruit, oranges and caramel. (Annette was right on when she tasted apricot).  And the music just kept getting better as the brew flowed into my blood.  

Stacy joined us around 10. The place was filling up. I overheard a couple beside me at the bar debating the menu. 

“The Maharaja’s amazing” I offered. 

“An Imperial IPA, from Avery,” the young man qualified for his girlfriend, and proceeded to elaborate the characteristics of an IPA and the specific inflection Avery brings to their IPA, as compared to Deschutes, Kern and Helles. I realized the place was full of hipster beer snobs, and though arguably less hip, I felt in good company.   

We ordered another round and my friends updated me on a month's worth of missed You Tube fads and NPR stories.

Then, someone swapped a dance cd into the music mix. Soul classics were now being interrupted by club beats. "Mazatlan!" Stacy croaked. It is West Hollywood, after all, and dance music is unavoidable.   

But all of a sudden the beer didn’t taste the same. I couldn’t hear the subtle, malty caramel whispering over the insistent bass. I should be drinking rum, or tequila. Big frosted glasses, chunks of fruit, umbrellas, and I'm up dancing on the table in a sarong draping the day’s tan lines. All this dark wood and black leather feels too small. The vintage beer ads don’t look right.   

There is a soundtrack for every drink. It’s not that I don’t ever want to dance on the tables in my sand-crusted flip flops with the glare of a purple light grazing off the disco ball to blind my sun-tired eyes. But good beer demands a more vested music. Good beer is serious. It deserves music that’s stood the test of time, aged well, and maintained it’s effervescence. Craft brews are classic. They speak soul, and they have wisdom. It could be the musician in the room with you, singing his heart’s truth, or Jimi, Jerry or Bob Dylan telling you what you know, but you maybe forgot. It could be the verities of Stevie or Aretha, which hardly need words to carry the tenor of how it is. 

You’ve heard it a hundred times, and it’s still exactly right and true. Beer is art, art is truth in beauty. Call it snobbery, but I just want a properly reverent mood in which to enjoy my pint. The maharaja would surely agree.
*A friend of mine recently tipped me off to what, in any other industry, might seem a nefarious marketing plan. Russian River requires their distributors to dedicate two taps to their brews. You can't just get the cult fave Pliny. "Keep an eye out" my friend said. Sure enough, Damnation is right next to Pliny this week at the Goat. Well, I guess everybody wins.

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