What Beer Does To Writers
Courtesy of Ta-Nehisi, we have reference to Burkhard Bilger’s piece on the revival of American craft brewing and the movement’s recent excursions into extreme beer — the 10 percent or more alcohol monsters that leave you crying in your cups if you aren’t careful.* Ta-Nehisi loved it for the quality of Bilger’s writing, quoting the lede as an example of the (writing, not brewing) craft being practiced at the highest level.
It is fine writing — jump either of the links to check it out — but it reminded me of a much earlier piece of equally fine writing by William Least Heat Moon, published in the Atlantic more than twenty years ago, back when the phrase “good American beer” was still an oxymoron to most.
Here’s Moon’s last paragraph, in which he and his companion, “the Venerable,” make the mistake of going to the well one last time:
South of Sacramento, near Interstate 5, we stopped in a bar overhung with ferns, stained glass, old-time signs. We went in looking not for the perfect bar but only for a working phone. We knew that men who discuss the bubbles in a head of beer, who read patterns in the Irish lace – those men do not come into bars like this. Yet we had a small hope that some bottle of an untried oddity might be tucked away. The offerings, of course, were Hobson’s choice. Maybe the wish to put a touchstone to these last days of golden glasses urged us, I don’t know, but we ordered our Hobson’s, our industrial. The Venerable lifted his glass, drank, and set it down. He turned to me blankly and said, “Did I miss my mouth?”
I’ve used that last line I can’t think how many times in the years between then and now to describe all manner of experiences that somehow flat out failed. It’s perfect. Read the whole piece — it’s good on its own terms, and it captures a surprisingly distant recent moment in our past. We live in a different country now — and Moon has been testifying to the change for a long time.
*Bilger writes about, among much else, Dogfish Head’s 120 minute IPA, which has an alcohol content in a double digit ABV percentage. I have yet to encounter it, but I fear it. I tried the 90 minute version on the recommendation of another blogospheric beer lover, Tim from Balloon Juice, with its 9% ABV, and even that seemed a bit off balance to me. But unless it’s just too tame to borne, I can commend the 60 minute IPA, 6% ABV. Just bitter enough — very nice. (Though as a Bay Area boy born and bred, and blessed during high school with a bar just north of the UC Berkeley campus that (a) had Anchor Steam on tap and (b) was not exactly meticulous about checking IDs, I give that very fine old beer pride of place.)
Image: David Teniers II, “Tavern Scene,” 1658.Explore posts in the same categories: good writing, words mattter, Writing comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.