Posted by: Necci – Jun 06, 2012
Dispatch 1: Drinking Myself Excellent
So there’s this bottle in front of me. The label says Epic Imperial IPA. It tells me that it is bottle number 14 of 1,800 produced. It’s telling me that it is rare, exotic, something to be coveted. Of course, it’s also telling me that my inner hop fiend will be sated, but there are other, cheaper, more easily available beers that can accomplish that. It's regal, simplistic design imparts a self-assured quality that made its presence among the hop-porn labels surrounding it on the shelf something mature, more dignified. Its matte finish belies some modest confidence, like a blandly yet elegantly dressed school teacher repeating old maxims about what’s inside counting more than appearance.
Basically, it’s quite the catch. The beer itself is nearly impeccable. It engulfs my palate without overwhelming it. That sharp bitterness often found in overblown IPAs, so strong it seems to momentarily possess all of your senses--the way burning your finger will grab your visual, olfactory, auditory, and physical perceptions and wrap them around that singular sensation--is of no relation to this brew. I’m swimming in this beer. It’s what I look for, a hoppy laughter that fades into the caramel colored sigh of receding malts. And with each exuberant sip follows the slight yeasty sorrow of knowing that it’s so much closer to being gone.
I probably won’t buy it again. At least not this year. But why not? I drank that beer on Memorial Day. It seemed appropriate to indulge in something fleeting, something that I’d miss, and besides, it wouldn’t be special if it were common. But why do I have this compulsion to seek out these rare, prized things? I don’t collect them. I just drink them. Why are they always bright, hoppy, yet balanced beers? And why do I always feel a little reluctant to pitch the empty bottle?
Most beer drinkers are fine with picking from the fluorescent rows of cardboard boxed cans at the supermarket. But then, most people seem perfectly happy to spend their paychecks under the nondescript signage of strip mall restaurants. There’s comfort in these things; the constant availability, the intoxicating serenity of normality. And I’ve been known to grab a Yuengling pint at T.G.I. Fridays. I’m not immune to that kind of thoughtless calm. But it’s not really me.
It’s not really me. Now before you go applying labels of narcissism, allow me some explanation. I drink beer that I relate to. I buy them in small boutique shops with worn carpets and geekily informed sales clerks. But I’m not trying to say that I’m a rare bottle, and I’m certainly not implying that I’m well balanced.
For me, beer is not something bought to affirm my personality. It’s not an accessory to my exceptional otherness. And it shouldn’t be. I drink good beer because it relates to the person I aspire to be. I drink good beer because it reminds me that labels peel and an empty bottle is void of soul. I don’t buy a rare IPA because I see it as a representation of my personality--strong character, artistically rendered, inspired and widely coveted by people of taste. I buy it because it reminds me to strive for those qualities. Because just having it in front of me, watching the head recede down the soft curves of a glass, seems to speak to the necessity of living a full, passionate life comprised of layers that rise and fall all the way down to the inevitable bottom of our fragile existence. And because I intend to leave a residue on that cosmic glass.
A good beer is a celebration of possibility, an aromatic flirtation with the notion of subjective perfection. I’m no deep-eyed malt philosopher of the world, no smooth talking pilsner sipper with an easy smile, and though I have my moods, I’m no dry stout intellectual. I am one for the excitability of hops, the summery complexion of a Double IPA that will knock the light right out of your day if you treat it carelessly. I like a strong, intoxicating, unique, flavorful beer--a little bitter at first, but addictive once it opens up a bit. I like a beer that scribbles poetry with subtle metaphors of citrus afternoons upon the dusty slate of a Sunday evening. I like a beer that is a special occasion, one that lives for the moment. It’s not really who I am. It’s just who I want to be.
-S. Preston Duncan