Why I Love Beer and Other Stuff

Saturday afternoon I drank a Michelob Ultra.  That is easily the lightest beer I’ve had since college.  I graduated in 1996.  Then, 24 hours later, I drank a Bell’s Porter.  The difference between those two beers is the reason I love beer.

They are essentially the same thing.  They are both water, malt, hops, and yeast.  They were both boiled and fermented and bottled.  Yet, they could not be more different.  The Ultra is exactly what the label says it is: a light low-calorie beer, or as it is known in BJCP style guidelines a “Lite American Lager.”  It is filled with mostly water and little more alcohol then you would expect.  You can drink it ice cold because being mostly water warmth does not improve the taste.

The Bell’s Porter is also exactly what it says on the label:  Robust Porter.  It is made with dark malts and has a lot of alcohol. It needs to be drunk at a higher temperature (50-55 degrees) to bring out the roasty coffee and chocolate flavors of the malt and the fruity bitterness of the hops.

It is as if they are two entirely different substances when they are not.  They represent the range of possibilities that fascinate me about this simple substance.  In that way, beer is kind of like fiction.

There are only a few stories to be told and most of them have already been written a thousand times.  If the plot summary of one book sounds remarkably like the plot summary of ten books before it, it isn’t a coincidence.  The plot summaries are alike.  The devil, as always is in the details.

Every writer has the coming of age story they want to tell just like every brewer has the pale ale he wants to brew.  These are both part of the rite of passage/apprenticeship stage of these two careers.  Every writer spends his whole life writing the story of how he came to be and every brewer wants to brew you the beer he has been planning in his head since his first sip of Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

What makes each of these products special are the individual ingredients and how the writer or brewer chooses to put them together.  Each brewer chooses this malt, that hop, these hop addition times and this yeast strain to get a different product then what any other brewer might bottle.  Each writer chooses this detail of home life, mixed with that detail of love lost, these details of loneliness and puts them together in this narrative style, to write a different story from any other writer with the same type of details.

You may love IPAs, but that one you tasted with rye malt made you wretch.  Or, you may hate red ales, but this brewer’s take on it makes you want to drink a whole keg yourself.  By the same token, you may love Romeo and Juliet type stories, but this one you’re reading is off-putting and annoying.  Or, you may hate science-fiction, but this writer has made you see past all the technology and weirdness to find the humanity of the characters.

In the end the quality of any beer, meal, short story, or song comes down to the talent and individuality of the person making it.  It is about the seeing, reading, or tasting something that could only come from this person at this point in time.  Each experience is new, exhilarating, and fleeting.  Making you want to find it again and again.

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