Leave it to Douglas Smiley at Baltimore Bistro’s and Beer to ask this highly fundamental question for this month’s Session: “So what is it that compels you to drink and what would your life be missing if beer was no longer an option for you?”
I drink beer because it can be approached and appreciated from so many directions. Beer is steeped in history as possibly the earliest beverage developed by human kind. So many bio-chemical reactions are involved in brewing that it takes decades for a brewer to really master them. The economic forces in play during the American craft brewing revolution has generated so many fascinating dynamics between upstart brewers and multinational corporations in a rapidly changing marketplace. At a culinary level, I can savior the seemingly infinite variations created by just malt, hops, water and yeast as well as experience a multitude of unique and vibrant pairings of beer with food. From a sociological perspective, who can’t help admire beer’s unique power to bring people of all walks of life together over a pint. All of these things have drawn me to this majestic beverage.
But truth be told, I wouldn’t care about this as much if it weren’t for that nice buzz.
What would beer be without the alcohol? It wouldn’t be beer and quite frankly, I don’t think beer would arouse anywhere near the usual passions. We tend to sweep this under the rug because we all know alcohol can fuel destruction.
Scientists have looked into the subject of alcohol consumption and their findings are pretty much what everyone would expect. A couple drinks a day has little effect your health, and arguably, you’ll live longer than those who completely abstain. At some point above two drinks a day, alcohol has a decidedly long term negative effect, although there is considerable debate about about at what level of drinking that occurs. Getting shit faced on a regular basis clearly creates serious long term mental and health problems, as if we needed a bunch of scientists to tell us that. Of course, anyone under the influence of alcohol can do horrific things. I knew someone, a talented physicist with an infectiously vibrant personality, who died one night when she encountered a drunk driver who went the wrong direction down a highway on-ramp and drove head first right into her. She didn’t have a chance.
It’s the alcohol and the responsibility linked to it that gave beer a certain mystique as I grew up. I had my first beer when I was six or seven. My dad would carefully give me small sip of his Rolling Rock he’d enjoy on Saturday afternoons back in the mid-70’s. He later told me he did this prevent beer from becoming a forbidden fruit I might abuse later. Going to church and family picnics, I observed the adults drinking beer while us kids were left to be content with sodas. Of course, we didn’t mind. Sugary sweet soda tasted a lot better than beer and we had no idea why our parents would want to drink the stuff.
Then in my late teens, I started drinking beer with my friends when my dad wasn’t around. It was more of an act of rebellion, of fitting in with the crowd, and part of a rite of passage than any appreciation of the actual taste of the stuff. Back in the 80’s any beer we could get our hands on was pretty stale, skunky and foul tasting. Kids these days are spoiled: When they sneak away to drink beer, I suspect many actually enjoy drinking it.
Fast forward to today and beer is a lot about exploration. I enjoy discovering new breweries, both local and from far away. Brewers continue to push the flavor envelop and I never get tired of their new and wonderful creations. I feel a stronger connection to my home in the San Francisco Bay Area whenever I drink a beer from our many excellent breweries. But sometimes, more often than I’d like to admit, I drink beer to get that buzz.
PS- As to what I would do if beer were no longer an option for me, I would make do with wine.