New Blog Name, No New Tattoo

Everyone I’ve consulted with about getting a tattoo advised me to consider it for weeks if not months, given its personal intimacy and permanence. I suppose a blog name is not quite a tattoo, but “Bay Area Beer Runner” has seemed like a tattoo I picked up on a drunken whim at 2am in the morning. It was chosen under some duress, and I’ve never been quite comfortable with the contrived, slightly cartoonish name.

So after weeks of consideration, I’ve decided to change the blog name again, hopefully for the last time, to Ramblings of a Beer Runner. Can’t say if the new name is like getting a tattoo I’m really proud of, since I’ve never actually gotten a tattoo.

Forced analogies aside, hope you’ll come to read and enjoy my ramblings.

Talking About Beer with My Autistic Son

(With April as National Autism Awareness Month, I start the month by showing how autism affects a simple conversation about beer.)

My son Brandon doesn’t talk much. He doesn’t look me in the eye all that often, either. He’s been diagnosed with autism, and doesn’t act like most nine year old kids. A lot of smart people have worked hard for decades trying to understand why autistics are the way they are, and they still don’t have a lot of answers. What they say is it’s likely Brandon cannot organize sensory information very well, and so experiences everything a lot differently than you and I. This affects his ability to make sense of things in his world, and may be why speech is difficult for him.

Even though Brandon and I don’t talk much, we’ve had a few conversations about beer. Four years ago, he learned the words “yummy” and “yucky”, and so a few times I dipped my finger in a beer, gave him a taste, and asked him whether he thought the beer was “yummy” or “yucky”. I got back a definitive, high pitched “Yucky” every time. More recently, he’s been learning to divide flavors into categories such as “sweet”, “sour”, “salty”, “savory”, and “bitter”. And so now when I give him a small taste of beer and ask him how it tastes, he will correctly describe it as “bitter”.

When you consider that discussions about beer is a big part of the social glue holding the craft beer community together, you’ll realize what an important step Brandon has taken. Talking about how each beer tastes, the favorite beers we’ve had, and why we like certain beers, is a big way in how connect with each other. It brings us into a larger community, with all he warm fuzzy feelings we get when we feel part of something larger than ourselves. Who wants to drink beer all alone and not talk to anyone about it?

There was a time when Brandon was pretty happy spending hours sitting in a corner, rolling a toy car back and forth. Maybe it was a sense a order it provided, or a certain predictability he couldn’t find any other way. I know very little about what is going on in my son’s world, as he experiences things I can’t possibly imagine, which he certainly can’t tell me about. But through therapy and education, Brandon is starting to join our world, as his brain goes through essentially a re-wiring process, neuron by neuron, where the repetitive motions and sensations he used to crave are being slowly replaced by social stimulation like an emphatic “Good job!” or high fives. Brandon can now be prompted to talk about his favorite foods, TV shows, games, and books rather than looking at me with a blank stare and retreating into his own quiet corner. Through simple discussions like those we have about beer, our worlds begin to overlap.

Will Brandon and I discuss the fruity esters or the malt-hop balance of our favorite beer someday? Probably not. But I believe our small talks give Brandon the will to communicate more with our world.

Checking Out The Tap at the Haverhill Brewery

The first thing you need to know about Boston suburb of Haverhill is how to correctly pronounce it. On a recent trip in the Boston area, I was asking around about a place I kept calling “HAVE-er-hill”. No wonder all the helpful Bostonians were giving me funny looks. I finally learned that it’s actually pronounced something like “HAY-ver-ill”. At any rate, once I figured out how to get to the The Tap at the Haverhill Brewery,which lies about 30 miles north of Boston, I navigated through the twists and turns of Interstate 495, before exiting River Street. Heading south of River Street past typically tired suburban strip malls, I finally arrive at a cluster of fortress-like stone buildings which appears to be the heart of the city’s downtown business district.

It was a quiet Tuesday evening, and a few of the buildings looked totally closed or under renovation. That said, a few people were out, and a few other restaurants were open. It’s hard to pass through a new place in the darkness and draw a whole lot of valid conclusions, but I just getting the sense this part of Haverhill was undergoing a slow urban renewal and the brewpub I was about to enter was a part of this regeneration.

The Tap itself is at the ground floor of one of these buildings, and with it’s old wooden floor and bare brick wall interior, blends right in. On the left side of the place is a dining room, where no more than three people were seated that evening, so I head over to the bar on my right. More than a few people turn around to look at me, but once they realize it’s nobody they know, they turn back around and go back to their beers. I grab a table, get an order of onion rings, before a dinner of beef short ribs, and start trying out some of their beers. Here’s a brief rundown of what I tried.

Scotchtoberfest
The 2.9% abv listed should have been a bit of a yellow flag. That’s really low, especially for this style, and as one might predict, this was a very thin beer. But when I concentrated hard, there was a light smokiness there with the slightly caramelized malt, and a pleasant earthiness at the finish. Of course, with little malt opposing it, the carbonation was pretty tingly on the tongue. I enjoyed the underlying flavor, and just wish it didn’t seem so watered down here.

Swanny Boy Maple Porter
OK, now we’re talking. The maple flavor is pronounced, but merges well in the roasty malt goodness of the porter. A very smooth, flavorful, and drinkable session beer.

Triptych
I just had a sampler tasting of this Belgian Triple, so I didn’t take any notes on this one. But I found it rather tasty.

Joshua Norton’s Imperial Stout
Rich and complex, with noticeable bitter chocolate flavors and just a little bit of sweetness. Another very smooth drinkable beer and a great beer to end the evening with.

BevMo! Holiday Beer Fest

Announcing the first ever BevMo! Holiday Beer Fest to be held at Fort Mason, Herbst Pavilion in downtown San Francisco on Sunday November 15th, 2009 from 1pm to 4pm.

According to Jeff Moses, the event organizer, it’s for beer connoisseurs everywhere to come and taste over Holiday, Seasonal & Special, soon-to-be-released, Beers for the 2009 California-style winter season. In case there was any confusion, the event is not limited to “winter warmer” seasonals, as he cited well over 30 styles he expects to be available at the event.

According to Jeff, “the beauty of the event for attendees is to taste all the holiday beers and other many other great beers (including many, many Belgians(there will be at least 100 special beers to taste), all in one place.”

Tickets are $35, and more information and online purchasing can be found at www.nightthatneverends.com/bevmo_holiday.html

Lower the drinking age?

There’s an interesting article on the CNN website, which argues for a lower drinking age. You can read it here, with the gist of the argument seeming to say that a lower drinking age coupled with more regulation and intervention is the best way to limit binge drinking at an early age. You can also participate in a discussion on the topic on Mario Rubio and Peter Estaniel’s latest Hopions.