Jane Austen, Brewer

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I suspect I’m not the only man in the world whose wife loves Jane Austen. And I further would not be surprised to learn that I’m not alone in not feeling quite the same level of joy at every new film or television adaptation of one of her works. (Is that enough “nots” in one sentence?) Oh, I’ve enjoyed a few of the costume dramas, I confess. I thought “Clueless” was quite enjoyable. So I don’t want you to think I’m an irredeemable boor. I’ve suffered through — ahem, I mean seen — most of them, and it’s not been as horrible as, say, “Dallas” or “Knot’s Landing” or any of a number of similar dreck.

But my interest in Jane Austen just shot up 99%, thanks to an article posted by BBC Magazine yesterday, Beer: The Women Taking Over the World of Brewing. It’s a great article all on it’s own, one of the few to treat the subject of women in beer with a decent amount of respect, for a change. But what caught my attention was a sidebar about Jane Austen by alcohol historian Jane Peyton.

It is a truth that should be universally acknowledged — Jane Austen not only drank beer but brewed it too.

As a teenager she would have learned how to make beer by helping her mother in the Hampshire vicarage where she grew up.

Brewing was part of household duties and even the women of genteel 18th Century families such as the Austens would know how to do it, even if the chores were sometimes delegated to domestic staff.

In a letter to her sister Cassandra, Jane wrote “and I that have the great cask, for we are brewing spruce beer again….”

As in most houses small beer (low alcohol) was served at the Austen dining table as a safe source of drinking water for all members of the family — children too — so Jane would certainly have tasted the results of her labour.

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It certainly makes sense, though I’d never really stopped to think about it before. Austen apparently mentioned her brewing efforts in letters to her sister Cassandra. In one of them she mentions small beer while in two others she talks about her spruce beer.

Austen also mentions spruce beer in her 1815 novel, “Emma.”

“But one morning — I forget exactly the day — but perhaps it was the Tuesday or Wednesday before that evening, he wanted to make a memorandum in his pocket-book: it was about spruce-beer. Mr. Knightley had been telling him something about brewing spruce-beer, and he wanted to put it down….”

And according to “Cooking with Jane Austen,” when the Austen family lived at Stoneleigh, her mother wrote about the “mansions ‘strong beer’ and ‘small beer’ cellars.” And Mrs. Austen also “brewed beer at Steventon in the last years of the eighteenth century and at Chawton cottage many years later.”

It almost makes me want to read her again … nah. Still, she’s now a bit more interesting.

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Welcome To My Nanobrewery

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I’m behind the curve on this one, which, although it made a splash last year, I just stumbled on this morning. It’s a pretty funny piece by Denver novelist Jenny Shank that appeared on Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency back in April of last year. Welcome To My Nanobrewery is a hilarious look at an office where every cubicle has its own tiny brewery. Beer Advocate also did an interview with her after her piece was published, and her first novel, The Ringer, won the High Plains Book Award. So if you’re as behind as I am, give it a read. It’s pretty damn funny.

McSweeney-nanobrewery

The Man With The Golden Liver

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Today’s infographic is an odd one, entitled The Man With the Golden Liver. It’s a serious (as far as I can tell) review of the fourteen James Bond books written by Ian Fleming, examining how much alcohol the fictional character James Bond drank. The result of their work (reading novels, mostly) was published in BMJ, the British Medical Journal, under the title Were James Bond’s drinks shaken because of alcohol induced tremor? Here’s what they found:

Results After exclusion of days when Bond was unable to drink, his weekly alcohol consumption was 92 units a week, over four times the recommended amount. His maximum daily consumption was 49.8 units. He had only 12.5 alcohol free days out of 87.5 days on which he was able to drink.

Conclusions James Bond’s level of alcohol intake puts him at high risk of multiple alcohol related diseases and an early death. The level of functioning as displayed in the books is inconsistent with the physical, mental, and indeed sexual functioning expected from someone drinking this much alcohol. We advise an immediate referral for further assessment and treatment, a reduction in alcohol consumption to safe levels, and suspect that the famous catchphrase “shaken, not stirred” could be because of alcohol induced tremor affecting his hands.

So they undertook the examination of the drinking habits of a fictional character and concluded he was a high risk drinker, worrying what consequences might befall him. I’d laugh my head off if the goal didn’t appear to be to warn others not to follow his example and drink too much. Has their been a problem with copycats pretending to be British superspies and binge drinking in the process? And that’s been since 1953, when the first book was published. So it’s been sixty years. You think we’d have seen this epidemic by now. If anything, based on the fact that no one reads books anymore, this has to be a waning problem, if indeed it as ever one to begin with.

To be fair, a number of years ago I did something similar, looking through the Fleming novels for instances when 007 drank beer, which I detailed in a post called James Bond’s Beer. But my goal was entertainment, not science, and I had no aspirations to warm people about unhealthy behavior in a character who wasn’t real. The “scientists” who undertook this “study” even have the cojones to say that “the author Ian Fleming died aged 56 of heart disease after a life notable for alcohol and tobacco excess,” suggesting a connection between the author and his fictional creation. Fleming himself always said that he’d based 007 on a Serbian field agent, Dušan Popov, although there are plenty of other contenders.

Another ridiculous caution is their finding that based on their analysis of Bond’s consumption he would have frequently drove a car with a BAC of 0.08 or above, which they note is above the legal limit in the UK. Except that the last Bond work that Fleming wrote was published in 1966. That’s one full year before the UK passed the Road Safety Act, imposing a BAC percentage. So if we’re continuing this absurd line of reasoning, it doesn’t even work by their own standards. At any rate, it’s an interesting infographic, I could just do without the proselytizing.

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Click here to see the infographic full size.

The Romance Of The Barmaid

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In 1849, a book described as “sketches of life and character, with illustrative essays by popular writers” was published by David Bogue in London. Entitled Gavarni in London , the name comes from the illustrations by French artist Paul Gavarni. They’re apparently drawings that Gavarni did in England, and there are a total of 23 of them, each with an essay by popular writers of the day. There were acrobats, street beggars, thieves along with scenes from the West End, Greenwich Fair and others. There was also one about a Barmaid, the female bartender in the mid-17th century. The Barmaid essay was written by J. Stirling Coyne, who was an English playwright who was similar to Jonathan Swift or Alexander Pope. Open Library has the whole book available online to read, or go straight to The Barmaid to see it in the original, or just read it here below Gavarni’s illustration of The Barmaid.

Coyne-barmaid

THE BARMAID

Who is she that sitteth in the shrine of the temple of Bacchus? — the Priestess of that ancient worship whose mysteries are celebrated in the Halls of Evans. Her brows are crowned with mint and juniper, and her shining tresses curl like the rind of the artfully peeled orange upon her polished shoulders; in her right hand she beareth a bowl of fragrant nectar, and in her left presseth a golden lemon; gas-lights burn brilliantly around her, and the rich odours of Geneva fill the air; pleasantly she smileth upon her customers through clouds of incense wafted from patrician Principes or plebeian Pickwicks, and tempereth the ardency of Cognac with mild modicums from the New River. A legion of kind familiar spirits obey her behests: hers are the refreshing fountains of Soda, and hers the gently-flowing waters of Carrara! Who asks her name? Who knows not the pretty Barmaid — the modem Hebe, whose champagne is not more intoxicating than her aeillades?

Like the moon she never shines with full lustre till night; then she comes out in all the fascinations of satin and small talk — bestowing, with perfect impartiality, a smile upon one admirer, a tender glance upon another, and a kind word or two upon a third; leaving each in the happy belief that he is himself the fortunate individual upon whom she has secretly bestowed her affections. She carries on a flirtation while concocting a sherry-cobbler, accepts a lover in the act of sweetening a glass of toddy, and even permits a gentle pressure of the hand when giving you change out of your sovereign. But all this is selon son metier — a mere matter of business with which the heart has nothing to do.

Thus the Barmaid seems to be a kind of moral salamander, living unharmed in the midst of the amorous furnace in which Destiny has placed her. Long habit has perhaps inured her o this state of insensibility, upon which her safety as well as her happiness depends; but we believe it is an established fact in her history that no Barmaid ever gave away her heart, or permitted it to be sponged from her fingers’ ends, across the counter.

It is during her soiree — when her little court is filled with Gents, swells, and loungers from the theatres, that the Barmaid’s triumph is at its height. Then in the plenitude of her power she flings hack saucy repartees to pert addresses, and generally — for she has the sympathies of her audience with her — turns the laugh against the fool who has the temerity to hazard a skirmish of wit with her.

She has a wonderful acquaintance with all the floating topics of the day, and talks with as much confidence of Sir Robert’s great speech, and Sibthorpe’s last joke as a parliamentary reporter. She thinks the Guards “delightful fellows,” and declares her decided partiality for moustaches; she has a’settled conviction that Jullien is “a duck,” and considers the two mounted Blues at the Horse Guards models of manly and equine beauty.

These, however, are but the general outlines of the portrait : the Barmaid, like the chameleon, takes her local colour from the character of her visitors, and insensibly adopts the professional manners and language of the class in society with which she associates. Thus, at Limehouse she is marine, and in Albany Street military; in the neighbourhood of the Temple, and all about Chancery Lane she talks of sittings, and after-sittings — of caveats, pleas, and demurrers, with the gravity of an old Chancery barrister. In the vicinity of Covent Garden, along the Strand, and up the Haymarket, the Barmaid discourses most eloquently upon things theatrical; she has all the scandal of the green-rooms “by express,” and knows the name of every danseuse who gives Lord So-and-so a seat in her brougham in Hyde Park. She calls Mr. Macready “Mac,” and Buckstone “little Bucky;” she has, moreover, a white satin slipper of Taglioni’s, and a presentation copy of Baugniet’s admirable lithographic portrait of Paul Bedford, with the great creature’s autograph at foot, framed and hung up in the bar. In the Sporting Houses the Barmaid affects the Turf, and confesses, privately, that she has no objection to the Ring. She knows, the names of the favourites for the Derby and Leger, and backs them all round for any amount of gloves, handkerchiefs, ribbons, and other small wares, knowing that if she wins, she will be paid; and, if she loses, she never insults a gentleman by mentioning it. Within the circuit of half-a-mile of the London University the Barmaid is a blue; and if you be not on your guard, you may chance to get floored with a quotation from Horace, or a problem from Euclid. Besides these, there is the medical student Barmaid — near the hospitals; and the musical Barmaid — near the operas; and the artist Barmaid — anywhere; and the newspaper Barmaid — everywhere; with fifty others in various professions, who having picked up a smattering of the subjects they hear continually discussed, talk upon them as fluently, and sometimes quite as sensibly, as their instructors.

Having sketched the Barmaid at home, let us now present her to our readers as she appears abroad. True, her enjoyments beyond the narrow limits of the bar, and that mysterious little back parlour behind it, have been few; she has lived all her life amidst the grimy bricks and tiles of London. But she has an instinctive love of Nature implanted in her heart. The geranium in the little pot on her window-sill, and the flowers that she daily places in water on a shelf in the bar, are touching evidences that her heart has not lost its freshness in the withering atmosphere in which it has been placed.

When her periodical holiday arrives — that anxiously looked-for happy

“________ day that comes between
The Saturday and Monday” —

how joyfully does she prepare for an excursion with “the young man that keeps her company” to Greenwich, or Hampstead, or Rosherville; but most she delights in a trip to Richmond by water. Seldom beats a happier heart than the young Barmaid’s on a fine summer’s morning, when, with a delicious consciousness of liberty — that only those whose patrimony is servitude can taste — she hurries, with her equally happy lover, on board “The Vivid” steamer at Hungerford-pier — trembling lest they should be late, although they are full twenty minutes before the time of starting. During the voyage up, she is in raptures with every object she sees; — the winding banks — the beautiful villas, peeping through thick foliage — the green aits — and the graceful swans, whose snowy plumage acquires a dazzling splendour as they glide in the dark shadow of the overhanging shore. Everything, in short, is brighter and fairer than ever it appeared before. Then there is the landing, and the walk up the hill to the Park — where, seated under an umbrageous chestnut-tree, she gaily unpacks her handbasket, and produces her little feast. Were ever sandwiches so delicious! And the snowy napkin for a table-cloth; and the salt in a wooden lemon, unscrewing at the equator — the prize of some dexterous hand at the popular game of “three throws a penny;” and the morsel of cheese in the corner of an old newspaper; and the white roll; and the something — in the very bottom of the basket, carefully concealed from view — which must not be seen till the fitting moment arrives — and which, after the sandwiches have been dispatched, and a good deal of coaxing and coquetting has been performed, is brought forth, and proves to be a Lazenby’s sauce bottle, full to the cork with — what do you think? — real French brandy — the very best pale we engage too. Of course this cleverly managed little incident gives occasion for fresh laughter, and the lover begins to fancy how pleasant it would be to have a wife who could feel so much solicitude for his comforts; and this thought sinks into his heart as the brandy sinks in the flask; and by the time they have got on board “The Vivid” on their return, he has almost made up his mind to pop the interesting question.

We will not follow the pair to the reserved seat they have secured in a quiet comer of the deck, for there are little mysteries even in the heart of a Barmaid which we hold inviolably sacred. All we are at liberty to divulge is, that the conversation must be deeply interesting; for, when a gruff voice shouts — “Now then! Hungerford! Who ‘s for Hungerford?” as the steamer slowly approaches the pier, she raises her head with the expression of one who has been disturbed from a pleasing dream ; and looking around her exclaims — “Dear me! I declare we’re at Hungerford already!”

*          *          *          *          *          *

“A change comes o’er the spirit of my dream.” — Five years have passed away the girl has become a matron — the pretty Barmaid has ripened into a handsome Hostess. She now stands behind her own bar, the undisputed mistress of her little realm; waiters tremble at her nod, and enamoured Gents get intoxicated upon her smiles. Time has mellowed, but not impaired her beauty — at least not in the estimation of those who measure feminine beauty by the standard of Reubens. The roses on her cheeks have perhaps taken a deeper tint — her abundant hair, wandering no longer in ringlets over her neck, is clustered beneath a cap of the most becoming fashion — the light robe is replaced by the glossy black satin — and a massive gold chain depends from her neck, where the plain ribbon hung before; but she is still the same frank, lively, and kind creature that we always knew her. The Hostess, indeed, is but the perfected Barmaid; — to whose numerous admirers we respectfully dedicate this sketch.

Fantastical Fictive Beer

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Today’s infographic is a cool new poster from Pop Chart Labs. This one, entitled Fantastical Fictive Beer, shows 71 beers used in various fictional setting: movies, television, etc. I don’t know if they used a post I did a few years ago, Fictional Beer Brands in their research, but our lists are pretty similar. It’s a pretty cool poster.

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Click here to see the poster full size.

Seven Bottles In The Life Of The Average Man

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Today’s infographic is a spoof of the Seven Stages of Man, which is detailed in a famous monologue in Shakespeare’s play As You Like It. Created by Dario Suveljak, from Croatia, who called his version 7 Bottles in the Life of the Average Man. It begins with “H2O drinks,” proceeds through “Real-Man drinks,” ending up with “Placebo drinks.” Beer, not surprisingly, represents “Adult man.”

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CLick here to see the chart full size.

John Updike’s Paean To The Beer Can

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Today is one of my favorite author’s birthdays, John Updike. He grew up in the same small Pennsylvania town that I did — Shillington — and we both escaped to a life of writing. Though I think you’ll agree he did rather better than I did with the writing thing, not that I’m complaining. I once wrote to him about a harebrained idea I had about writing updated Olinger stories from the perspective of the next generation (his Olinger Stories were a series of short tales set in Olinger, which was essentially his fictional name for Shillington). He wrote me back a nice note of encouragement on a hand-typed postcard that he signed, which today hangs in my office as a reminder and for inspiration. Anyway, this little gem he wrote for the The New Yorker in 1964 is a favorite of mine and I now post it each year in his honor. Enjoy.

Beer Can by John Updike

This seems to be an era of gratuitous inventions and negative improvements. Consider the beer can. It was beautiful — as beautiful as the clothespin, as inevitable as the wine bottle, as dignified and reassuring as the fire hydrant. A tranquil cylinder of delightfully resonant metal, it could be opened in an instant, requiring only the application of a handy gadget freely dispensed by every grocer. Who can forget the small, symmetrical thrill of those two triangular punctures, the dainty pfff, the little crest of suds that foamed eagerly in the exultation of release? Now we are given, instead, a top beetling with an ugly, shmoo-shaped tab, which, after fiercely resisting the tugging, bleeding fingers of the thirsty man, threatens his lips with a dangerous and hideous hole. However, we have discovered a way to thwart Progress, usually so unthwartable. Turn the beer can upside down and open the bottom. The bottom is still the way the top used to be. True, this operation gives the beer an unsettling jolt, and the sight of a consistently inverted beer can might make people edgy, not to say queasy. But the latter difficulty could be eliminated if manufacturers would design cans that looked the same whichever end was up, like playing cards. What we need is Progress with an escape hatch.

Now that’s writing. I especially like his allusion to the beauty of the clothespin as I am an unabashed lover of clothespins.

In case you’re not as old and curmudgeonly as me — and who is? — he’s talking about the transition to the pull-tab beer can (introduced between 1962-64) to replace the flat punch-top can that required you to punch two triangular holes in the top of the can in order to drink the beer and pour it in a glass.
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The pull-tab (at left) replaced the punch top (right).

Originally known as the Zip Top, Rusty Cans has an informative and entertaining history of them. Now you know why a lot of bottle openers still have that triangle-shaped punch on one end.
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So essentially, he’s lamenting the death of the old style beer can which most people considered a pain to open and downright impossible should you be without the necessary church key opener. He is correct, however, that the newfangled suckers were sharp and did cut fingers and lips on occasion, even snapping off without opening from time to time. But you still have to laugh at the unwillingness to embrace change (and possibly progress) even though he was only 32 at the time; hardly a normally curmudgeonly age.

Jack Kerouac’s Beer Prank

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Today is Jack Kerouac’s birthday, one of the original beat writers, whose most famous work, On the Road, provided the voice for an entire generation. By all accounts he favored margaritas when drinking, and was quoted as saying “Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” After his premature death at 47, he’s continued to be hailed as a great writer. In 1987, John Montgomery compiled and published (through Fels & Firn Press), The Kerouac We Knew, of which only 1500 copies were printed.

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It’s a collection of remembrances, essays and photographs about Kerouac, one of which was entitled “Footnotes from Lowell.” It’s apparently written by the Kerouac family’s paperboy, who was only in his teens when Kerouac died. His (or possibly her) mother worked at the local newspaper, the Lowell Sun, and apparently when she worked the night shift, would occasionally give Kerouac a ride home. The author reminisces with the following tale about one of Kerouac’s beer pranks.

One evening, he persuaded them to stop off at Droney’s Pub on Broadway, his favorite, prior to Nicky’s: maybe in December, 1953. At one point he got off a stool and collected all the empty Harvard Ale bottles (brewed in Lowell, now defunct: Kerouac’s favorite beer, in green bottles with a cork). When he had gathered an armful, he re-stoppered them and one by one and slipped them into the old wood-burning Franklin stove in the center of the floor. The few people who did notice him figured he was just stoking the fire (the only source of heat). After he had filled the stove with 15 or 20 bottles he left the lid off and resumed his silent seat at the bar. Within minutes the pub was transformed into a diminutive Pearl Harbor. Kerouac just sat on his stool, surveying his work, laughing like a madman. This is the kind of escapade for which Jack is remembered in Lowell; escapades that poked fun at Lowell people in a loving way.

Apparently Jack Kerouac was known for his pranks, and this was a favorite one. The author speculates that this was his favorite beer, too, but I can’t find any other evidence for that, so who knows? Still, a fun little story.

Harvard-ale

Next Session A Dickens Of A Topic

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Our 58th Session should be a fun one. Our host, Phil Hardy from Beersay, is apparently hoping for an old-fashioned Christmas this year, and at the top of his list is Charles Dickens’ immortal classic A Christmas Carol. Hardy is attempting to merge the two, which, as Dickens himself said of the goal of his novella in the preface. “I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.” We should all aspire to such heights. The basic idea, which by now you must have guessed, is to write about the beers of Christmas past, present and future, or as Hardy tells it in his announcement post, A Dickens of a Topic for December 2011:

A Christmas Carol

The idea for me was based loosely around the visits of three ghosts to Ebenezer Scrooge, but relayed in a post about the beers of Christmas past, present and future.

What did you drink during Christmas holidays of old, have you plans for anything exciting this year and is there something you’d really like to do one day, perhaps when the kids have flown the nest?

Do you have your own interpretation, was Scrooge perhaps a beer geek?

Or maybe it’s all one day. What will you drink Christmas morning, Christmas afternoon and what will you top off the holiday with that evening?

Just a few examples there, but the idea was to keep the topic as open as possible to allow you free rein to write about a subject with a seasonal twist in whatever way the title grabs you.

My own favorite interpretation of A Christmas Carol is the Bill Murray film Scrooged, which I watch each year without fail, tearing up at the end … every … single … time. There, now you now; I’m a sentimental old fool.

Scrooged

Acid rain. Drug addiction. International terrorism. Freeway killers. Now more than ever, it is important to remember the true meaning of Christmas. Don’t miss Charles Dickens immortal classic; Scrooge. Your life might just depend on it…

Or maybe not, but just to be sure, why not write your Dickensian blog post anyway, and post it up on Friday, December 2.

Session #57: Beer Geek Confessional

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Our 57th Session brings us into the confessional, courtesy of our host, Steve Lamond, from Beers I’ve Known, who magnanimously agreed to fill in for the recently pilfered Pete Brown. Stephanos — Steve’s alter ego — has chosen the topic Beery Confessions: Guilty Secrets/Guilty Pleasure Beer, which he describes as follows:

One of the things I most enjoy about blogs and personal writing in general is the ability to have a window into another’s life, in a semi-voyeuristic way. So I’d like to know your beery guilty secrets. Did you have a particularly embarrassing first beer (in the same way that some people purchase an atrocious song as their first record) or perhaps there’s still a beer you return to even though you know you shouldn’t? Or maybe you don’t subscribe to the baloney about feeling guilty about beers and drink anything anyway?

You’re also welcome to write about bad drinking experiences you’ve had as a result of your own indulgence or times when you’ve been completely wrong about a beer but not yet confessed to anyone that you’ve changed your mind.

Its fairly wide open, take your pick. Variety is the spice of life as they say (and I hope there’s more than 57 of them…)

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Since Stephanos says he likes discovering personal things about his fellow beer bloggers, getting “a window into another’s life, in a semi-voyeuristic way,” I’ll recount my own, vaguely embarrassing first taste of not beer, close in a way, but actually “Near Beer,” non-alcoholic beer that was, believe it or not, aimed at kids when I still was one. In fact, my mother bought me some when I was around twelve and my friends and I tried it one day. It was so bad it’s a wonder I ever tried beer again.

near-beer

I wish I remembered more details about it. I thought the can was silver in color, but I also remember bright colors. Of course, this was the early 1970s so bright colors were everywhere. I’ve written about this before, though I thought I’d remembered more details than I can now, but unfortunately that’s just not the case. Back in November of 2006 I participated for the third, and final time, in NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo is a great exercise for writers. Every November for over a decade, it challenges writers to complete a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. That works out to 1,667 words a day, every day.

That year, I wrote Under the Table, A Fictional Memoir of Growing Up With Beer, the first draft of which is still online. As far as I know, the only people to actually read it were my mother-in-law and Shaun O’Sullivan, from 21st Amendment, who was sick for a good portion of that November in 2006 and needed something to do. The story was a mostly true account of 24 episodes in my life, from the first memories of my parents drinking beer — I grew up with an alcoholic, psychotic stepfather — to my own adventures drinking in New York City in my late teens and early twenties. I chose 24 chapters because that’s a case, and each chapter starts with a particular beer remembered from my childhood as a starting point for my admittedly self-indulgent reminiscences.

Chapter 7, Not So Close, ends with the time my friends and I first tried the truly awful Near Beer.

This was also the same time that I first tried near beer. I don’t remember why my mother bought it for me, but it was in the basement refrigerator with the rest of the real alcohol. Perhaps she was afraid that my stepfather’s influence might turn me into an alcoholic, too, who knows? But some friends and I tried it one afternoon when I was in my early teens, probably around twelve or so. It was truly awful, as I remember it, and I wasn’t the only one. We all hated it. If this was what beer tasted like, I didn’t understand why adults seemed to drink so much of it. But it did seem like so many other aspects of the life I’d imagined for myself. It was as close to beer as my life was to being normal, not even close.

Happily, I didn’t give up on beer and found that it was much better than that first near experience. I continued drinking the somewhat bland regional lagers available in 1970s Eastern Pennsylvania. They offered not much in the way of variety but in retrospect were more varied than beer became in the following decade when consolidation, mergers and takeovers gave us “The Big 3,” with little else to drink. But after joining the Army Band out of high school, I was stationed in New York City. For a musician, the city was a great place to be at that time. It offered endless places to see live music. Although I liked rock & roll, I was a bigger fan of jazz, especially big band. And there was some terrific places to see jazz, a number of them in the village. There were even these private loft clubs in some warehouse district that I couldn’t find today if my life depended on it, but we knew people who knew people and thus had the address to some of these unmarked jazz clubs. Many of the jazz clubs in New York were selling beers like Guinness, Bass and Pilsner Urquell, beers utterly different than anything we had back home. That’s actually the genesis of my own love affair with beer and was also detailed in Chapter 23 of Under the Table, Jazz in the Dark.

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But the confession part of that story is that although I began to learn more and more about beer, and tried as many different ones as we encountered, I continued to drink the familiar regional lagers and even the mainstream national brands when nothing else was available. I hadn’t yet become the annoying beer snob that I am today, when I’ll politely decline a beer if there isn’t anything I deem worthy of drinking at that moment. So there was a good decade where I drank craft beer whenever I could, but wasn’t too fussy when offered something not as tasty. I regret putting social considerations ahead of my taste buds. Of course, I wasn’t as curmudgeonly then, either, and probably had more friends. Is there a connection? Probably.

And one final confession:

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