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Session #20: Beer Memories

This being our 20th monthly Session a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, it’s a wonder I can remember when we started. Ray Merkler and Melissa Ward can though, and they’re the hosts of this month’s Session. They run The Bathtub Brewery and have chosen this month’s topic, or at least that’s my memory. The way they put it is:

Is there a beer that reminds you of a specific memory?

If you’re thinking, “Huh?” then you might want to craft your response along the lines of “Whenever I drink [insert brew here] it reminds me of that day …” Or perhaps it’s the reverse. Oooooh.

There are really so many to choose from, and as a result this month it’s difficulty to try to decide what to write about. A few Sessions ago, the topic was “How Did It Start For You?” and that post was all memories in the form of a semi-fictional memoir I’d written as a part of NaNoWriMo, entitled Under the Table. The book is filled with memories of beer growing up in many forms. There was seeing the adults in my life drink it, trying for myself and getting into all sorts of mischief in its thrall.

The fact that almost every moment of my life involves beer in some way, and increasing so, seems extraordinary upon reflection. It certainly isn’t something anyone sets out to champion, not as a child certainly, yet I was drawn to beer with a curious fascination as long ago as my memories take me. But that’s just the way I’m wired. I’ve never been a passive consumer. If something interests me, I have to learn all about it and often wind up very involved in even creating it or advocating for it. As a result, I can bore you on any number of topics. Really. Don’t for a moment think I can’t find a topic that make your eyes roll back in your head that I could talk about endlessly. Or it would at least seem that way.

For me, music tends to spark more vivid memories, though beer and music are often inextricably linked. If, for example, I hear Paul McCartney’s Listen What the Man Said, I can actually smell the pork sandwiches I ate every day the summer I was fourteen, which I spent working in my stepfather’s car repair shop. In fact, I was just telling this same story to Lew Bryson just a hour ago, and now I can’t get that damned song out of my head.

As for beer, it’s unfortunately a bit more cloudy. Genesee Cream Ale — Genny to everyone, since we were on an intimate basis with her — revives vague and general memories of high school parties, autumn leaves piled high on the street, football games and loose women. It was one of our beers of choice, when we could manage to get it, and the one more of the girls seemed to like — a fact we recognized as a plus.

I can, however, tell you the circumstances under which I tried a certain beer for the first time, but that’s not particularly revealing. There’s no romance to those memories, just the cold hard facts of where and when. It’s pure data, not the sensory impressions and reminisces that I think should properly inspire a good memory.

But if that data also includes the people I was drinking it with then that’s a whole different ballgame. This is where beer’s status as social lubricant really shines. Once that piece of the puzzle fits into place, then the dominoes (sorry to mix my metaphors and cliches) of those memories begin to fall. Because I think in the end, beer is — like most things in life — all about the people you share it with. The beer is merely the catalyst for the memory, who said or did what and to whom, what made you laugh, and how that experience grew friendships or relationships is why you want to remember that time at all.

Sure, there are memories best left forgotten, but as long as you learn from a bad experience, they’re still valuable. And it really is true that most things, while not funny in that moment, become hilarious with the passage of time. I have a friend who broke both her wrists falling off a curb. Tragic then, comedy fodder today. How she managed it is still something of a mystery.

But okay, put a gun to my head. I guess my favorite memory comes whenever I have a beer from the Tied House, with locations in San Jose and Mountain View, California. The San Jose location was a stone’s throw from where I was working downtown in the early 1990s. I’d met a woman working on the same floor as me, and asked to go for a drink after work. Thinking I would like to ask her out on a proper date, I first ordered her a taster in the brewpub’s back garden area and tried her on craft beer, something foreign to her at the time. Her reaction was very positive and she was receptive and open to the experience as I had hoped, and I asked her out on the spot. Two years later, we held our wedding reception on the very same spot, running up the largest bar tab I’ve ever paid. And twelve years later still, she still loves craft beer nearly as much as I do. Tasting any of the beers from the Tied House fills me at once with all of the wonder that the simple decision to know Sarah better has brought to my life, to say nothing of Porter and Alice, the two wonderful children we’ve had together. Now that’s a powerful memory for me and magic in a glass of beer.


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