Beer and rugby are more or less synonymous. — Chris Laidlaw
I like to think of myself as pretty hip. It’s not as if I’m walking around with an iPad or anything, but when it comes to most things, I’m definitely more “early adopter” than “laggard.” I was the first among my group of foodie friends to point out that burrata (a gooey-centered mozzarella) had become the chocolate lava cake of 2009 — the latest “in” food to appear on all restaurant menus.
On the day the iPhone was released in June 2007, I stood in line with David so he could be among the first to pick one up. When something fresh is produced, the sooner I acquire it the better, so that I can get as much use out of it as possible before the next thing comes along, beckoning me with its nerdy siren call. Us early adopters don’t care much for what is; we want to know what’s next.
But one cannot be forever vigilant. As hip as I like to think I am, one recent fad has just about passed me by, and it’s my own damned fault. I was too busy huffing fermented grapes to notice that, to the rest of my comrades who pride themselves on being in the know, beer had become the new wine.
Oh, there had been hints, but I could not fathom beer existing outside of its role as manly social lubricant. High school keggers and college parties fueled by Natural Light had fomented my prejudice against bitter beer.
The first time I went to Blind Lady Ale House in Normal Heights (one of many new beer-centric bars), I ordered a glass of wine. Only now do I realize what a fool I’d been, clinging to my glass of mediocre merlot as I shared pizza with a handful of draft devotees.
Toronado, Pizza Port, Karl Strauss, Stone Brewing, Ballast Point — I was familiar with a number of San Diego’s brew-tastic joints; I’d even eaten at a few of them. But in the past five years, I could remember ordering a beer only once…and David was quick to tell me that didn’t count because “pear cider is not exactly beer.” Speaking of my man, he was way ahead of me on this one — on our last few grocery runs, he’d been skipping the wine section and bringing home strange-looking bottles with even stranger names on the labels, such as Arrogant Bastard, Moose Drool, and La Fin Du Monde (“the end of the world”).
“Where did you find those?” I asked. The only beer brands I knew were the ones I’d passed in the supermarket — the Buds and Coors whose gigantic displays featured digital clocks counting down to the Super Bowl; beers aimed at guys who consider drinking a hobby (with that low-alcohol content, you can pound ’em all day and remain standing long enough to hoot and holler at the television screen in the final minutes of the game).
“Whole Foods,” David said, as he cleared space in the fridge for his bottles. “You know, you might like some of these.”
“I seriously doubt it,” I said.
Because I’m totally down with the slow-food trend, I was quick to RSVP when I caught wind of a “fresh dinner” event happening at Stone Brewing Company in Escondido. Each ingredient from the menu was to be procured from a local farm on the same day as the meal. The chef and his staff drove all over the county to collect fare from eight farms (including Peterson Specialty Produce, Wing Lee Poultry & Meats, Carlsbad Aqua Farm, and Suzie’s Farm).
I don’t really think about breweries making beer. It’s not that I didn’t understand the concept, it’s just that — having never sampled the concoctions from any of San Diego’s 33-odd breweries — I tend to think of them more as restaurants that serve beer than breweries that serve food. It was David who informed me that Stone (makers of that Arrogant Bastard stuff he’d brought home) is favored among “beer geeks,” the malty libation’s version of the “wine snob.” Still, as we drove from Hillcrest to Escondido, it had yet to register that I’d be ordering beer with dinner.
Before we were seated, patrons were allowed into the huge space that houses the fermentation tanks. Each of us received a tall glass of fresh, unfiltered beer, poured right from the tap of the tank. I had one sip and declared it too acrid for consumption. Back in the mingling area, I offered my ration to a guy I’d just met, a naval submarine engineer who reacted as if I’d just handed him a 20-dollar bill.
David assured me that not all beer is bitter and reminded me of the flavored Belgian lambics I’d enjoyed. When the server came around, I trusted David to make my selection for me. There is nothing that David is not particular about, be it liquor (Junipero is his favorite gin, Grey Goose his preferred vodka), wine (Carnival of Love, the Prisoner), or beer (Dark Lord, Bourbon County). He once tasted over a dozen different bottled-water brands in one sitting before settling on the Spanish Mondariz brand (which, he often laments, is no longer attainable here).
“What do you have that’s on the sweet side and not hoppy?” David asked our server, his head gesturing my way, thereby outing me as the beer novice. The server brought me a glass of white ale. I was pleasantly surprised when the refreshing sour/floral flavor paired well with the first course.
David, always looking for new experiences, had ordered a dark and viscous Belgian beer that resembled motor oil (we were informed that Stone’s menu offers an extensive selection of beers they don’t make themselves).
“Try this,” David said, sliding his glass toward me on the dark wood of the table.
“That’s okay, I’m liking this one,” I said.
He nudged the glass closer until it clinked against my plate and said, “Come on, can’t hurt.”
I raised the glass, sniffed at its muddy contents, and brought it to my lips, allowing barely a drop to enter my mouth. I made as if to return the glass but then hesitated and licked my lips as David watched my face. “Is that caramel I’m getting on the aftertaste?”
“Yeah, I can see that,” David answered. “I was also getting a hint of fruit. And maybe chocolate.”
This time, I took a much bigger sip and allowed the liquid to linger on my tongue. It was only after David cleared his throat that I realized I had been reluctant to return his glass. Finally, I slid it back over to him and uttered words I never thought I’d hear myself say: “I think I’ll have another beer.”