Vince Capano is a two time winner of the Quill and Tankard national writing award for humor from the North American Guild of Beer Writers.
Vince's column is now a regular feature of beernexus.com
Ten Beer Things You Really Must Do
That’s all I can stand, I can’t stands no more. I’ve just read the umpteenth beer magazine article about the “100 best places to order a beer”, the “50 greatest beer pubs”, the “ultimate list of the ultimate beer things”, and yes, even “the greatest pub urinals”, complete with pictures. Each of these ‘best of’ and ‘things you have to do once in your life’ type articles share two common traits – a pretentiousness that belies the universal appeal of beer and an arrogance that would shame even "the most interesting man in the world".
These masterpieces of bad beer writing say we, the underprivileged beer loving average folk, really can’t appreciate the true greatness of beer unless we have a pint in some obscure Belgium monastery, a tiny pub in a thousand year old town in Bavaria, a real French farmhouse, or Peruvian archaeological dig (that one requires your beer be from a centuries old recipe you found the day before). Sadly, if you’re like me you’ve never done any of those and don’t even plan on doing them by the end of next week. Yet you still like and enjoy beer. Well, for all of us grassroots beer folk here’s my list of the ten best things we could do to earn our citizenship in Beerland.
Number Ten- enjoy a cask ale poured from a hand pump. I don’t care if you drink it in a pub in Manhatten, KA or Manhattan, NY. It also doesn’t matter if your bar stool has a padded arm rest or is just a bench. A fresh pint of cask conditioned ale will take care of everything. If you haven’t had one search it out. You may have to drive a few miles, but I guaranteed you won’t need a passport to find a place that dispenses true real ale. To further enhance this experience enlist the help of the person next to you. Have them ask “how can you drink that? It looks flat and I heard it’s served warm. And I don’t think it’s even made by Anheuser-Busch." Then just smile and enjoy being the one who's in on the secret for a change.
Number Nine – get a great craft beer at happy hour prices. Needless to say, bad beer at a cheap price is never a bargain, but a $2 pint of Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA or Stone Arrogant Bastard is as good as not being able to fill your car up with gas at $3 a gallon because you just did at $2.15. Great beer deals are around. The Office, a New Jersey restaurant chain, has one such happy hour, as do Jersey brewpubs Pizza Uno and JJ Bittings. As an added bonus, they can’t tell time. Their hour is 180 minutes.
Number Eight – have your beer served in a English Imperial pint (20 oz) instead of the 16 oz. American version. Twenty-five per cent more, is a treat, plain and simple. Admittedly, the only thing imperial in some bars is the margarine they try to pass off as butter but with a little effort you’ll surely find a big glass using pub. Here’s a tip- any Irish bar worth their shamrock will only serve Guinness in an Imperial pint sizes. One word of warning however, there are ersatz Imperial pint glasses out there. These travesties, some even with Guinness logos, are being filled in defiance of every major American truth-in-beer-serving- law currently on the books. Ok, maybe there aren’t any of those laws, but there surely should be. Case in point, on a recent trip to Easton, PA, I was served Guinness at an “Irish” pub in a fake glass, by a barmaid with a fake anatomy, while the juke box played Danny Boy…as sung by the Screaming Trees. I think dishonesty is contagious.
Number Seven - Make your own beer at least once. Hey, if it turns out to be palatable you’ll be thrilled and if it’s undrinkable you’ll have a better appreciation of the quality product from craft brewers. It’s a win-win deal. However, if your product inches past the swill quality level this still does not mean you can call yourself a home-brewer. Most of those people actually know what they’re doing. All I’m suggesting is that you just buy a Mr. Beer kit, which according to the manufacturer will allow “ anyone not from Mars or Venus to make real beer”. That, in the writing world, is called literary license. Still, whether you brew in a sack or plastic mini-keg, the result will make you smile. You can’t ask for more than that.
Number Six – have one beer logo glass in your house that is only used for beer. While true aficionados have a distinct glass for each style of beer all I’m asking is that you anoint a single one as your all-purpose beer chalice. No one touches it. No liquid other than beer will ever be poured in it. No soda, coffee, tea, wine, or even water will ever spill onto its interior. Well, maybe water, but only the bottled variety. The glass will always be carefully washed but not with soap. Sorry, but soap residue inhibits the beer’s head from properly forming. That cannot be allowed. The glass will be stored in plain sight as a symbol of your appreciation of beer.
A wine snob would ever drink their preferred beverage from an inappropriate vessel so neither should you. And for the romantics out there, sorry, drinking beer out of anyone’s shoe is also out.
Number Five – Drink beer that comes from a bottle with a cork. W.C. Fields may have been on to something one afternoon when he said “What contemptible scoundrel has stolen the cork to my lunch?” I guarantee you’ll find that cork is used to seal every $500 and up bottle of wine so it’s obvious that when it’s used on a beer something special is going on. The beer may likely be a Belgium or an iconoclastic offering from a noted craft brewer, but the odds are it will be memorable. Just remember, Miller Chill uses a twist off cap – enough said.
Number Four- collect at least 10 beer mats and bottle labels. On one level you will be the owner of some desirable artwork that you can bring to the next taping of PBS’Antique Road Show. On another level you will see that the beer culture is indeed just that, a culture. The beer world is obviously about beer but it’s also about classic names, flamboyant designs, witty slogans, and in the case of the mats, neatness. Even more, since every label’s design has been approved by the government, you are in possession of an item that in one sense reaches back to the ideas of our founding fathers. History is indeed priceless.
Number Three – go on a brewery tour. Macro or micro, it doesn’t matter. See how the beer is really made. Get free samples. See the big silver vats. Get free samples. Watch the bottle filling machine. Get free samples. Step over hoses and in beer puddles. Drink free samples. Even more, you get free samples!
Number Two- thank a brewer. If there were no brewers we’d have no beer. That alone merits our sincere gratitude. Furthermore, brewers do not enter the field to get rich. The job simply doesn’t pay that much. These hearty souls put their love of beer ahead of their quest to buy the house next door to Bill Gates. Think of them as members of the Mother Theresa guild of BeerLand. Even worse for a brewer is that their work is instantly judged by an often clueless public. Here in New Jersey, where Coors Light outsells every other beer made, clueless is indeed king.
When you thank a brewer it not only shows you have good manners it shows you do care in a way that an accountant cannot quantify. So, the next time you see a brewer at a bar, buy him/her (yes the first brewers were mainly women) a beer. Just be sure it’s theirs.
Number One – We’ve finally reached Number Uno, the top dog, the big enchilada, the Budweiser of the list. If you only do one thing this is it. This one is so big we can’t have just anyone know about it so I’m putting it in code: 2-21-25-2-5-5-18-14-5-24-21-19-20-19-8- 9-18-20. To break the code all you need is an official decoder bottle opener. The opener has a dial which will translate the numbers into letters and allow you to read the top secret message meant just for you. To get your very own decoder opener send in at least five beer labels (see number four above) and the decoder is yours. What’s this….management forgot to order the official decoder beer bottle openers? Ok, ok……I’ll tell you. I confess it’s just a lousy commercial: “Buy BeerNexus T-Shirt”.
And no, that’s not a rip-off of The Christmas Story. It’s going to be part of my book, The Beer Story.