is an award winning
member of the North
American Guild of Beer
Writers. His column
Adventures in Beerland
is now a regular feature of
|When a lifelong beer lover, craft connoisseur, award winning writer, and colleague recommends a place to visit I
listen. The person in question is none other than BeerNexus’ own Dan Hodge and the place he recommended for
reasons you will see, shall remain nameless.
It’s not unusual for Dan to suggest going to a certain bar or to have people ask him what pub he recommends. What
was different this time was the reason for his selection. It wasn’t because the beer was great, or above average, or
even mediocre. It was because the beer was, according to him, the worst he’s had in recent memory. In fact the
beer was so bad that Dan, to his own utter dismay, left half filled glasses on the bar. And, as he pointed out, that is
something in nearly five decades of drinking beer he’s never done before. At that point I noticed a small tear slowly
appear under his eye. It was heartbreaking. Oh the humanity, oh the beer.
The question of course is why would this titan of tippling tout bad beer? Ah, therein lays the mystery despite Dan
saying it wasn’t one at all. His reason was straightforward – “the beer is so bad you’ll have fun there.” At first I
thought that makes as much sense as a 12 ounce pound cake, diet ice cream, or sanitary landfill. Upping the ante,
Dan added it was a bargain at only $6 for a flight of 4 four oz. tasting glasses. Now $6 is indeed a good price for
almost anything including beer but how can drinking inexpensive bad bee at a brewery or any other place be fun?
At first, like any sane person would, I laughed at Dan’s contention. I then checked the calendar to see if it was
April Fools Day. It wasn't. He was serious. Then it struck me that maybe, perhaps, possibly he could be right. After
all, he is the Dan Hodge. In the many years I’ve known him Dan has been right just about everything. To doubt him
would be akin to doubting the veracity of the fact that in 1923, jockey Frank Hayes won a race at Belmont Park in
New York despite being dead — he suffered a heart attack mid-race, but his body stayed in the saddle until his horse
crossed the line for a 20–1 outsider victory or that some fruit flies are genetically resistant to getting drunk — but
only if they have an inactive version of a gene scientists have named "happy hour" or that the top of the Eiffel Tower
leans away from the sun, as the metal facing the sun heats up and expands. It can move as much as 7 inches. In
other words when Dan speaks, I do more than listen, I believe.
The brewery in question is not located in the usual industrial park but in prime real estate - an upscale New Jersey
suburb. The town is Cranford presumably named after multiple cranberry bogs and a Ford manufacturing plant
despite the fact that neither are remotely near it. Even more, it’s in the heart of the shopping district, directly across
from a train station that brings throngs of daily commuters to Gotham on the Hudson itself.
On the outside the brewery looks like a storefront fast food place ready for a visit from Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive-Ins,
and Dives. Inside the bar /tasting room has about 20 seats with a few high top tables nearby. Behind the bar is the
standard chalk board listing the various offerings. In the rear, in front of the brew house, are the rest rooms which
are distinguished by the fact that there’s a dart board on a nearby wall which, during a hotly contested match, makes
for a pointed gantlet for any relief seeking drinker.
When I arrived the place was fairly crowded with smiling, drinking people. Either they were all in on the joke or they
knew more about fun than they did beer. I was greeted by a polite and efficient bartender who seemed happy I
ordered a flight. I picked what sounded like the least offensive beers but noticed that the Brown Ale Dan had singled
out as the worst of the worst had a new name, Sour Brown Ale. Better to change the name than dump a batch I
guess. First the good news - each of my glasses contained liquid. The bad news was that the liquid was their beer.
One was terrible, one ghastly, one abhorrent, and thankfully one was simply unpleasant.
I took a couple of sips of each, moving uniformly down the line of glasses while looking at my fellow brewery patrons.
I wondered why they had come, how they could order refills with a straight face, and where they got the fortitude to
drink full pints of this stuff. It was people watching at its best or maybe worst.
I sipped a bit more and noticed I was actually having fun trying to figure it all out.
It would have been easy to say the place was popular because the beer was relatively cheap, but I wondered if there
was something more happening before my eyes. What if these people actually liked this beer because, it’s, well,
bad? It is possible. They just might be the same people who think their iPad is a phone, have a Miley Cyrus tattoo
over their heart, and believe Lance Armstrong was the first man on the moon.
Then again maybe it was all “camp” like Adam West’s Batman TV series of the late 1960s. Tell us again, Batman:
"It's obvious. Only a criminal would disguise himself as a licensed,
bonded guard yet callously park n front of a fire hydrant." "Salt and corrosion. The infamous old enemies of the
crime fighter". "Bartender, a bit of advice. Always inspect a jukebox carefully. These machines can be deadly." Ah,
Batman, TV camp's finest moment.
Camp in essence celebrates the spectacular failures of things. Was I having fun doing just that? All it takes is a
ludicrous sensibility and no don’t ask me to explain that. I just wanted to put two words together you don’t often see.
Sometimes a simple explanation is the best one. Bad taste or not, the beer had
alcohol in it. Maybe everyone there was sufficiently sloshed to be enjoying themselves.
After a few more sips it struck me that drinking beer here might be a freeing sort of experience. Its unapologetic lack
of quality (“would you like another flight, sir?” the bartender said with total sincerity) seemed to give a drinker license
to abandon any expectation of “quality.” It was as if each person there was having fun embracing the absurdity
(tragedy?) of what we were doing. On a subconscious level maybe they were also taking a stand against people who
like to drink good craft beer, seek it out, and read BeerNexus. Were they calling us beer snobs to our face despite
neither of us realizing it?
Being in a working brewery drinking their fresh product has a certain level of intoxicating industrial kitsch that comes
with the physical territory. You won’t find martinis, fine wines, or umbrella cocktails being served, just a basic staple
of life made with the sort of intense labor that would make our forefathers proud. Be the product of this labor good
or bad is beside the point. Maybe the whooping and hollering of those knocking down beer after beer was not in
celebration of this particular beer, but the greatness of beer in general.
And yes, those last few paragraphs are total horse manure. I have no idea how anyone could drink that stuff.
You can only have so much fun. I was ready to leave despite still having beer in two of my glasses. The ever
attentive,bartender asked if I was really going. As I nodded yes, he pointed to a gentleman standing near the dart
board. “That’s the brewer. Would you like to meet him before you go?” A polite but firm “no thank you” was made
more palatable to him by a decent tip. He smiled and I was on my way.
If I hurried I could still make it to one of my favorite breweries, Wet Ticket, before they close. It is only 4 miles away.
Their beer is really good. I hope that doesn’t mean I’m not going to have any fun there.
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