is a two time winner of
the Quill and Tankard
writing award from the
North American Guild of
Vince's column is now
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|Goodbye and a semi-fond farewell to beer year 2016. One thing I’m sure about the past 365 days is that I did my
part to help, as much as my liver could, the financial well being of the brewing industry in general and a multitude of
pub owners and bartenders in particular. By a semi-precise accounting I enjoyed over 500 different beers this year.
Actually it was a lot more but I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea and think I’m either bragging or asking for an
intervention or both.
For those living in the 21st century it may be hard to believe that keeping track of every beer consumed is a difficult
feat. After all how hard is it to take out a cell phone, snap a picture, and make a quick notation on Untapped or a
similar beer recording website? The answer– not at all. However I proudly have two feet planted in the 19 century (I
just look young) when it comes to high tech. In fact we can go back more than a few centuries for my recording
method of choice – pen and paper.
Laugh if you will but not only do I use a pen, I write in script thanks to a classical education (Miss Liss in 3rd grade
would be proud). That skill enables me to boldly carry two ball point pens in my pocket at all times. It’s a wise
precaution; after all, you never know when a stray beer might show up that needs recording.
You’d be surprised how many people in a bar (at least those who use fake ID to get in) ask “what’s that?” when I click
the top of my silver and gold toned, ball point ersatz official Biro Company pen. I don’t mind the question but if the
person is using a really annoying, mocking tone I answer by telling them that the first patent on a ballpoint pen was
issued on October 30, 1888, to John J Loud. But It wasn’t until 1938, when László Bíró, a Hungarian newspaper
editor, with the help of his brother George, a chemist, began to work on designing new types of pens including one
with a tiny ball in its tip that was free to turn in a socket that magic happened. That historical lecture is usually enough
to get even the most persistent questioner to turn away or at the very least fall asleep.
By the way, if you ever intend to follow my example and use a pen at a bar it’s important to know that the ball pen was
initially advertised as the only device which could write under water. There were actually demonstrations witnessed
by huge audiences to prove just that. Well if it could write under water it should be able to write under beer so surely
you see its value at a bar. I rest my case (and no, I wasn’t calling you Shirley).
It should be noted that a pen is far better than a pencil for writing down just about anything. Every pencil I pick up
seems to have a worn nub at the end. And without a point there is no point to it. The "lead" pencil (I’m required
to say it contains no lead) was invented in 1564 when a huge graphite (black carbon) mine was discovered in
Borrowdale, England. The pure graphite was sawn into sheets and then cut into square rods. The graphite rods were
inserted into hand-carved wooden holders, forming pencils. Wait, don’t turn away or fall asleep, that just slipped out.
As you might have guessed every pen needs a complimentary item for effective beer recording. Initially that item for
me was the bar napkin. They are usually handy, abundant, and most importantly free. They worked well for awhile
until I was beer hunting while having a cold. A few sneezes can make any writing, no matter the quality of the pen,
illegible. It was also easy to simply forget when a napkin was in my pocket. It's light, unobtrusive, and easily hidden
under loose change, old mints, and lint. Once forgotten it’s next stop is the laundry basket. I’m convinced that
several Pulitzer Prize winning articles I wrote were torn to shreds by an uncaring washing machine.
Fortunately beer people are kind and caring. Seeing my ongoing battle to effectively write down every new and
different beer I was drinking several companions offered sage advice. Brian said to simply check off the beer on the
bar’s menu then take it. Good idea but what do I do when the beer menu is written on a blackboard? Glenn said to
memorize each beer using word association. That didn’t work. I forgot the words I was supposed to remember to
remember the beers. John, using insights from his job as manager of a Verizon store, said to just buy a new phone.
Then one day Santa came to say…… look at what I put on your bar stool. Yes, there on my regular seat (third from
the left, far corner near the TV) I found a packet of 3 small pads or more accurately “Pocket Size Memo Notebook -
50 Sheets - Printed - Wire Bound 3" x 5" - White Paper - Assorted Colors”. Say what you will about Santa but he is
one smart North Polian to have figured out the definitive answer to my dilemma.
I took out the first pad – it featured a black design of flowers and what looked like dainty swirls. Admittedly not quite
macho but it was easy enough to flip the cover over should circumstances demand. The pad itself worked like
magic. Every time pen touched paper ink was delivered. I was able to write down the date, the place, the beer and a
few tasting notes without concern or (sorry John) a smart phone.
Getting lucky with a few winning tips to the dismay of my bookie, ah, that’s broker, I had enough cash to go to my
local Walli- Mart (currently being sued for copy write infringement) to take advantage of their super sale – 55 pounds
of memo notebooks – they don’t count them, they just weight them. Faster check out that way. While 55 pounds
may seem like a lot you’d be surprised how fast each page fills up. I noticed that’s especially true when after several
pints it takes two pages just to scribble “a-l-e”.
Unfortunately you do get what you pay for. The no name Walli Mart pads are a bit flimsy. Surgical gloves are far
thicker than the covers and they in turn are like their manhole topping cousins compared to the paper. Press down
too hard with the pen and you’ve ripped into at least three sheets. Try to avoid that by writing oh so gently and you’ll
have invisible writing worthy of any international spy with the exception that yours will stay invisible.
Once a pad is filled I carefully stack it next to my fully indexed and cross referenced file of note filled napkins. For
fast access I use the Dewey Cheatem and Howe Decimal System which was once the rage in Library Science circles.
Following local health regulations I place any napkin used for even the smallest sniffle in a hermetically sealed
Time to admit my one concession to modern technology. I eventually put all information from any source on a
spreadsheet courtesy of Google Docs. I can then easily tell you when, where, and how good any beer I’ve had in the
past 6,500 is. Unfortunately no one has ever asked.
There was one incident that just might get you to appreciate my traditional methodologies. I was at a bar recently
when my friend took out his phone to record his latest beer. Shockingly, it didn’t work; the battery was dead. As he
struggled to accept the reality of the situation I took a pen out of my pocket, held it high,nodded my head toward it
I wrote the beer down and gently reminded him I could do it even under water.
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