A Beer In The Hand Is Worth…What?
Last Friday evening, I had what British beer writer and All About Beer Magazine contributor Pete Brown calls a “beer moment,” or “The moment—for me—is relaxation, reward, release, relief and refreshment. It’s a moment to savour, a moment of mateship, potential, fulfilment [sic], anticipation, satisfaction, and sheer bliss.” Daniel Bradford, publisher of All About Beer Magazine, recognizes these occurences when “[t]he conversation never falters and the decibels remain appropriate. In every pair of hands lurks a fine beer. The bonds of common interests and passions make buying these pints grist to a mill, the furtherance of a shared goal.”
I had just finished running the Rock 2 Rock Trail Run, which was named one of the top trail races in the South and comes with the warning, “You will not be able to run the entire course.” (They were correct.) After the awards ceremony, I met Brian Simpson, co-owner of Riverbend Malt House in Asheville, NC, down the road for a pint at Pisgah Brewing Company in nearby Black Mountain. We pulled up stools to the taproom bar and ordered two pints of Pisgah’s newest beer, Steep Canyon Ale.
Steep Canyon, named for local bluegrass band Steep Canyon Rangers and released at a recent concert held in the brewery’s outdoor venue, is an extra pale ale brewed with Riverbend’s malt. It was the perfect beer for post-exertion relaxation (and recovery)—light body, low-ABV, moderately bitter and local. And by local, I mean it was brewed fifty feet from our bar stools using malted grains that were grown within the state and hand-raked by the guy sitting beside me at 2 a.m. one morning twenty miles down the road.
Without a worry in the world, Brian and I sat there and savoured (I’ll use Pete’s spelling) the beer while conversing about everything from mountain running to the future of micro-maltsters to new family life. Several other runners, including the winner, also trickled into the brewery to pick up growlers for the Memorial Day weekend or to enjoy a beer on the outdoor patio in the gorgeous western North Carolina weather. In fact, I started to feel what Garrett Oliver calls “pre-sad,” which is when you realize that the experience will soon end.
But was this a “beer moment” at all or simply a “moment”? Alan McLeod, editor of A Good Beer Blog, addresses Pete’s post by writing that “[t]here is no beer moment. There are moments. In life. In your life. Beer does not change the moment even when it is present within it. Don’t let the ad men fool you.” Pete responds, “If advertising were as powerful as Alan thinks it is, every last one of you would now be drinking Budweiser and Stella Artois, and nothing else. And you wouldn’t be as happy with beer as you obviously are. Talking about the context, the emotions and the companionship, does NOT mean you don’t care about what you drink… It simply means that beer is one part of a healthy, joyful life.”
Would my experience after the race at Pisgah with Brian and the other patrons last Friday evening have been the same had there not been two pints of beer in front of us (setting aside that we likely would not have been at a brewery if he did not intend to have beer)? If all other conditions remained the same—timing after running the race, environment, weather and discussions—as we shared glasses of water, would I be writing about it? No.
Pete writes that beer is “different from the moment you drink wine or spirits—it’s more egalitarian, more sociable. It’s not just about the flavour, nor the alcohol. It’s about the centuries of tradition and ritual, the counterpoint to an increasingly stressful life, and the commonality, the fact that it means the same thing to so many.” That’s why there were a handful of the top finishers from the race in the brewery that night.
Stan Hieronymus notes that the best time he had the recent Craft Brewers Conference “had nothing to do with beer….Alan’s right because it was simply a moment that would have been no different if I hadn’t had a beer in my hand. And I thought, Pete’s right because I did have a beer in my hand.”
In my case, I had a beer in my hand on Friday, and I’m grateful I did.