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Thursday, February 23, 2012

The sublime art of beer appreciation

Here's a column I wrote for The Kansas City Star's Northland Neighborhood News. It ran on Wednesday, Feb. 22 and is reprinted with permission.

By David Knopf
Special to The Star

The fact that I’m not a beer drinker is a good thing. I’m not sure I could find room for another messy habit.
I do drink a beer now and then, but the timing has to be perfect. A hot, dusty bout with the lawn is a good bet, but not surefire.
Given my ambivalence, I’m not sure why I wandered into the beer section at the grocery store. It was around Christmas, I was off work and meandering, a pastime I do better than drink beer.
I proceeded to look for “The Three Stooges Beer” (Panther Brewing Co.), which I found a few years ago and have sought since. The beer was fine, but as someone said on “Beer Advocate,” an enthusiasts’ review site, who can complain about a beer with chowderheads on the label?
Not I, dear knuckleheads.
Nothing’s simple today. I didn’t count the micro-varieties, but I spent a half hour reading labels, laughing out loud and enjoying the artwork. The casual observer might’ve thought I’d had a six-pack in the car.
I immediately grasped that what’s on the label may be more important than what’s inside.
I jotted down a few quirky names. People get nervous when you start taking notes, so I told the fellow next to me that I planned on researching some new brands before buying. That seemed plausible since the modern generation takes its beer choices as seriously as wine aficionados take vineyards, vintages and yellow cardigan sweaters.
In the old days, you wouldn’t combine the words “beer” and “serious” in a sentence unless you said something like “seriously plastered,” or worse.
But things are more complicated now. Blue-collar labels such as Pabst Blue Ribbon and Schlitz have given way to Trout Slayer Wheat Ale (Big Sky Brewing Co., Missoula, Mont.) and Old Gollywobbler Brown (Sea Dog Brewing Co., “on the banks of the historic Penobscot River in downtown Bangor, Maine”).
Also noteworthy: Young’s Double Chocolate Stout (Bedford, England); Coney Island Freaktoberfest (Shmaltz Brewing Co., New York); Long Strange Tripel Ale (Boulevard Brewing, Kansas City); Blackened Voodoo Lager (New Orleans); Hebrew – “The Chosen Beer,” Messiah Bold (San Francisco); Git-R-Done Golden Lager (Pawnee City, Neb., “Revitalizing Rural America One Beer at a Time”); and a local brew, Drop Kick Ale – “The Beer that Kicks Back” (Weston Brewing Co.).
Research is fine, but you have to taste something to know if you like it. That’s why the store allows the beer connoisseur — in my day, clearly an oxymoron — to mix-and-match six-packs.
I’d like to taste some of these beers, but at almost nine bucks a pop for a six-pack, I’d feel compelled to finish something I didn’t like – or spit it out and feel guilty.
I was in St. Louis recently and made my first visit to Trader Joe’s, kind of a counter-culture grocery store. Sitting among the grocery’s entertaining displays of health food, fun food and beer singles were cans of Oranjeboom, a Dutch beer I last drank in 1969 on a student ship.
I hadn’t seen that brand of beer since, so nostalgic fool that I am I bought one. I drank it with a steak dinner, and that first sip was sublime … I mean, good. It wasn’t Three Stooges good, but how could it be without those chowderheads on the label?

David Knopf, a self-medicating caffeine addict, lives in the Northland and works for the Richmond News. He is the creator of and a songwriter. You can write him at Note: The Three Stooges Beer is sadly out of production.

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