He takes a drink and the pressure is on. It's not your typical drink experience...he isn't doing this to chug something down or to prove anything. Well, actually he is. He's doing it to make sense of his family and hell if he's only ten years old.
It is that first taste you remember. Bitter, nothing like anything you have ever ingested. They aren't laughing at you, they aren't busting your balls. What this is really about is kinship and a sense of pride. It isn't neglect. It's America baby.
Or, I guess...any part of the world in any particular history.
You see, my Pops built a bar in a townhouse we owned back in the 80's. It wasn't his first and would not be his last. He wasn't your typical dad in that he didn't expect you to excel at sports and would have been beside himself if you broke out baseball stats. He worked manual labor. He met with the guys on Tuesdays at a place called the Cactus Club, owned by his buddy from Detroit and would relay stories about wild times in Juarez. His family wanted him to be a doctor and he ended up unloading trucks for a living.
And there is something to that, you see. It isn't about macho. It's about quality work and when he was done with that work he wanted PBR or Old Mil. Jesus, I sound like a commercial there but you have to to feel that experience and some of you will understand the truth of that. It's that communcal piece of a culture that brings people together despite history or time or place or status. And that is what he gave to me, around a bar that he had literally bled to build, in what would now be called a "man cave" but would have then just been called a "basement". He was the type of dad who finished what he started on meager means and the type of dad, despite the negatives of his life, fed a sort of influence into his boys that lay amidst the history of something called beer.
Let me lay the scene: You walk down carpeted steps into the basement and let me tell you, Pops was the master of cheese. Faux putting green, black lit castle poster, Darth Vader mask and a portrait of a 70's porn star. He hands you a pack of cards. Chick with amazing breasts on the front. "Open them," he says and you do and you are immediately shocked. Bolt of painful electric fun. A pun, a joke and your brothers are all laughing. But they aren't laughing at you, they are laughing at the experience of it all.
"Boy, get your Dad a beer," he says and hands you a mug. You pour from the tap that says "Old Milwaukee" as you look to the row upon row of shelves that collect rare beer cans. "Take a taste but make sure the head is off," he says and you do. You are a man. Your brothers nod.
Again, this appears to be a macho scene and it isn't. It's about respect and respect of your friends, your family and the beer you are pouring. He relates to you the known history of beer as your pour, fingers drumming the hand polished wood. Says "You can taste it boy, but don't get any ideas," and in that you have a genuine respect. He has let you in. You are a part of the elite. You are with the men and will not now, or ever, violate that as some others will do later, when their dad's are gone. You've already taken the ride and now know where you stand.
Years later and your Pops is going on 70. Stopped drinking in the 90's and has only had a beer in order to not violate the customs of his new wife's family. But where you stand with the old man is this: He taught you resect for the craft and brilliance when you were young and now you respect that. Would never violate it and you both sit around talking about it. About hops, malts and whether nor not German brews are evolving or stagnant.
You see, beer isn't about status or trends. It's about respect. It's about knowing your roots, so to speak. You see that guy tossed out of his mind and you know that he has not lent his respect to the craft. God knows, we love that tinge of happiness that we get with the malt, but we also know the work and the love of it as well. It is that simple and yet powerful thing that we do that acknowledges the people of our past and helps us to enjoy the moment. It is that beer that you crack open at a friend's anniversary or a sibling's birthday. And it is that point, where you take that first sip and remember that other moment, back then, when your pallette was exposed to the sweet harmony brought to you from the experience of ages, your first beer. It is that point that you remember The Experience.
Beer is on the rise. You are seeing it everywhere. But take a moment, pause and remember those roots and that respect. It's an American thing but in fact is a worldwide thing. And that, my friends, comes with a certain pride and respect. It comes with the experience.
Trends come and go and yet beer is always there. It's moved men and women, has changed worlds. It is that first taste from the tap and that last, when you know age has set on but your beer hasn't. It's the same and has been writ by history. It's respect and more, it's the knowledge that you are a king or you are a pauper and knowing that, in the end, we all toast the same.