Bud Man vs. Beer Geek
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jul 31, 2005
By Cold, Hard Football Facts brew guru Lew Bryson
I'm trying to think of a good way to start this column, a way to introduce myself to all of you, Bud Man and Beer Geek alike. And it may be the alcohol that's still singing in my forebrain, or it may be the inspiring scenery before me, but I think I've got it: Rodney King.
Let me explain.
I just got back from the "Belgium Comes To Cooperstown" festival at Brewery Ommegang in upstate New York – okay, actually, I'm not back yet. It's Sunday morning as I write this, and I'm sitting on the bandstand in the park in Cooperstown, down the hill from the Hall of Fame, looking past the Indian Hunter's ass at the Glimmerglass, and it's a better moment than most.
So was BCTC. Brewery Ommegang sits on 20-odd acres of green up the slope from the Susquehanna River, about five miles south of Cooperstown, and they used all of it to put on a colossal damned freak show of beer.
If you are unaware, or don't give a damn, Belgian beers are the most idiosyncratic on the planet. They give you mud-wrasslin' strong beers, spiced and orange-sliced beers, sour beers, cloudy beers, blended and aged beers, beers deliberately infected with bacterial cultures. Americans got a slow start on these beers, but my town, Philadelphia, is crazy about them, and American craft brewers (that's "microbrewers" for those of you who haven't kept up) love them so much that they've started brewing beers in homage to these wacked-out malt potions.
That's what Brewery Ommegang and BCTC are all about. Brewery Ommegang brews an array of Belgian-type beers: Ommegang, Hennepin, Rare Vos, Witte, and Three Philosophers. The brewery is in an imposingly beautiful white frame building designed in the manner of a Belgian farmhouse brewery.
BCTC grew out of an event the brewery used to have in the summer, a celebration of Belgian stuff and plenty of beer, both Ommegang's and imported Belgian beers. Last year the owners decided to let other kids into the pool, and invited more importers and American brewers. They brought tents, lots of food, girlfriends and boyfriends and little kids, drums and flags and feathers and beads, and the most unusual Belgian-type beers they made.
The event has become a small Woodstock of beer. These beers are not for the faint-hearted, and they come with all the trappings of "out there" you might expect; hairy brewers, hippy brewers, wild-eyed brewers who look like John Freakin' Brown, ready to preach up a big sermon on freeing the beer. There were brewers all the way from California for this, and wild-eyed importers who'd brought beer from tiny farmhouse breweries in northern France and the Ardennes Forest.
Look, I'm out there with 'em. I loved it. But this is the very fringe of the fringe, and even then...I noticed that Ommegang's easy-drinking Rare Vos, a mellow pale ale, was pouring well, and Flying Bison Brewery didn't have any trouble at all moving glass after glass of Aviator Red, a soft, malty Irish ale.
After the actual fest was over and we all relaxed around the campfires, I saw Miller High Life, some "greenie" bottles of Straub, a light Pennsylvania lager, and local hero Saranac Lager. I finished off the night with a bunch of guys from the Iron Hill brewpub chain, drinking a refreshing Harpoon Saison and passing around a bottle of Old Grand-Dad. Then I had a couple more big glasses of Rare Vos with the Ommegang kids before crawling into the fartsack.
What's my point? That all this freak frenzy is faked, and that, deep down, people really like Bud? Not at all: I love this stuff, and so did everyone who was there. Freak-fringe beers are mostly delicious; except the ones that sucked, and there were a few, sorry to say.
No, my point is this. Remember Rodney King's wacky, meandering plea for calm, "can we all get along here?" When it comes to beer, Rodney King is right: we can all get along. Surprisingly, the people who know it best are the ones who love the furthest-out wild things ever put in a glass. A beer doesn't have to rip your head off to be well-made, to be refreshing, to be just the right thing you want to put in your mouth right now. And you don't really have to drink the same beer every day, every beer, every sip. You don't eat bacon for every meal, do you? (Okay, maybe I'm asking the wrong crowd here. But you get the point.)
So you, Beer Geek, and you, Bud Man, get the chips off your shoulders. Meet in the middle. Every beer doesn't have to be pale yellow, and every beer doesn't have to reek like French cheese. I've seen plenty of light beer drinkers turned into IPA fans, I've seen fringe freaks have an "ah-HA!" moment with a glass of crisp, clean lager, and no one keeps score: it's all about enjoying the most things you can while the game's in play.
That's why I'm going to be writing for you pack of hopeless trolls: to tell you about beers I'm enjoying, places I enjoy drinking beer, and maybe some whiskey drinking when it gets colder – I've got a Mason jar recipe for some cheap whiskey punch called Boilo you're gonna love. Take a look and try some of this stuff, and you might find something you didn't know you liked.
That's all I ask. Open up. Free your mind. And don't be afraid to let the freak flag fly a little.
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