My Saturday had been spent on manual labor: cleaning, rearranging, painting. My back had started to hurt from leaning over to reach the baseboards. Then I did it for two more hours.
By the time I left my mother in law’s I didn’t care what our restaurant budget for the week was. I didn’t care that rewarding myself with food probably isn’t the most healthy thing to do. I was tired and I was sore and I did not want the leftover spaghetti we had planned on.
And, more importantly, I wanted a beer.
I didn’t know what I wanted when I walked into the Village Beer Merchant but I knew what I didn’t. I wanted an old favorite, or maybe something new like the latest Stone’s Enjoy By. Hops were speaking to me, but not necessarily just any hoppy beer. I couldn’t explain it: I was tired and, like the definition of pornography, I figured I’d know it when I saw it.
Then I saw the six pack of CascaZilla and knew it had to be. Hoppy but not over the top, with the added bonus of being relatively local.
I got home and poured one of the bottles into a glass (making a mental note that I didn’t have an Ithaca glass, which I should fix). The first sip was fireworks, choirs of angels. A bit of caramel sweetness that blends seamlessly into a mild resinous bitterness. Exactly, precisely what I wanted.
I hadn’t had much beer all week: having come back from vacation meant we were still getting our ducks in their rows, and also had to tighten our belts a bit to make up for the ridiculous spending that happened in St. Martin. This week, especially after this day, though, I made sure the beer budget had some money in it.
Then a bite of my chicken finger sub: equally divine. Mostly salt, spice and breaded crunch. Objectively not haute cuisine but the very definition of my personal comfort food.
I chewed slowly, savoring the cheese and chicken and bleu cheese. A mouthful of beer, relishing the hops intermingling with the sauce. Then I had a realization.
A digression on taxonomy
I like silly categorizations, so I’ve taken to calling myself a “second wave beer geek”: sort of a beer world’s post-modernist, a hipster about hipsters if you want to use that hackneyed-to-the-point-of-meaningless word. (Seriously, Reddit, Judy Funnie is a beatnik)
There was a period when I would obsessively pick out details from a beer: scribbling about the imperial stout I was drinking in a notebook while at dinner at Cole’s. Now, though, due to a combination of palate atrophy and general ambivalence (read: laziness), I generally take a “just drink the damn beer” approach: I drink it and I enjoy it but I don’t worry too much about each tiny detail.
I’m too cool to be a beer geek.
Which is just as much of an affectation as being a beer geek proper, of course, if not moreso: detached apathy is rarely a productive or worthwhile stance. It has brought with it some productive aspects, though, primarily that I think people should drink whatever they want to drink, damn it, and being a smug asshole about Blue Moon isn’t going to ingratiate yourself to anyone.
(If you’d like to read something about beer from someone who actually has something to say on the subject, Maureen Ogle’s Ambitious Brew has a great history of how light American lagers came to be so light and flavorless and how it was not the evil corporations tricking us poor consumers into thinking it’s what we wanted.)
The miracle of mindfulness
I’ve been very open about my fall from beer grace and the cognitive dissonance that has occurred as a result. In many ways chronicling that is the entire point of the My Embeered Life blog series (which is what I call the Tuesday posts). That and an excuse to play board games with my friends.
Twice now I’ve tried to read The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, and despite quite liking it I’ve never made it very far in. Once I was 18 (so who knows what my problem was) and then more recently I had a baby and didn’t have much time for anything, but maybe one day I’ll actually finish it.
However, the takeaway (at least as I see it) is this: you’re not living, not really, unless you’re conscious of it. Be present, mentally, or else it’s all a waste. It’s a sentiment I really need to take to heart: I’m frequently absent all but physically, thinking about all the things I need to do next instead of focusing on what I need to do now, awash with anxiety as a result.
Freeing myself from the necessity of picking apart a beer’s flavors and components has been for the best. But there’s no doubt something has been lost: I drink it down and then it’s gone and how was it? Good. Nothing more. Nothing interesting to say, no impact made.
Maybe I don’t need to write an essay on ratebeer after every sample I try. But sniffing and swirling and swishing made me mindful of the beer. Trying to match what I was experiencing to a list of terms I had memorized — piney; spicy; dark fruits; astringent — focused me on it.
I was divinely mindful as I ate my meal that night. I chewed slowly, sipped thoughtfully. The flavors twirled and danced and I finally understood what Remy was talking about, even if I was eating a factory farmed mass produced chicken tender and not fine French cheeses.
Over the next few days I had more CascaZilla, but it was never the same. The second night I caught myself halfway through the glass: back to my old routine of thoughtless sipping. Mindfulness is hard. It takes effort, at least for me. I don’t seem to be very good at it.
But if it was easy, the beer wouldn’t taste as good.