A sour note on fancy, new trends in beer

Contributing WriterNovember 2, 2013 

I regret to inform you that beer is no longer the most relaxed, unpretentious and wonderfully goofy beverage in the soggy realm of social drinking.

Before retiring defeated from drinking alcohol years ago, I tasted wine and beer with great pleasure. And I was part of the stuffy faithful who treated tasting wine like performing a Japanese tea ceremony.

Beer was different. Beer was not a social climber. Beer was primarily a down-home thirst quencher with no thought of pumping itself up into something sophisticated — even if a few of the lads to this day overdo a bit by running too much of that tonic through their plumbing at a single sitting.

Wine has always been different — part tasty drink that goes well with food, and part snooty effort to demonstrate your lip skill at sipping the nectar of the vineyard while learning to pronounce impressive French words.

But now, suddenly, beer drinking has found the fancy side of life. There are corners of the beer market producing a tasty tonic that gladdens the lives of those who don’t suck it up like hangover juice.

Little bouts of snobbishness have long been common with products such as wine and coffee. Wine is the worst offender. It is a liquid already so enjoyable that it doesn’t need to be gilded by pretentious descriptions.

Just as the best politicians show what they are really made of by letting their true worth — their deeds — show rather than their suck-up vocabulary, the same is true of inflated descriptions of wine.

Some wine sellers have gone giddy in describing their creations. For instance, I was in a store the other day that boasted one of its wines had the flavor of pears, tobacco, spice and clotted cream.

Another promised “notes of licorice and vanilla.” The wine snobs love that word “notes” because they regard their liquid hobby as a symphony for getting drunk in cultured ways.

Still another wine had “notes” of orange, peach, apricot and mango “with oak overtones of buttered toast.”

Frankly, some of these descriptions are so silly that I suspect a kidder is having a little fun with everyone, teasing the true believers who imagine they can tell whether the toast flavor has been buttered. What next in the wine world, notes of peanut butter and jam?

That kind of hokum is reminiscent of the legendary cartoon from The New Yorker Magazine decades ago in which a man holding a wine glass says to his dinner guests, “It’s a nave domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you’ll be amused by its presumption.”

Beer used to be a beverage that would never sink to that level, least of all while we were guzzling a drink for down-to-earth people. Nonetheless, I hear friends and family members lately who have discovered tasty variations in beer brewing that invite a new lingo of the same sort.

This week, I encountered a beer for sale that “is marked by passion fruit and herbal notes in the aroma with subtle suggestions of banana and honey surfacing from its deep and complex palate.”

And if that doesn’t rattle your palate, as well as your sense of humor, then don’t neglect the beer I saw described as “a brutally bitter, dank, piney and resinous ale.”

Oh, Beer, you noble friend of the thirsty farmer, the weary waitress and the surviving widow who needs her fun engine restarted, thanks for taking the hard edges off our daily struggles on this troublesome planet.

And, oh you latter-day beer drinkers, where have you gone astray? The god of beer must be rolling in his drunken grave.

Bill Hall can be contacted at wilberth@cableone.net or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.

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