A renaissance is sweeping the nation, turning amber waves of grain to barley, malt, and hops. Brews with names like Mephistopheles Stout and Oberon Ale are delighting enlightened drinkers and reminding us all of the intertwined histories of good spirits and great stories. The days of diluted, yellow fizz seem numbered as American brewers look to literature for inspiration.
Recently, the most notorious beer crafters and consumers converged at the NationalBuildingMuseum in Washington, D.C. to partake in an annual beer summit called SAVOR. In it’s 5th year, the event sold out within 30 minutes. Only a few outsiders were allowed a taste, which varies from tart and earthy to sweet and crisp. Lucky for me, I was one of those few.
The rest of the crowd was comprised of brewers, distributors, and industry experts from across the country. Inside the museum, six massive pillars stretched from floor to ceiling with logos of sponsoring breweries emblazoned in gold lights. There were 15 groups of tables covered in black linens and arranged in squares. Platters of bite-size foods and bottles of rare beer were carefully arranged around their perimeters. One table was devoted entirely to cheese. Atriums on the edges of the museum contained private salons and tastings. Despite the sophisticated atmosphere, the people seemed thoroughly unpretentious and downright giddy to be there – myself included.
I began loving craft beer as an English major at Arizona State University. A classmate took me to a local microbrewery, FourPeaks, where we would discuss Faulkner over glistening amber pint glasses. To this day, I enjoy that classmate’s company and a cold beer on the balcony of our DC apartment.
Like a song can recall a memory – perhaps a high school dance or a roadtrip with a friend – craft beer marks many moments of my last five years. A Super Bock on the beach in Portugal, a rich Kasteel draft in a back-alley Antwerp bar, Guinness after Guinness set to the tune of folk music in Dublin, a pilsner atop a Prague cliff with a new Moravian friend, or a sweet cider at an Oxford pub. The people and adventures all tie into the taste of a finely fermented brew. Thus, wandering the stalls of SAVOR and filling my chalice with a cornucopia of caramelly foams, I felt like I was travelling through time.
Friends and fellow beer connoisseurs graced every table. Although SAVOR is strictly American beers, it reflects the ingenuity that the U.S. is built upon, and a similar fest outside of the states would be difficult to find. Our beer renaissance has flipped the industry on its head and changed the way Americans drink, hopefully forever. Small breweries devote themselves to originality when crafting their beers, unlike the Bud and Miller that remain synonymous with frat parties and football.
For example, CigarCity’s Tocobaga harkens back to the Native American tribes that established the Floridian home of the brewery. Their Kalevipoeg baltic porter was named for the hero of FriedrichReinholdKreutzwald’s epic Estonian poem. Christening a beer is a serious business for brewmasters, who think of it like an author thinks of a title for his or her life’s work. There is always a story behind the name of a craft beer – one that is meant to capture its flavor and the sentimentality of its creator. Often I question if parents put as much thought into naming their children as brewers do their beers.
I bounced from table to table and sipped each unique nectar like a bee at a garden party. When I passed the Flying Dog table, I cheered to Hunter S. Thompson, and raised my glass to Hemingway at Bell’s. Both these writers could not resist too much of a good thing, so I swore to only savor, never sink. The irony of commemorating authors who abused substances with an alcoholic beverage may seem distasteful, but to me it serves as a reminder that craft beer and fiction alike are an escape. Both are ancient and intrinsic to many cultures. They are to be enjoyed, but are meant to be a temporary break from reality, not permanent.
For this reason, I left the party before midnight. I went home to my poet and put to rest another craft beer adventure. Will I return next year? I certainly hope so, but either way, Kalevipoeg is now on my reading list.