On January 17, 1991, the United States Navy bombed the holy-hell out of Iraq. For the first time in eighteen years, the U.S. was at war. My response? I went out drinking. DCs premier beer-bar, the Brickskeller, hosted a tasting of Bell’s Third Coast Beer that night. As I primped for my evening out, the TV played looped footage of bombs lighting up the night sky as the U.S flattened urban Iraqi buildings and the people inside them.
The next day at work, the impossibly young receptionist—I believe she dropped out of high school to take the job—scolded her mother on the phone. “Mom, it doesn’t matter if we’re at war, you still have to go to work. No, mom, don’t cancel your dentist appointment.” Some people fought the inclination to put their lives on hold, but mine continued without a blink.
These beer tastings occurred every three months or so. A beer expert, usually the buyer for an upscale food, beer and wine market, selected a theme and lectured on the similarities and differences of various beers. Ales v. Lagers, Oatmeal Stouts, Porter Night, I went to them all. At the Bell’s event, an employee from the Michigan brewery talked about Bell’s history, their corporate philosophy and their offerings. I soaked it all in along with eight four-ounce samples of beer. And then, because it was only nine o’clock, I spent the next three or four hours exploring the Brickskeller’s menu.
The Brickskeller served hundreds of different beers, and over time, I tried them all. In the early nineties, the U.S. craft beer movement barely existed. The Brickskeller primarily sold foreign beers. England, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, and so on. A few domestic breweries, like Bell’s, made the list, but mostly I was drinking my way across Europe.
I tell this story because earlier today, I walked past a beer store. A truck idled, decorated with a brewery advertisement. Six giant beers, different styles—a scotch ale, some pale ales, a lager, a rye—unique labels, fun labels, it stopped me cold. Founders Beer. I don’t know Founders, I think. I can’t remember that name. My memories have faded. I quit drinking in 2016.
In 1991, beer was my life. Yes, I find that a pathetic statement to write. But I can’t ignore the truth of it. I drank every night. I made my own beer (while drinking of course). A trip to the beer store, a fancy market on the edge of a gated community, included a twenty-minute conversation with the store manager. Each of us comparing the beers we tried over the past week or two. My parties were tasting events. Eight beers, ten beers, my own brews interspersed between some of my favorites–domestic and international. The flavors I wanted to share with my friends.
The Founders truck brought this all back. A few weeks before my college graduation, my prim Management Accounting teacher, Kendell North, sat his butt on the edge of the teacher desk and scolded the class—some of us anyway. “I feel sorry for you people who can’t control your drinking. You’ll never know the pleasure of unwinding after work with a drink. You’ve spoiled it for yourself.”
The bastard was right. For me, happy hour was never anything more than another chance to get drunk. The pleasure of sampling a Founders mixed six pack was always superseded by the desire to drink it all, and then start in on the next one. Later in life, I tried to temper my drinking, but old habits don’t die. I was never comfortable with a drink or two.
I felt a pang of regret as I pulled out my phone to snap a picture of the truck. After three years, I no longer feel any real distress over abstinence, it just bums me out a little.
A few years after my Desert Storm/Brickskeller night, my coworkers and I spent an afternoon wasting valuable government funds hanging around the watercooler telling stories. Michael told Jamie and me a story about his weekend: “On Saturday night, we went out drinking and…”
“Hold it,” Jamie said, “are you saying the primary activity of the night was to drink? Sheesh!” And here it was, thirty-five years old, the first time it ever occurred to me that the purpose of drinking alcohol isn’t simply to get drunk.