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Saturday, July 18, 2009

My Oregon Craft Beer Month: The Neglect Test

Posted by Patrick Alan Coleman on Sat, Jul 18, 2009 at 1:18 PM

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Here’s a tip: Drinking large amounts of the same beer is not an adequate replacement for drinking thoughtfully and taking notes.

You see, I was at Amnesia Brewery last night with Erik Henriksen celebrating the release of the first issue of The Warriors: Jailbreak. The thought was that I’d be able to both celebrate with Erik and cover my daily Oregon craft beer month beer. But here’s the thing: Once you start talking about Miami Vice, the relative merits of the fixed-gear bicycles, and the bizarre technological detritus of Japan, it’s not likely that you’ll have the wherewithal to concentrate on your beer. Also, drinking as much of said beer as you can will not somehow allow your brain to assimilate all of the pertinent information about the beer. So, although you might think you’ll rise the next morning able to recall aroma, mouth feel, taste and finish, more than likely, you’ll just be a hung-over. The last thing you’ll want to think about is aroma, mouth feel, taste, and finish. Because, let’s face it, your aroma is like a booze-filled ashtray, your mouth feels as if a tiny band of microbial contractors installed wall-to-wall carpeting on your tongue as you slept, everything tastes like ass for some reason, and the best finish would be to go to back to bed.

But maybe there's something to be gained from the experience. After all, my behavior was likely being echoed at brewpubs around the city. Perhaps that kind of half-interested over-consumption is a valid test for a beer. Let’s call it the “neglect test.” Yes, yes, I like that.

When you think about it, how often are people really going to pick apart their beer? The kind of "thoughtful" beer drinking behavior I’ve been engaged in over the last 18 days is not necessarily normal for your average craft brew drinker. I’m thinking, in particular, of what I will call the majority of brew pub patrons. Though I’m sure there are those who really want to taste and understand the beer they order at Laurelwood, or Alameda, or Amnesia, I believe most people will likely just take a shot in the dark, order whichever pint sounds most refreshing, and spend the next few hours ignoring what’s in their glass—save for the cursory, “This is a great beer! Say, have you tried…” Isn’t it important then for a good beer to be able to stand up to a night of ever loosening conversation?

I don’t want to confuse this with “session beer,” because, as I understand it, that term is more specific than it might suggest, speaking to beer with lower alcohol content that can be enjoyed over a long period of time. So, even though two pitchers of Amnesia’s Desolation IPA found a place at my table, the 6% ABV and bold character of the beer would likely preclude it from being called a “session beer.”

However, this IPA had some qualities I found helpful for neglectful social drinking. For one, it’s aromatic enough that even if you weren’t trying to pick apart the specific fruit in the aroma (strawberry?), you’d certainly get a good whiff of malty, fruity sweetness, with a bright hint of hops, as you titled the glass to your lips for that first fateful sip.

Secondly, as I said before, it’s a bold beer. The fruit and malt character is full and fairly well balanced, while the hops are bright enough to keep the flavor profile interesting well into your second pint. Though some might argue Desolation is too sweet and not hoppy enough for an IPA, I really enjoyed what the sweetness brought to the table and liked the fact that I didn’t feel as if my palate was being shredded from astringent bitterness.

In a way, as we talked at the table, this beer was very much like a silent but very engaged friend; the kind you can tell is totally enjoying the conversation but would rather just listen. You know they’re there. They feel like part of the conversation, but for the most part they’re just a comforting presence who will laugh along and say, “Right, uh-huh, totally,” when appropriate.

There are beers out there, like Amnesia’s Desolation, with which I’ve had similar experiences. They are beers that become a part of your evening. They are not so bold as to distract you, but they are also not so mutable as to fade into the background and become just another piece of the sensory static that you’ve tuned out.

So maybe last night’s drinking wasn’t all for naught. Or maybe I’m just using this post to build an elaborate justification for the fact that it’s almost noon, I’m not dressed, I have a fierce headache, and an unshaven face. I’m guessing it’s the latter.

If you’ve been reading these posts but crave more of the PAC Oregon Craft Beer Month Experience™, tune your radio to 750AM (or you web browser to kxl.com) at 3 pm today and listen to me stammer like an idiot as I’m interviewed by Beer Goddess Lisa Morrison on her outstanding program Beer O'Clock. The show will also be available as a podcast on the KXL website early next week.

If you’ve found these blog posts after listening to Morrison’s program, let me welcome you and apologize in advance for any rules of good taste, good judgment, or good journalism that I’ll likely demolish in the remainder of the month.

Drink along with me and help steer my experience! I’d love to get some recommendations to fill out the month’s beer roster. I look forward to a lively discussion in the comments section!

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