Enjoy by...? It's Complicated

Love it.  Hate it.  Like it.  Don’t like it.  Thumbs up.  Thumbs down.

Sometimes enjoyment can be complicated.  It’s convenient to think of things in black & white terms.  It’s something of a luxury.  But life can have shades of gray, & often we don’t think in terms of absolutes but levels of nuance, with multiple considerations to make.  Most of the time, life is more complex than good or bad.

And by “life”, of course I mean “beer drinking”.  As creatures given to categorization, evaluation, & discrimination, our nature leads us to rate most things that come our way.  And by “things”, of course I mean “beers”.  We have gut instincts that automatically attract or repel, & those instincts are tempered by conscious analysis.  A bartender puts a beer on the bar in front of us, & we have a reaction to its color, clarity, composition, cleanliness.  Smelling the beer allows us to refine our opinion a little more, tasting even more so, etc.  By the end of the glass, we decide whether we like it enough to have another, or to move on.  Our opinion is based on the beer’s perceived pros & cons, how much we liked the various facets it presented, basically how it made us feel.  

We might round up or down to conclude that we enjoyed a beer, or not, but there’s more to the story.  “The flavor was there, but it felt thin & watery.”  “Nice smell, but it had a nasty aftertaste.”  “Great beer, I just can’t put away more than one.”  You rate this beer a 3, & this one a 2.85.  It boils down to enjoying beer A more than beer B, but there’s a spectrum & so much is relative.

I believe that beer itself is an acquired taste, & there are plenty of colors on the beer palette that also take some getting used to.  The roast of a stout, the bitterness of hops, the pucker of a lambic - these can all be turn-offs at first, but grow on people to the point that they enjoy what those flavors bring to the table.  So challenge can be part of the equation, as long as it pays off & you’re justly rewarded.

What if you respect or appreciate a beer more than you enjoy it?  This concept isn’t foreign to a lot of art forms - I appreciate the energy & creative chaos in, say, free jazz, but do I enjoy it?  Is the sound inherently pleasurable or gratifying?  Some of art’s value can lie in it being difficult.  It makes us sit up, or moves us in a way that might not be comfortable.  Can beer do the same thing?

Knowing the origin of gueuze, the far-out process in the beer’s creation, brought my respect for it to a new level.  Were I tasting it blind, I might have been turned off, but the context gave me pause to reflect & consider elements that may have gone unnoticed.  I took the challenging elements into perspective, & realized that the acidity, the funk, the earthy nature of it were not flaws, but a parts of the process that the brewer/blender was intentionally presenting.  

 I remember trying Full Pint’s Rye Rebellion for the first time.  I think it was my first rye stout, & definitely my first rye barrel-aged rye imperial stout.  It was dark: dark color, dark, bold flavors, so deeply roasted, a little tannic, thick & strong with almost no balancing sweetness.  Unyielding, uncompromising.  There was nothing “off” about it, it was just a stoic monolith of a beer.  And I believe that’s exactly as the brewer intended.  The beer said to me “I am as I am.”  I can’t say my enjoyment for it was as great as my appreciationof it (though I didn’t NOT enjoy it, either), & that experience has stayed with me since.

I’ve come to have the same sort of relationship & understanding with the beers of Draai Laag.  I see them almost as works of abstract art, to be engaged on their own terms.  There are only a few Draai Laag beers that hit me on that “pleasure” level: Aureus & St. Angus are both rich & dessert-like, & though they’re not lacking in complexity, are also just plain tasty.  Same with Gouden Brugge, perhaps their most relatable offering.  

So much of their line-up, though, I find stimulating, intriguing.  They’re like Cubist paintings or David Lynch films in a glass.  They take unusual, sometimes disparate elements & combine them in ways that come together to form a whole.  They may clash a bit, they may have jagged edges, but I always get the sense that they’re exactly as lop-sided, angular, or surreal as the brewer intends.  So often I come away from a sip of one of their beers not necessarily wanting to down another right away, but to contemplate what’s in the glass.  I take a taste, let it do its thing, & just reflect on what it is the beer (& by degree, the brewer) wants me to see.  They’re beers that make me go “Hmm..” more than “Mmm…”, & therein lies their beauty

Consider, then, that there’s another kind of dimension on which we can fathom beer, that adds to our overall experience.  What is the beer showing you, & what if it’s more than “just” sensory gratification?  What if it’s getting to your brain through your nose & tongue?  It’s one more aspect of art in which brewers are just beginning to scratch the surface.  

To add to the elevation (here comes the pitch part), The House is thrilled to be hosting Draai Laag for a pairing dinner on April 23rd, during Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week.  We can’t wait to see what Chef Brian creates to accompany these brews.  The gustatory fur will fly.  It promises to be a truly unique experience.
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