A wino takes it on the Smuttynose

2 Apr

A moment of silence for the dead soldiers, please.

Despite the photographic evidence of me as a baby sucking down my grandfather’s can of Schlitz, I never got into beer until I went to London my junior year and realized that John Cleese’s canoe-copulating take on American beer (“fucking close to water”) was spot on. After I got over my girly phase of shandies and snakebites, somehow I just started liking what I call “chewy” beers like stouts and porters. I don’t know how it happened–maybe one too many Long Island Iced Teas (I know, in London, go figure…well, no. I was drinking legally in a foreign country, rubbing elbows with the occasional rock star, and was rooming with two sorority chicks. That’s just what you do). So it was probably understandable that I’d need to reset those tastebuds back to dry and bitter(ish).

But that didn’t ignite a total conversion to beer. Since then, I’ve still maintained an ambivalence toward it. Sure, I guess I’ll drink it if you put one in my hand, as long as it’s not an overly hoppy Belgian or IPA, or swill like Bud, Coors (I have some political issues with them), or Sam Adams (yes, I know what I typed just then). But it’s not my first choice.

But beer’s the first choice of most of my best friends. And when one of them decided to turn 40, his wife planned a party around it; more specifically, a weekly “fireside chat” lecture/demo/meal yesterday at The Fireplace restaurant in Brookline, Mass. New Hampshire’s Smuttynose Brewery was the special guest star to the locally-grown and sourced New England cuisine.

Smuttynose's Star Island Single, Summer Weizen and Smuttynose IPA

The lead-off beers

First course: Star Island Single (mermaid Dixie von Trixie on the label) and Summer Weizen (vintage photo of somebody’s mom) paired with a salad, with vinaigrette, blue cheese and pecans. I think I preferred the salad over the beer this round, but the food with each beer together were very good–even though I don’t like the beery lighter spectrum.

Second course: Old Brown Dog Ale and Finestkind IPA (pic of Bartles & Jaymes-type local guys) paired with a) a pulled pork tartine (open-face sandwich), or for the vegetarians, pasta with greens. I opted for the pasta, but from what my companions were saying, this was a pretty big hit. The beers went well with the pasta, too. It felt a little odd for me not having, say, some Italian white, but I got over that after the third bite. What was also cool is that the Brown Dog is probably the best brown ale I’ve ever had. It gripped your mouth without taking it captive and holding it for ransom–I could see this going well with lots of different food. It had presence without being a pain in the ass about it. I’d even go so far as to say they could amp the taste up a notch or two and still have a damn good beer.

Free beer for me!

Probably my favorite of the afternoon. And not just because I got a second one.

Last up: a caramel brownie sundae with Robust Porter (circus performers) and Shoals Pale Ale. The latter was a pleasant surprise: usually, heavier beers pair well with the caramel, especially with their coffee or burnt overtones, but the Pale Ale was heavy enough in its own right to stand up to it. One of the staff of the restaurant noticed me eying an orphaned bottle of porter and even slipped it to me. (Yes! Free beer is the tastiest beer of all!)

A moment of silence for the dead soldiers, please.

The good mood was running high among the staff, the speaker, and all 40 or so of us. In addition to hearing all about Smuttynose’s scrappy start-up story, there was a bit of trash talk about how beer is better than wine because it’s more food-friendly and involves more ingredients than grapes and water. All I’ll say about that is Twinkies have more ingredients than cake, too. And if I were a religious woman, I’d probably point out that if beer’s so great, why wasn’t Jesus tapping a keg at the Last Supper with his fraternity brothers apostles? There was also a bit of trash talk aimed at the Gin Savant for being a Yankees fan, but we’ll move beyond that…

If you ever get a chance to hit the Fireplace for one of these Saturday afternoon chats, jump at it. The Fireplace has been a very reliable go-to for me on the major holidays when my parents come to town, and it was cool to be there kicking back with my “other family.” The room was cosy without feeling like you were giving the strangers next to you a dental exam. There were a couple of blips with the service (e.g. not every one at my table got beer at the same time, a couple of stray MIA courses) but these were resolved pretty quickly.

Ok, Smuttynose. You’ve won me over. Just let me drink up my stock of Abita Turbodog and Yuengling (which I have for sentimental reasons, not taste reasons) first so I can make room in the fridge for ya.


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