2012: The Beer in Review

What’s your favorite beer of 2012?  To be honest, I have no idea how to answer that question definitively.  Sometimes the perfect moment and the right beer collide to create a memory.  I’ve heard that theme echoed by brewers more times than I can count.  Ironically, they often focus on what’s around the glass and not just what’s in it.  The story is important for them.  Foodies know that presentation, atmosphere and circumstance can enhance (or detract) what’s on the plate.  So too for beer geeks.

Here is my favorite beer moment of 2012.

We knew it was going to be bad, there was no question about that.  Still, there was no way to understand how cruel Sandy would be as she bore down on the Jersey Shore.  We vacated our little hamlet of Point Pleasant Beach for Deb’s mom’s house in Red Bank on a bluff over looking the Navesink River on the west side of town.  Although our house was fine in the end, it was a good thing we left.  Two flooded out families took refuge there while we were gone.

I’ll never forget looking out of the picture window, across the Navesink toward Middletown where the lights were still on.  As the wind shifted and the storm swung around with it’s full force, the sky went a blue-green neon. Substations started to blow in orange flashes punctuated by showers of sparks.  Suddenly, as if in a movie, all the lights in that landscape went out at once.  The hills across the river were just flat black cutouts against that eerie colored sky.  The wind howled.   I knew it would be a long, long time before life got back to anything close to normal.  However, we would at least get a glimpse of normal the following day.

Deb noticed it first.  “There are cars in the parking lot of that strip mall.  Something must be open.”  She was right.  Although the lights were still out, Crates Liquors was open for business.  I got in the long line outside (very depression era bread line looking) and waited my turn.  The store was too dark to let people in so an employee – somewhere in the darkness – collected your order and brought it to the door where you paid in cash.  When the disembodied voice called out to me I asked, “What kind of beer do you have?”  “A lot.“ was the exasperated answer.  I could hear the groans of those in line behind me.  They would lynch me if I took too long.  I would survive a hurricane only to meet my sorry end being too picky about my beer.  My chest tightened as I felt hot breath on my neck.

What do I want?  Abbey Dubbel, Porter, Stout, Imperial something…..“IPA?” I croaked.   “How about Stone?” said the ghost voice hopefully.  I could feel the daggers poised at my back as the crowd waited for my reply.  If ever there was a time to try something new, exotic or extreme it would certainly be the day after surviving a super storm, right?  What gem of amber was hidden in those shadowy aisles?  I so wanted to know!  But the crowd closed in and time was short.  Clearly, no more questions would be tolerated.  “Perfect!” I shouted as cheerfully as I could and the crowd relaxed.  A pasty white face emerged from the gloom and delivered my order.  Cash exchanged hands and we were gone.

I’ve had Stone IPA a million times and so have you.  It’s nearly ubiquitous.  I know some people would think this to be a more memorable story if the voice had miraculously said, “Heady Topper” or “Pliny the Elder” .  There are some who are down right disappointed that my most memorable beer of 2012 was a Stone IPA.

They weren’t there when I poured the first one.

Deb’s brother lives two doors down and had fired up his generator.  He  was having a gathering of friends and family.  We walked in to the blue glow of the TV,  the yellow light of incandescent bulbs and the whirring hum of the generator.  Our delight was short lived.  The generator gave up the ghost within 5 minutes of our arrival.  Darkness again.  Matches flared and we were soon bathed in quiet, golden candle light.  Suddenly the place took on the feel of a tavern of yore.

That was when I opened the first bottle of my precious six pack.  I stood close to a candle as I poured lest I spill a drop.  That first familiar sip was like an old friend.  It was a bit of normal in one of the most surreal weeks I’ve ever had.  For a couple of hours, everything was going to be ok.

In 2013 I’ll pursue the extreme, rare and exotic around the world of craft beer.  That’s part of the fun. But every once in awhile, I’ll make sure to revisit some old favorites too.

There’s an art to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Peter Culosis the editor of “Beer Bites,” a new monthly feature about breweries, bars and good beer in the garden state.  A graphic designer by day, and a life long New Jersey resident,  Peter was first introduced to the novel idea that beer could actually have flavor during several visits to the UK.  He’s been riding the craft beer bus ever since.  It has been called the ultimate social lubricant and Peter’s philosophy on beer is, “I’d rather split my last good beer with a friend than drink the whole thing by myself.”  Besides beer he also likes history, dogs, Jeeps and painting.  In the past, he has written a History and Art blog for the Weider History Group and occasionally contributes to his own blog, history-geek.com.  Life is short.  Drink good beer.