Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Days of Beer (A Review and a Personal Essay)



Days of Beer, the Review


Charles Granlich is George Thorogood without the guitar. You know the song, “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer”? This short book is in the same genre. It’s a collection of stories telling of how Charles became a beer drinker (they start ‘em early in Arkansas), how he had love affairs with many cheap brands, and how he eventually came to realize that too much beer came with too many consequences. A “love ‘em and leave ‘em kind of man,” Charles left his drinking life behind, preferring the love of his wife over a cheap bottle of booze. There are a number of funny stories here, such as dealing with the police, raiding beer from others camping nearby, and bootlegging beer across state lines. Luckily, he didn’t get caught; there would be nothing more shameful than being caught bootlegging Coors, which in my opinion is one of the worst excuses for beer in the world. If there was only Coors and water, I’d become a teetotaler and take the pledge! Charles shares some lessons learned from beer. Drinking beer can have a negative impact on one’s love life, but it can also give you some humorous stories to tell (if can you can only remember them). Days of Beer is cheaper than a cheap beer (unless you happen to be in Vietnam). It’s short, just a page shy of 50, and is available as an ebook for 99 cent. I read it on a Nook. My only complaint is that occasionally a word would be split up (without a hyphen) and a letter would be on the line above or below. But that wasn’t too much to deal with considering that I did get some laughs at Charles’ expense (Don’t feel too bad for him; I paid the 99 cent). I should acknowledge, in a desire that my review being unbiased and all that, that I have gotten to know Charles through the reading of his blog and his comments on my blog. But I still had to pay the 99 cent!

Days of Beer, Part 2

Like Charles, I grew up in the South, but in another part.  I have never really been one to drink heavily and I didn’t really become a beer drinker until later in life.  When I was younger, I’d occasionally have a beer on a hot afternoon, but in the circles I ran, most of us who drank preferred bourbon or scotch.  Charles notes that in general Southern women aren’t impressed with beer drinkers and I knew more than a few who considered beer to be low class, but had no problem with their guys drinking whiskey straight (as long as it was in a glass and not straight out of the bottle).   So I cut my teeth on the harder stuff, only occasionally having a beer.   Charles could have his affairs with the St. Pauli Girl while I was best friends with guys like George Dickle and Johnny Walker.  (But before you get any wrong ideas, we weren’t lovers, just acquaintances.)  This all changed in late summer 1986 when I left the South for Pittsburgh to study theology.  I was once again a poor student, made even poorer by the house payment for which I was still responsible.  With that burden over my head, I moved into the dorms to save money.  Although I had my own room, dorm life with the hockey games in the hall didn’t set well with me.  I would have gone crazy had it not been for Jim, my next door neighbor in the dorms and the only other guy on the hall not right out of college.


I’d arrived a day or two before Jim and had my room all set up when he arrived.  It was late one afternoon and he popped his head in my room.  I was spread out on the bed reading, but invited him in and I told him there was some ice tea in my fridge if he wanted some.  He poured himself a glass and took a seat at my desk and began to talk.  Jim was a great talker.  He was telling me all about himself when, in midsentence he stopped and said something like “Holy Cow,” although that may not have been the exact words he’d used.  As he talked, he’d been looking at my room, at the books I’d hauled up from North Carolina, the teddy bears that had been a gift of my girlfriend at the time, Cindy, whose picture was also pasted around the room.  But what caught Jim’s eye weren’t the books or the pictures or my old typewriter (I’d be another year before I got a computer).  Under my desk was a box containing the remnants of my liquor cabinet.  There were bottles of single malt, of various bourbons and whiskeys, a bottle of Southern Comfort (just because) and some pretty good liqueurs like Drambuie and Grand Marnier.     Jim’s worst fear, enrolling in a school full of temperance pledgers, had just been shattered.  That night we went out for the first time and for the next year, we would explore all the ‘burgs in Pitt through their local taverns. 

Pittsburgh is a beer drinking town.  Over the first few weeks at school, I became acquainted with Iron City and “IC Light” (which sounds like icy light, when ordered).  Then there was Rolling Rock, made with the refreshingly pure waters of Latrobe, a myth that survived until I made my first trip to Latrobe and failed to see any water source that looked refreshing or pure.  Nonetheless, Rolling Rock would be a beer of choice for most of my time in Pittsburgh.  Except for when I was hot and sweaty, I never got to where I could chug beers like the natives, which may be why I survived the first year of studying while Jim didn’t.   Down South, when drinking bourbon, you learn to sip it and to nurse it along.  Otherwise, you’d end up in the gutter, a destination I avoided.  I did the same thing with beer, sipping and nursing it along.  This often meant that by the time I had drunk a bottle of beer, the last of it was room temperature and not very good as I am not a European and haven’t found anything pleasant about warm beer.  Rolling Rock had the answer, a seven ounce pony.  It was the perfect sized bottle and I could drink it all before it warmed.  And since the bottles were reusable, they appealed to my environmental ethic.  A case of 48 ponies cost only nine dollars (plus the four dollars and eighty cent deposit, an initial investment as I kept the case and returned the empties for a refill).

 Oddly, in Pennsylvania (at least in the 80s), you couldn’t buy beer in a grocery store.  You had to go to a bar, where you paid a premium price, or to a “beer distributor” where you could only buy beer by the case.   The good news is that beer by the case is cheaper.  After looking around, I discovered the best distributor to be a drive-in arrangement in Sharpsburg, across the Alleghany River.  This was a quite convenient arrangement.  You drove in and popped your trunk and they’d fill it up for you and after paying the bill, you’d drive off with your front tires barely touching the pavement.   There was always beer in my refrigerator, but most of my drinking time was spent in pubs and bars around the city.  My favorite was just a few blocks away, where beers were still fifty cent a glass and the most expensive bar drink was two bucks.  But Jim and I also explored the rest of the city, stopping in clubs to get a feel for the variety that the city offered.  

I should write more about beer and Pittsburgh and maybe I’ll do that later.  But there is one more story I’d like to share, one about Sapporo Beer (a beer Charles refers to in his memoir).  In the room across the hall from me was Ken, a student from Japan.   A couple weeks after school started, I came across a place that sold beers from around the world.  I think it was the Original O (or the Dirty O) a well-known hotdog and french fries establishment in Oakland, across from the University of Pittsburgh library that also had a collection of beers from around the world in their bar.  Seeing a beer from Japan, I brought a six-pack thinking Ken would be thrilled.  He wasn’t.  Those beers weren’t drunk until I was out of American beers.  Back in the ‘80s, when we were concerned that Japan was going to surpass the United States economically, beer was the one import from the Land of the Rising Sun that didn’t make a dint in the American market.  

Jim and I often talked about writing a guide to the bars and pubs of Pittsburgh, but we never did.  Maybe this is a start… 

35 comments:

  1. Might seem an odd question, but why Pittsburgh.

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    1. Why not--I had a number of possibilities for schools, but I had never been to Pittsburgh until my interview in which I also attended a Pirate (baseball) game and I was sold. Besides, Roberto Clemente played ball there (as did Billy Sunday)

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    2. But wasn't Pittsburgh going through something of a hell at the time. I remember one of the last old-style 'Geography' articles written by the National Geographic where they catalogued the demise of a prosperous city. Next time I saw anything about it they were trailblazing the 'inner city renewal movement' with glass. But I would have put theology in P-Bg up there with viticulture in dust bowl Oklahoma.

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  2. The name Gramlich seemed really familiar as I read this and it wasn't until I clicked the link that I figured out why. I've run into him a time or two in the comments section of other blogs.

    I'm an acquaintance with Glenlivet and Templeton Rye myself.

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    1. I generally have a bottle of Glenlivet in the cabinet!

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  3. I always enjoy reading your tall tales,(ha ha) even the beer filled ones! ...and errors or not we don't even have to pay 99 cents! How cool is that! Okay tall tales are for the fish stories, but on the subject of beer funny how we all can remember some beer stories....in Michigan during my first year of marriage, my then hubby brought me to a place he called the Blind-Pig, I really wasn't even of age to drink, and why well the why isn't important, but a very interesting place...maybe you've heard of them? As for your review, it does sound worth a read! Thanks!

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    1. I don't know of a bar named Blind Pig. Blind Pig is the name of a recording company that features blues--I even have a t-shirt from them.

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  4. ha i have tried sapporo and i will def agree...smiles...used to be quite the conoseiur of beers back in the day myself...always looking for something new to try...cool write...

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    1. It has been so long that I don't remember the taste at all!

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  5. Yep, great tales as always, Sage. I don't know much about beer, except to stay far away from Guinness.

    But I do hope that iced tea you offered Jim was sweet. (An appropriate response would be, "Is there any other kind?")

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    1. I enjoy a good Guinness, these days if I have a beer it's generally a Porter or Stout or an IPA.

      As for the tea, I gave up sugar in my tea when I was in college, so nope, it was straight up!

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  6. Sounds like a book of laughs! As for beer and myself, the smell of beer is enough to keep me from ever trying it. :)

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    1. As a baker, you should realize the similarities between bread and beer as they both involve yeast!

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  7. You went to school in Pittsburgh? I grew up about an hour and a half north of there in Erie. (and I still don't think you can buy beer or alcohol in a grocery store-that was all new to me when I moved down south)

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    1. I know Erie well--but when I moved to Pgh it was more than 1 1/2 hours (but then, 279 wasn't open in 1986.

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  8. Ha! I may well get this book for my husband, he loves reading about this subject - seriously, he has a whole dedicated to the subject! He is currently organising the Real Ale Beer Festival for our island, and having a blast "researching" the brews to invite. Er, reading this back I think in his defense I ought to add he ISN'T a big drinker, but considers himself more of a connoisseur of the nectar!

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  9. Sounds interesting.

    Bootlegging in Arkansas isn't just limited to Coors. They drive north by the hundreds to load up in Missouri. I know of a liquor store that has "Last Chance Liquor" on the north side and "First Chance Liquor" on the south side. It's about 10 feet north of the MOARK state line.

    Cheers.

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    1. The Coors incident was from back when you couldn't buy it in but a few states--I should write about my first experience with it.

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  10. Ha, yes you should write that guide :-) I hardly ever drink but when I do, beer is my choice.

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  11. I think the drinking lines are drawn deendent upon where your ancestors immigrated from. Here in Minnesota (as well as in Wisconsin), chock-full of Germans and Scandinavians, the drink of choice is beer -- and lots of it. I believe MN (or was it WI?) was just recognized as being the beer-drinkingest state in the Union.

    Such a distinction!!

    Pearl

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    1. I think you are right, but I believe it was Wisconsin that received the honors--you folks across the border need to drink more!

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  12. Sage, thanks for the kind words. Glad you enjoyed Days of Beer. I had a lot of fun writing it, and in many ways it was easier than writing fiction because the details were all available to me. I do have some beer in my fridge now, but I always keep a bottle of Jack Black around for sipping.

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    1. It was fun reading and reviewing your work and using it as a catalysts to write my own memories.

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  13. Was it wrong to laugh that the AdChoice geared ad at the top of this blog entry was for "Stop Drinking Now" alcoholics help?

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  14. Is Charles' book available in paperback anywhere?

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    1. I don't think so, but you can jump over to his blog and ask.

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  15. Hi Sage: I'm not much of a drinker. Still, I found this post to be very interesting. we hear so many names and labels, but you have revealed some of the personalities behind those brands and it is apparent that there is a pursuit of passion in this industry!

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  16. fun read, sage... thx

    growing up in the south [southern ontario, that is :P], i got to sample a lotta beers, and other things as well, really early in life...

    i began drinking beer in a bar at age 17 in my home town [legal age was 21 at the time, 19 today] no questions asked [guess i looked 'mature' at 6'3"]...

    funny thing, when i went to a bar in buffalo, ny, at age 21, where the legal age was 18 or 19, i was asked for id! lol

    today, folk guessing my age are at least 20 years BELOW what i really am :)

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