Beer and Pavement

Starting Over

Posted in Beer, Massachusetts, Travelog by SM on August 4, 2015
The Dirty Truth

The Dirty Truth

Over the course of the last 10 years, I was part of a burgeoning craft beer scene in Middle Missouri. I was there before a lot of great breweries distributed and several new breweries opened there. I was at the first ever Columbia Beer Enthusiasts‘ tasting and eventually became an officer (a position I guess that I still hold despite moving 1300 miles away). At the height of the international and national craft beer boom, I was fully embedded in my own scene.

And now, I’m starting over.

I am no longer part of a scene outside of the fact I’m the “new guy” on a local Facebook group dedicated to craft beer in the region. However, I’m no longer a regular…well…anywhere. There are no local breweries following me on Instagram and Twitter. No one’s giving me the inside scoop on releases. In fact, I haven’t a clue when any beers are hitting the shelves. I’m lucky to stumble upon beers I’ve never had that are actually fresh.

It’s weird having to start from scratch. I don’t know that I have the energy to hunt down white whales or hit tap takeovers or hit the road on the weekends to travel to a nearby brewery. I received word of a beer fest in nearby Springfield and I scoffed at the $45 price tag. I don’t really want to start over.

So, my other choice is to ease into the craft community. And if it happens that I become an integral part again, so be it. However, it will most likely mean that I know a thing or two about beer. I know what I like and generally know where I can find it.

Somehow, I’m okay with this. I guess I kinda have to be. I mean, weeknight drinking (including Sundays) now becomes a lot tougher to maintain as my daily commute has tripled (10 to 30 minutes) and the demands of my new job have increased with less flexibility. Sure, I’ll get my summers off, but the coming fall will mean that I need to have a clear mind and plenty of rest to be effective. This is what I want and it’s worth adjusting my lifestyle.

Of course, there’s always the weekends…to spend with my almost-7-year-old and 17-month-old. The second kid made my participation in craft beer and homebrewing tough enough, but now I have to attend to my kids’ needs more that my time and availability is tighter during the week. Will I enjoy a good craft beer? Yes. Will I be ticking away at an impossible list of options? Probably not.

It’s similar to my place in the music scene. The scene here is so much more robust with five significant campuses and a couple of smallish urban centers loaded with creative types. So, it’s probably too big for me to put a dent in it anyway and once again, I honestly don’t have the energy anymore.

And all of this is okay.

Maybe my 30’s was my time to get involved in a scene or two. My 40’s seem to be about my family and career with a little enjoyment on the side. Through all my efforts in music and craft beer scenes, I feel I have a handle on how to enjoy them without being a part of them.

So, where do I get my craft beer fix now? I have Spirit Haus which is nearby – like 2 minutes nearby. This area is loaded with these little beer/wine/liquor stores with an assortment of odds and ends. This is good for exploring the possibilities of the region as well as scoring a gem now and again. Plus, there’s usually a guy at each of these stores who knows everything. At Spirit Haus, they have a guy (Gary, I believe) who knows wine. I haven’t been there enough to know whether or not they have a beer guy, but someone seems to know what they’re doing. The shelves are stocked with a nice spectrum of craft beer and there’s some interesting Belgians as well. The cooler is a labyrinth you enter at your own claustrophobic risk. I was in need of some unique tripels for a pesto dinner and instead of going for Belgians, I wanted some New England fare. What I got was the tripel from Allagash (maybe the best of the style I’ve had) as well as a somewhat older Fluffy White Rabbits – kept in the cooler as an older, hoppy beer should be. Spirit Haus is my neighborhood stop, something I’ve not had for a decade.

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The other stops are not so close, but they offer a fix. Most beer folk know that to fully explore the range of a state’s distribution (if not always the complete breadth), you should hit a Whole Foods. The quantity is never amazing, but they feature locals, regionals, and some rarer, more expensive choices. If I want something local or high-end, I grab it at Whole Paycheck. (However, I’m going to avoid all the West Coast IPA’s that have been sitting there since last fall!) There’s also 44 Liquors which is a regional chain that’s just plain huge. They get everything and in large quantities. For a lot of special releases, places like this get a large share and it sits there for a while. There were so many 120 Minute IPA’s and World Wide Stouts not to mention a full lineup of Lost Abbey beers, that I was nearly overwhelmed. Of course, a place like this also has year-old IPA’s. I guess it’s all part of the learning process.

While Spirit Haus is in Amherst and the other places are in Hadley, my favorite place might be in Northampton. Provisions is one of those fancy food and drink stores that have everything. However, these stores often half-ass the beer and overprice everything. That is not the case with Provisions. They had the local breweries covered, including some rarer beers. I was even able to score several affordable offerings so that I could sample some beers from several breweries. Despite most of the beers being kept on shelves (there was a fully stocked cooler as well), the ages seemed appropriate. I suspect these beers move quickly. My only disappointing discovery was that the place with the largest number of bottles from Shelton Brothers (of nearby Belchertown who carry Mikkeller, Evil Twin, Jolly Pumpkin, everybody) was limited to a shelf in the corner. I opted not to check the dates of those beers as they looked to be not a priority to the store. Something I can overlook since the rest of the store is so amazing.

With unpacking and dragging a 17-month everywhere, I haven’t had time to check out local watering holes. That said, I enjoyed two. One was High Horse Brewing and the other The Dirty Truth in Northampton. I was told by a grad student that High Horse served great food, but the beer was so-so. The food was good, but I don’t know what beer these grad students must be used to. The Anti-Imperialist Session IPA was really good. If a brewery can do a good session IPA, they can certainly do most styles.

The other watering hole was sort of a spur of the moment stop. My father-in-law treated me to a beer at The Dirty Truth. After being carded and having to produce multiple forms of ID because my ID is still out-of-state (also, I’m 40), we slipped in at the end of a long bar to peruse the ~40 taps to try. I had the incredibly bitter Boom Sauce from Lord Hobo Brewing Company and my FiL sipped on White Lion’s Insane Mane (which I sampled as well). Nice, dark joint and they didn’t mind the antsy toddler at the bar.

And that’s about the extent of my beer adventures here in Western Mass. I feel so out of it not knowing any of the beers on tap (particularly local ones) or knowing where and when special releases hit the shelves. Just today I went looking for the Victory/Dogfish Head collaborative saison and two of the above places didn’t have it.

It’s either going to be a long time until I get fully acclimated with this beer scene or I just get back to enjoying the beer again. I mean, every time I go out or pick up something to take home, I’m having a beer I’ve never had before. So, that’s something right? It will be interesting to see how long I go before I start chasing white whales again.

For those who read this blog (assuming that you know it’s producing again) for the beer stuff, hang in there. I’ll find something to say. I might even go back to reviewing records with beers again which could be fun.

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Also, I forgot to mention that it helps to have good neighbors. There will be more to say about this later, but I feel two families have been particularly welcoming and it would be wrong not to mention them in my quest for a place in the new beer scene. First, one couple has an in with Shelton Brothers. We’re hoping to set up a tasting sometime. I don’t need to tell you how excited that makes me. If/when it happens, that will be a night of epic beer drinking proportions. Probably.

The other neighbor only had two beers in his house when I was over last. It just so happens they were both two-year-old brews from Brasserie Fantôme. The first was Saison D’Erezée – Hiver which somehow tasted like a peaty scotch. How does that happen?!? Then, there was  Fantôme de Noël which was also silly good. I suspect there will be more stories involving that guy when the only two beers in his house are two white whales of the highest order.

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3 Responses

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  1. Steve said, on August 5, 2015 at 11:26 am

    A great post – good to have you back blogging! I think new starts are really hard but are often really good opportunities to rethink priorities and what we want from life. I can completely empathise with family and a new home overtaking beer/music/etc. But…I also think that there are real benefits to taking a step back with our interests. It is too easy to be so eager to chase the next release that you don’t fully appreciate what is in front of you. I buy less beer and less music, but perhaps appreciate both more when I do find the time to sit down with one, the other, or both. Being a completist with anything eventually gets exhausting. There is something liberating in just enjoying what I have the time and money for, and not worrying about keeping up.

    I’m really looking forward to hearing more about how you immerse yourself in a new area and new scenes, but also hearing more about those little stories – that neighbour sounds great!

    • SM said, on August 5, 2015 at 11:59 am

      You’re absolutely right, Steve. It has been exhausting. I went through something similar when we first moved to Missouri. I needed a fresh start and I ran with it. This time, my fresh start needs to involve taking a step back.

  2. Bill said, on December 28, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    Cheers for a great 2016! I guess at least with music, you can have it with you during non-working hours — it all depends on whether you can engage or whether it remains background. The latter half of 2015 worked out well for me, new-music-wise, though a lot of the folks I discovered through a single didn’t pan out when listening to the whole album. Beer-wise, you know, there’s just a plethora of riches and so little time to explore them, and I guess I’m fine with returning to older favorites more and more often (especially as Bell’s Expedition Stout is back). I’m bummed that I never got to try Pretty Little Things before they closed shop, but it’s all good. May you still be enjoying New England life, and may dad-hood and spouse-hood and teaching(?)-hood continue to bring meaning and joy.


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