My Lifelong Love Affair with Stouts
Before I worked at a bar, before I lived in the city, I was just a ramblin’ youth in the valley of the Hudson. I played soccer two seasons a year, got C’s in math, drove a 15 passenger van my parents let me borrow. My friends were all boys in bands, and we would drive all over to see them or somebody play. Nothing seemed too far out of the way, because we were all just killing time. That’s why my friend Ryan and I would always go to the beer distributor out on route 9, where we knew they sold Keegan’s Mother’s Milk Stout.
It was my first stout. I drank it before I could drink. I drank it before I ever drank a Guinness. I had no context, no reference. I knew it was from Kingston, which was a town across the river we ended up in from time to time… That one 4th of july. That one concert we drove through the snow to get to. I knew that it was sweet and malty, that I liked it best when it was ice cold, and it reminded me of chocolate milk. It was my First Favorite Beer.
When I think about growing up along side the Hudson, I always consider it to be a magical landscape, complete with rolling hills, tinker town villages, deep forest waterfalls, and of course, the holy river. Mother’s Milk was a magic potion, and every time we get a keg in at work, I sip it with reverie.
THE IMPERIAL ONE THAT GOT AWAY
In college I liked to test my limits, and part of that was expanding my taste for beer. A semester in the Netherlands taught me to enjoy and appreciate higher percentages. I discovered that I am a slow drinker, and prefer to nurse on something worth my time. I rode bikes and read more books than I could carry home in my suit case.
At my favorite bar on my favorite street, I met the One. It was a Russian Imperial. It had the chocolate and coffee undertones, but with the strength and burn that I had come to desire. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be the one I would be thinking about for the rest of my life. I wish I could remember the name of this beer. If only I had written it down. I have pored over Dutch and Belgian beer lists time and time again, trying to conjur a sense of recognition that could reunite us. It’s a classic love story from abroad, where the lover is long and lost… we may never meet again. But sometimes, when my lips touch the cusp of a Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout from Great Divide, I think I can taste it.
Guinness became a stand-by. Something I could drink at lunch with my grandma, and she wouldn’t judge. Something I could order at the end of the night (instead of another whiskey) and the bar tender would wink at me. Also, on account of the caloric count, and the fact that I’m not 22 anymore, I felt it to be a “good choice”. But something that I really appreciate about the good ole OG is that nitro mouth feel. As a bartender I am constantly telling people the difference between a nitro pour, and a regular co2 keg. What I think works best is describing the shape of the bubbles in our drinks. Nitro bubbles are smaller, fit together more compactly, giving the beer a velvety smooth texture. The first time I had a Left Hand Milk Stout (nitro) on tap, I thought I had found the perfect elixir… Left Hand has recently perfected the nitro bottling process, and it’s made the beer possible to enjoyable out of the fridge at home. My sweet chocolaty smooth beer, my love, my sweet..
And then Bellhaven Black walked into my life. Tall, dark, and handsome. It has the flavor complexity of something with a higher ABV and a caramel almost smoke after flavor. I don’t know how I’ve gone this long without it. Even though we just met, like love at first sight, there is that strange feeling like I’ve always known this beer, I’ve always loved it, and I always will.