Human Brew

Across the Lines Beer Unites Us

Some people hate it, some people love it.

Some people call it an evil in our society, while others revel in it.

No, I am not talking about reality television. I am talking about that usually amber liquid known as beer.

About a month ago, around the world, people celebrated this wondrous concoction during the Oktoberfest celebration. In the spirit of those festivities, I am not going to write about the history of beer. Nor will I write any in-depth analysis of how it is brewed. Finally, I won’t even write about the differences between the various forms that this elixir can take. Rather I will keep this simply to why I personally enjoy the “fruit of the hops.”

Now, being of Irish heritage, some may claim that I am biased when it comes to discussing beer. That is probably true, and I will admit to being predisposed to the darker ales, particularly Guinness. But being predisposed to a certain type of beer is not an exclusive right of the Irish. The same can be said for just about any nationality, and that is one of the things I have always found wonderful about beer. Beer probably enjoys far more mass appeal than any other alcoholic beverages, yet it can also be enjoyed in much the same way as wine can. Wine enthusiasts can discuss the merits of cabernets and merlots just as beer drinkers can extol the virtues of ales, stouts, and lagers. There are as many, if not more varieties of beer as there are wine.

While fine wines have often been perceived as appealing to those with a distinguishing palate
, beer has never fallen prey to such a stereotype. Yes, Guinness may be an acquired taste, but if you don’t like stouts, then there are always lagers or ales. Beer can and does appeal to the broadest constituency—from
dock workers to Wall Street bankers; men and women; Americans, Europeans, Asians, Africans, Australians. Beer is enjoyed in every corner of the world. In a sense then, beer may be the most democratic beverage of them all. (For the record, I do enjoy wines as well and mean no disrespect to wine drinkers).

On a more personal level, beer often acts as a conduit between the generations. My Dad no longer drinks, but growing up I can still vividly recall sitting with him and my uncle watching the Mets on television, cold Rheingolds or Schaeffers in the fridge. Between innings I would run out to the kitchen to get fresh cold ones for them, always with the promise of a little sip as a reward. Even though I was only six or so, I was “one of the guys.” When I was a bit older, it was my uncle in Ireland that gave me my first taste of Guinness (and my second, third, and fourth for that matter), while another uncle brewed his own beer and proudly shared a pint with me as he discussed his technique (it needed a LOT of work–not that we cared by the second pint). But one of the best stories I can relate is of my grandfather in Dublin, who every morning would fill a pint glass, half with Guinness and half with the fresh milk left on the doorstep early that morning–it was his breakfast of champions.

Beer is also a bond that can bring people together. There are so many stories I could tell about friendships that were made, or at the very least, interesting people met, over a few beers–discussing world affairs with an Irishman and Englishman in a pub in London; watching the Super Bowl with guys from France, Australia, India, and Egypt in a friend’s apartment in Philadelphia; raising a pint with a half-dozen other Americans watching the World Series in a pub in Sydney; buying a round for a group of servicemen on leave in New York as a way to say thank you; or just celebrating a friend’s good fortune. I can’t imagine doing any of these things with a chilled chardonnay. Oh, and by the way,I met my future wife for the first time over a pint of Guinness.

Beer is something that can be appreciated for it’s complex tastes, for it’s aroma, for the method in which it is brewed, for any number of things. But I also appreciate its uncanny ability to cross the boundaries of generation, time, and nation, and to remind us all that deep down we are one human race under God.