I’m a born and bred New Yorker, which is great for a craft beer drinker. But, due to finances, logistics, and (maybe) the happiness of my wife, I’ve since moved to coastal Rhode Island.
That’s right, I traded the city that never sleeps, for one that gets drowsy right before Final Jeopardy.
It hasn’t been the easiest transition, but one thing that didn’t get lost on our trip up 95-North is the love of a good community bar. Even in a waterfront community that resembles the set of “Jaws,” there are taverns for everyone from wine enthusiasts to can-crushing frat boys.
My bar? It’s the perfect cross-section of our town. We have fishermen, lawyers, grad students and retirees, all co-mingling as regulars. This harmony makes for a wealth of memorable nights, and some seriously fuzzy memories. But it also has one drawback — everyone drinks the same beer.
And since this is a largely blue collar town, it’s also very much a “red, white and blue can” town (names omitted to protect the innocent and watered down). Of the 15-20 regulars I see every weekend, 95% drink the same three domestic brands. It’s what they’ve consumed since they started hanging out there, and what they’ll likely consume until they permanently vacate their barstools for an eternal happy hour.
(For the record, the bar itself has a WIDE array of quality bottles and draughts, but they gather more dust than our buddy Morty, who seemingly lives in the corner booth.)
Being a scientific sort and an IPA fanatic, I decided to buck the town trend and spend a few bucks trying to get just one salt-weathered New Englander to put down his Rocky Mountain goof juice and try something better. I didn’t want to force it. I didn’t even want to explain why they should give craft beer a try. I just wanted to make the offer.
Here’s how it went down. (And no, these aren’t people’s real names.)
7:15 p.m. — Before I walk into the bar, I take a quick peek between the neon signs that adorn the front windows. It’s a comfortable crowd for a Wednesday, and the regular “shot and chaser” crowd is living up to that billing in grand style. Of the 20 or so seats at the bar, only a few are empty. Not that seating matters much, since the entire crew is engaged in one large, ongoing conversation. I know just about all of them, so this is a good time to test.
7:16 p.m. — I head inside, exchange the usual pleasantries, and grab a prime spot behind the taps with no view of the TV. But I’m here to work, so I shake off the bad view and order a Goose Island IPA bottle.
7:22 p.m. — Turns out, this is a large, ongoing conversation about Tom Brady and cheating. My New York Giants-loving ass knows better, so I decide to wait out the hostility and introduce craft beer when the waters calm a bit.
8:47 p.m. — Conversation ends. Key takeaways — 1. Tom Brady is innocent. 2. Tom Brady is a victim. 3. Tom Brady is God.
8:51 p.m. — Hugs are exchanged, and several rounds are purchased, as evidenced by the growing stacks of small plastic cups in front of everyone. Free beer coupons? This is my way in.
9:01 p.m. — I head over to my buddy Tom, a real estate attorney and devout domestic can aficionado. He’s got a tallboy and a shot of Beam in front of him, same as ever. But he makes my first offer of the evening easy when he asks what I’m drinking. I explain, in moderate detail, about Goose Island’s best (and most welcoming) brew, and offer him a swig of mine (in a cup – we’re not THAT close).
Tom accepts, and grimaces through his first sip. But he takes a second, so there’s hope yet.
After a few minutes of sports babble, he grabs my bottle and starts to read. Though there isn’t much information on the Goose neck (ha!) something became clear. He yells, “CITRUS! That’s what I tasted!”
This opens the door to a bigger discussion of cascade hops, pine notes and the like, right? Not here. Because that’s when I learned something interesting about New England bar patrons: When a guy yells out “CITRUS!” to other bar patrons, it makes these patrons challenge him to a game of 9-ball.
Tom dropped our burgeoning conversation like a techno beat and grabbed a beat-up cue.
9:25 p.m. — I’ve been here for two hours, and people are beginning to call it a night. I’ll have to ramp up my efforts.
Because the bar is largely illuminated by year-round Christmas lights, it’s increasingly difficult to gauge people’s moods. But I notice Matt — a Portuguese-born carpenter cut from a very old cloth — is here, and is pounding the King of Beers like his retirement is locked up in Clydesdale futures. Still, we always get along great, so I venture over his way and start making small talk.
Much like it was with Tom, I let Matt sample a few sips of my Raging Bitch IPA. After all, Matt never met a misogynistic joke he didn’t like, and in his own words, would “love to put [his] mouth on a raging bitch.”
(Sorry to my mom, wife, daughter and Oprah. This is the price I pay for journalism.)
Matt’s time with the IPA made Tom’s seem longer than Palm Sunday mass. Within his first sip, he looks like he swallowed bong resin filtered through Kardashian thong resin. He immediately asks through a clenched lip, “Is that f–king spice?”
When I answer, “Yes, it’s coriander,” he isn’t nearly as impressed as I expect him to be. I believe his exact words were, “Get that shit outta heeeya.” Then, as politely as his palate and upbringing will allow, Matt pushes the remaining beer back in my direction, gargles some Toby Keith juice, and goes back to watching the Red Sox game.
10:05 p.m. — Hope and sobriety are beginning to wane. Since the pool game turned into a round robin, and several other patrons tapped out, I spend 40 minutes talking with the bartender, who keeps asking why I’m trying to pawn my beer on other customers. Then Manny walks in. Let’s get more assertive.
“Hey Manny,” I say as we shake hands. “Want to try a Southern Tier 2X Rye IPA?”
“Sure!” he exclaims, right before he grabs my nearly full bottle, swallows it in four gulps, and tells the bartender to buy me one on his tab.
10:28 p.m. — This is beginning to look like a failed endeavor, which saddens me. Not only is my little experiment becoming a waste of time, but I slowly begin to realize that I’ll never be able to talk craft beer with other regulars. With a cooler this stocked, why is everyone I know drinking XXXX Light?
For that matter, why is the owner stocking this place when the regulars never touch it? Waiiiiittttt a minute….
10:30 p.m. — Irony and serendipity apparently read my mind at the same time. This entire experiment has been based on the notion that ONLY regulars frequent this bar. Clearly, that’s not how it works. No sooner does this blatantly obvious revelation wash over me when a veritable boatload of flannel-clad seniors arrives from the Roger Williams University shuttle.
There are flannels. There are skinny jeans. There are beards for miles. And each of these guys order pitchers of Amstel Light — not craft, but we’re moving in the right direction. Even on college budgets, they refuse to buy the lowest-level beers. (They must be saving a ton on razors.)
I embrace this opportunity and sidle up next to the guy closest to me.
“Amstel is good stuff, man. Have you tri—-”
“Hey, is that Southern Tier 2X Rye? I’ve been dying to try that.”
I had already filled another plastic cup. And he was ready to drink it before we even finished exchanging hellos.
His reaction is good. He’s not THRILLED with the almost “bread-like” aroma, but realizes the nose isn’t indicative of the entire flavor profile. After two good swirls and a swig, he starts to appreciate the nuanced hoppiness and potent finish.
We talk a bit about the brewery’s other offerings, and even share our mutual distaste for their chocolate-orange seasonal. But he has a group of friends to appease, so we shake hands and part ways, but not before he buys two more 2X Ryes — one for each of us.
11:19 p.m. — By the time I finish my gifted beer, I realize most of my local friends left much earlier. It’s time to go. I pay my bill, throw a nod to my new friend and head for the door.
Before you think this is becoming a rom-com, there was no exchange of names, numbers or Facebook accounts. Just mutual respect for better beer, and mutual interest in expanding people’s palates for the betterment of drinking everywhere.
I doubt I’ll see him again, but for the first time since I moved to this town, I’m confident that I won’t always be the odd man out when it comes to ordering craft beer at my watering hole. It won’t change overnight, and some people will always question my funny looking dark beers, but there’s hope to be had, even at the most local of local New England bars.
Bad jokes aside, this was a worthy experiment. Ever try introducing craft beer to can-crushing friends? How’d that work out?
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