Sunday, July 22, 2007

Heaven in a Glass

Now that the dog days of summer are panting at the doorway I am seriously on the lookout for anything that will cool me off. Imagine my joy when I discovered that my most favorite beer can finally be found in Chicago!

As most of my friends know, I am not much of a drinker these days. The occasional cocktail before dinner, with a glass or two of wine during the meal, usually does it for me. My days of frozen margaritas chased by tequila shots are long behind me, although these days I find myself feeling as if I had stayed up drinking all night the next morning after just one glass of wine.

And I have never been much of a beer drinker. I never really liked the fuzzy buzz of a beer high, and I didn't really care for the taste - it was too bitter for my delicate tastebuds. Or too sharp. But everyone drank it so it was impossible to avoid.

The only beers that I could manage to swallow without making a face were Lone Star Long Necks. And, oddly enough, Mexican beers, especially Tecate (but only with limes). Luckily for me, drinking Lone Star was a matter of pride among my friends so I rarely had to deal with Schlitz, Bud, Pabst, or Coors.

But there was one other Texas beer that appeared as often as Lone Star. There's a little town not too far from Austin called Shiner, Texas, that's been home to the Spoetzl Brewery since 1909. And back when I was in college, they sold their Shiner beer for a ridiculously cheap price, so it showed up frequently at parties. It came in short, squat bottles, and tasted like piss to me. It kind of looked like piss to me, too. I shunned Shiner beer like the plague.

Fast forward about five years and I was working at the Austin Public Library. Quite a few of us had gotten into the habit on payday Fridays (we were paid every other week) of going to Scholz's Beer Garten for a little socializing and unwinding before the weekend. There were never less than ten of us; more often there were close to twenty people sitting around several pulled-together tables in the back yard, where we would order french fries, onion rings, and endless pitchers of beer.
There were many fine and lively conversations that took place around those tables. We talked about work, politics, music, and life. We would start around 5:30 in the afternoon and most often would stumble out around midnight. Most often we would head to our various homes, but every once in a while we would not be ready for the evening to end, and a few of us would find ourselves at Flapjack Canyon for a midnight breakfast. And one of those times we still weren't ready for the evening to end and found ourselves on a 3:00 a.m. road trip to Mexico.

I liked the beer at Scholz's. A lot. It was dark and kind of yeasty, and it wasn't as bitter as most of the beers with which I was familiar. When I found out it was Shiner Bock, you could have knocked me over with a feather. When I bought my first six-pack and found out it was as good in a bottle as it was in a pitcher, I never looked back. I still did not drink beer that often, but when I did, it was always Shiner Bock.

And then I moved to Chicago. After a search I pretty much knew would be futile before I even started, I gave up on beer. Which wasn't really a big sacrifice because I wasn't that big a fan of it anyway, right?

A couple of months ago I was walking down Chicago Avenue on my way to meet some friends for brunch Kitsch'n. And plastered on the side of a building was a huge painting of a bottle of Shiner Bock. Wow, I thought. It must be coming to Chicago at last!

And then I forgot about it. Until a few weeks ago, when I was pushing my cart up to the checkout lanes at Treasure Island, and I saw sixpacks of Shiner Bock piled high on the floor in front of the liquor section. I didn't even have to think about it. I swooped up a sixpack, brought it home, and put it in the fridge to chill.

And then I waited. I think I was a little afraid it wouldn't taste as good as I remembered it. I also wanted the perfect moment to arrive, which I know is risky. But I was waiting for one of those hot days that just cried out for an ice-cold beer.

And that day finally came. It was a Sunday, and the temperature got close to ninety. I had been out in the sun, and on the bus on the way home the thought came unbidden - "What I need is an ice-cold beer." I got home, pulled out my cold Shiner Bock, poured some into the same kind of beer glasses they used at Scholz's, and took a sip.

And that cold, icy goodness just flowed down my throat. It was every bit as good as I remembered it. And the memories that came with it were just as sweet.

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