Bartender Wisdom 1
Originally Published in FlagLive May 26th, 2016.
Last week the Narrow Chimney Reading series featured one of its summer readings where writers touring through this mountain town stop in to the pub to read their latest and sign books. On Wednesday, we had a tremendous poet who hung out after his reading, signed books, and ordered a pint. He was sipping a Two Hearted Ale, from Bells when he paused, stopped talking strophes, and said, “This is the freshest Two Hearted Ale I’ve ever had.” He held the pint glass up, near his face, and looked at the thing, as if the liquid itself could answer the question. I laughed a little. “Seriously,” he said. “This beer is amazing.”
He went on to explain that he often times toured in Michigan (Bell’s is made there) and this is as fresh as he’s ever had. It’s true that we’d just tapped the keg an hour before. Still, that wouldn’t explain how it traveled across the country, down to Phoenix, up onto the Colorado Plateau and into our little pubhouse in Flagstaff while staying so crisp. I told him I’d look into it. In the meantime, on my next pint, I’d take the traveling poets advice and give it a try. And then we went back to our poetics.
When I saw the sales rep for the company the following Monday, I told her the story and she smiled. She let me know that they go through a lot of it, so the kegs never sit anywhere for long. In fact, keeping up with demand without running out of stock is always the key. Maybe they’d really been lining that out well. Yet, it’s hard to explain the magic in this keg. It was, in fact, spectacular. Anytime I was behind the bar that week I let folks know too, although with only one-hundred and twenty-two pints available in a half barrel keg, the spell could only go on for so long. And that was really the best part, anticipating if the next keg would be as good, wondering when this keg which seemed possessed by the spirit of Dionysus, would finally finish.
With marketing in today’s world, we are ever and ever again driven towards a universal sameness. For both better and worse, more and more becomes the same. This is the strength of the chain hotels, for instance. If you are road weary hauling across country with the kids when you see the familiar sign or logo for a chain hotel, then you know it’ll be pretty much the same as the last one you stayed in. Without too much graphic detail, I recall carsickness with both my young sons. By the time we arrived in Long Beach, our rental car smelled of new car, baby powder, wipes, vomit, and maple syrup. (I don’t know what made the last smell.) I didn’t need any more surprises at that point.
On the other side of the car deodorizer, however, there is something nice about a bit of the unknown. For a long time John Powers Irish Whiskey, the top-selling whiskey in Ireland for decades, carried a certain element of chance once it had traveled across the Atlantic, been in port in Houston for an unknown amount of time, ventured across I-10 in the back of a truck in the summer, landed in Phoenix and then found our doorstep. Some bottles were perfection. At a cheap price or an expensive one, you couldn’t find anything to compete with it. Great whiskey. One time, however, for a Charles Bukowski tribute I ordered ten shots for the folks at the bar, to all my friends, as Buk’ would say. We clanked glasses and I began to down mine when I was met with the most foul smell, something like a grapefruit that had been ran over a few times by a garbage truck. In the middle of a toast, I pressed into it. The taste was awful. I’d have thought the bartender made a mistake, if I hadn’t seen her pour the shots. Was it just me? I looked down the bar at the cringing faces. Oh no. It was not just me.
Over the years Powers has grown in popularity, improved in consistency, and increased its price by over fifty percent. The product is solid and it’s never quite as bad, but it’s never quite as good either. There’s something about that element of chance that I greatly miss. This summer here’s to adventures, small or large.