April 25, 2013

On Beer and Family

This story appeared in the April 18 edition of the Gazette van Detroit. I've been writing a monthly column there, Saison D'etre, since late 2012.

Growing up, I was surrounded by wine.

The son of two oenophiles, I was raised in the European tradition of alcohol with meals as a nuanced accompaniment. My father still boasts that, by age five, I was able to discern from the smell of a Bordeaux the area of France in which it was produced. He usually follows this story with line “I’m not sure what’s happened since,” in which he is 37% joking.

What has happened, of course, is that the appreciation for wine I had instilled took root and, some years later, bloomed as a love of beer. Just as wine was for my parents, beer is for me a fascinating, faceted frontier that not only enriches the taste of meals, but the experience of dining with loved ones.

My parents loved about wine what I do about beer: Balance, tradition, complexity and a subject that inspires and enhances delightful conversation with meals. For them, the place that embodied this was the South of France; for me, that place is Belgium.

And now something strange has happened in my relationship with my father. After a few years of working at it, my dad, the longtime oenophile and Corona drinker, has gotten into beer.

He’s started with the classics: working through the Trappists and other big-name Belgian breweries. His tastes tend toward the round, malty complexity of Belgian and Belgian-style beers (not surprising for a wine lover), so they make a good entry point.
Father and son at Lost Abbey

As with the fall of Rome, the exact moment of change is impossible to pick out. I distinctly remember, though, watching a football game with him at an Applebee’s, and my father finding the Heineken he’d ordered too light and tasteless for him (the first time he’d ever expressed such a thought about beer).

It’s been a progression from there.

Like me, he finds most of the American imitators lacking; like him, I’m pretty sure there’s no more perfect a beer than Saison Dupont; like me, he’s adamant about trying even beers he’s pretty sure he’s not going to like. I get fairly regular texts and emails with brief reviews on every new tasting.

I just spent a week in San Diego on a vacation with Dad, and I warned him that the epicenter of hoppiness would probably challenge his palette a little. But what might have been an inauspicious first beer trip together instead was a perfect tour of the benefits of our new common ground.

Whether taking a delight at the unexpectedly incredible environment and food at Stone World Bistro and Gardens, enjoying the Belgian inspirations of the Lost Abbey, or sharing a disapproving look at one of the mediocre brewpubs, beer provided the perfect accompaniment for our first father-son trip in a several years.

We did go to Belgium together once, but it was some time ago when the only thing I knew about beer was that I liked it, and the only thing my father knew about beer was that he really didn’t. At this rate, I imagine we will make another stop soon.
Dad at Stone Brewing Bistro and World Gardens.

Sharing an artisanal love – whether Bordeaux, farmhouse ales, or fancy mineral water – isn’t a necessary part of a paternal bond. Dad and I took many great trips together before he could even stand an interesting beer (some of those were to places where there was no good beer to be had, anyway). But the first brewers understood that, like any other shared interest, the enjoyment of beer provides a subject around which good conversations can occur, and those conversations can bring us closer together.
The paintings of Lost Abbey's label art.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice! I know it's off-topic for you, but I really enjoyed this post. (And pleased to have found another Saison Dupont lover!)