I’m not a beer drinker…in fact, I’m fairly certain that I’m allergic to beer. Several years ago–seven and some to be a bit more precise–I decided that since I’d be turning thirty soon, now would be a good time to take a big, long walk. So I did. I took my first trip across the ocean to southwest Ireland and I hiked the entire Dingle Peninsula, alone. It was gorgeous! Of course, being in Ireland, I felt well, er, obligated to drink a pint of Guinness and so I ordered myself a tall warm pint of the stuff–of which I managed to imbibe maybe three sips before being overtaken by a terrific gripping sensation in my throat. It was as if all the colonial ghosts were working to strangle the Irish out of me. Well, as it were. And so, I determined, after a few more choke-y experiences with beer that it just wasn’t meant to be. That’s right. Beer and I called it quits. (One of my oldest, dearest friends used to call me ‘one beer Johnston’ but in fact the less catchy ‘two sips of beer Johnston’ would be more accurate.)
Cheese of course is splendid. Sometimes creamy, sometimes brittle, sometimes smooth, sometimes sharp–always an enormous tax on my digestive system…but it’s cheese. And I love it.
The thing is–it’s neither beer nor cheese that really matter here. Indeed, the real focus is my effort to integrate into this new environment. The beer and the cheese, well, they’re just props.
There’s a great local magazine in St. Louis called Sauce; they’ve a print and online version both of which are filled with great reviews of local restaurants and bars but most importantly they keep a calendar of events taking place in the city. All kinds of cool events. So…when I landed on the “Beer and Cheese Pairing” class to be held at a local fancy-pants cheese and wine shop I thought to myself, “OH, behave.” So we signed up and took a swig at it.
My mom used to drag my dad to wine tasting events when she was in the thick of her effort to pull our family up a few rungs from our inherited social station. My dad used to refer to the events as “walking J-Crew catalogs” but I do suppose he enjoyed the drinking.
Needless to say, I’ve never ‘stuck my face’ into a glass of beer to see if I “smelled the coriander” and I never did stop to take a few minutes to reflect so deeply on my tongue–that is, how the taste of one beverage changes after matching it with another flavor…and I didn’t have the language to run with the serious folks…oh but I did enjoy the two young men–chiropractors in training–with whom I found myself in a lively conversation about the mind-body connection interrupted only by one of the two identifying the most peculiar flavors in his beer: “Hmm, tastes like yogurt”; or later, “yes, definitely carrot cake.” I did mean to double-check his cervical spine but I digress…Too, we were very impressed by another young man (only 22 years old) who seemed to know a lot about beer–history, types, people making it and how they make it, all the breweries and micro-breweries in town and the new ones on the horizon–and this is a guy who has only been legally permitted to drink for one year and change.
When we arrived at the tasting about 6 others had already taken their seats. Everyone was very polite and quite reserved. We waited a bit until the rest of the party arrived–there were 12 of us on the final count. I immediately shared that I really don’t know anything at all about beer and another woman at the table quickly added, “I’m here for the cheese too” and she certainly was–in fact, let me tell you…she was actually scolded by the teacher for taking such large pieces when the cheese passed her way!! “Could you please take a bit less so there’s enough for everyone?”
“What?!” she snapped back, “I’m being GENEROUS! I usually take MUCH bigger pieces.”
Wow, she really was there for the cheese.
Soon, very soon, the event got sort of rambunctious. The thing is we tried–I know we did–to taste the coriander and to explore the ways in which the sharp I-forget-the-fancy-pants-name of the cheese “interacted” with the I-forget-the-fancy-pants-name of the Belgian sixteen-dollars-a-half-liter beer but soon, very soon, it was all: BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH HA HA BLAH BLAH ME TOO! BLAH BLAH REALLY? HA HA HA YOU ARE SO INTERESTING AND FUN BLAH BLAH BURP…
So, in the end the beer and cheese ended up pairing us with ten other strangers with whom we laughed, shared stories, and simply connected. It was a blast! Okay, okay, I think I got a bit drunk.