by Nicole Freire
This column originally was going to be about one of my neighbors, who is an alcoholic. Then I was going to say something about being half Irish, so obviously there are bound to be some drunks somewhere in the family tree. And then that was going to lead to other alcoholics I've known and then I realized, wow, it was going to be one heavy, depressing column.
Instead I'm going to talk about beer. More specifically, my beer lameness.
When I was little, my father (who is not an alcoholic, Hi Dad!) used to drink Lucky Lager. I loved the squat fat glass bottles, and more importantly, loved the riddles that were under the cap. My dad would hand them off to me and I was so proud when I could figure out the riddle all by myself, without having to ask him.
In high school, the only beer to be had was the Lucky Lager equivalent - cheap, watered down beer. Budweiser, Coors, or whatever you could convince someone to buy you a keg of. At that time, Corona beer was considered wildly exotic and a bigger score than wine coolers. Remember those? Bartles & James? How about Boones Farm? Oh, my stomach hurts just typing those names.
And just an aside here - Mom, I never drank any beer until I was almost 17. Plus, I was pretty socially awkward, so the number of "keggers" I was ever invited to was fairly low. I think I can count about 4.
So, not being particularly picky, and having limited choices, I was always partial to Budweiser. When it was cold, it tasted pretty much like beer-flavored water. This was fine by me, since I wasn't particularly inclined to drink very much. And who in high school discusses beer in any sort of educated manner besides the quantity drunk on any given weekend?
During college I did what many people did - I spent a semester abroad, in London. Traveling and living with 40 other American students, all of us 19 years old? Most of the group thought they had died and gone to liquor heaven. Nobody was going to card us, we weren't going to have to cajole anyone into buying us liquor, no, we could walk into a pub (or for that matter, the first European airport we landed in) and order anything containing alcohol.
Eventually, as the semester wore on, the novelty of being able to drink just about anything was replaced by the novelty of being able to choose what one drank. Cider? Tastes just like apple juice and will get you hammered before you realize what is happening. Irish coffee? They put cream in it. And since I had discovered that playing darts in a pub was more interesting than playing quarters, my drink of choice was the charmingly named Kronenberg 1664. This beer I could handle.
When I returned home at the end of my semester in England, I remember excitedly telling friends that I had found this great beer in Europe, have you heard of it? Kronenberg 1664? To which they replied, Oh my god, Nicole, Kronenberg? That's the Budweiser of Europe!
This made perfect sense. Of course! More beer-flavored water. My ignorance continued into my 20's, culminating in one horribly humiliating moment. It happened in a place known as Gordon Biersch, known to most people as a super fun brewery/restaurant. Me, I was focused on the "restaurant" portion and so when the waiter asked me what I wanted to drink, I naturally said, "Um, a Budweiser?"
Did I mention that I was there with a group of people from work? That there were about 18 of us and since it was the early 1990's I was forced to wear pantyhose to work? That I was the youngest one in the group? That I was the first person the waiter had chosen to start off with?
The withering look I received from the waiter - and the rest of the table - was excruciating. If I had been someone who drank a lot, I would have run over to one of the gigantic vats of beer that I suddenly realized were the main decorative element of the place and jumped right in. As it was, I let my boss order something for me (because of course my boss was there too!) and spent the rest of the night wanting to slip under the table and hide.
Ever since then, I've studiously avoided being studious about beer. Obviously, I like my beer weak. Watered down. And it has to be ice-cold, because as soon as it starts to warm up, it starts to taste like, well, it starts to taste like beer.
So, I don't buy beer very often. There is rarely any in my house, unless someone else buys it and puts it in the fridge. Every once in a while I'll attempt to buy beer if there is some occasion that warrants it. Eating outside seems to be one of those, especially if there is a barbeque involved and large quantities of meat.
I usually fail spectacularly. I'll buy expensive beer but bad expensive beer. Or I'll buy cheap beer and it's undrinkable. Undrinkable, that is, to anyone who doesn't like beer that tastes like water.
Because I'm known now as the one not to be trusted to buy beer, I'm often given a list of acceptable beer purchases. This works fine if I'm in a regular grocery store, but if I'm in Trader Joe's? Like I was last night? Then the beer purchasing turns into elementary beer education, as I clutch the cell phone to my ear and plaintively ask my husband, "Honey, what kind of beer do I buy again? No, there isn't anything here that looks familiar. How about this one? It has a cool name? No? What about this one? It's got a pretty label. No? How about I just read off all the names and you stop me when I get to the one you want?"
I'm so not cool about beer. Not only am I a cheap date (that means one beer or one glass of red wine before I start to get a headache), I'm an obstinate one. I refuse to learn what beer is acceptable to drink or order, a skill that a 39 year-old woman should probably possess, along with the ability to order a glass of wine without making the waitress laugh. I should also probably know how to check the air pressure on my tires but I can only fit so much into my brain. I can parallel park in less than three moves, but buy beer? Not unless there is a riddle under the cap for me to solve.
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Nicole Freire is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara.