For better beer – Words and images by Mike V. Sardina
Ready for a Heady
There are certain beers that are simply what I will call, for lack of a better way to describe them, “special occasion” beers. These might not be your favorite beers, and in fact, they most assuredly are not. Otherwise you’d be drinking them all not time, certainly not occasionally. These might not be the most sexy-limited-rare-what-have-you beers, no, often those beers are disappointingly unremarkable. They don’t connect and resonate with you the way a “special occasion” beer always does.
Yes, when you have a “special occasion” beer, you’re left with an unforgettable flashbulb memory of the moment. The place you were when you had it. The people you were with, or the solitude you were enjoying.
And these beers will be different for everyone. Your “special occasion” beers are not my “special occasion” beers, nor should they be. And damn you for judging another person for the beers they hold in this regard. Perhaps that beer is an Orval. Perhaps it is Genesee Cream Ale. Perhaps it’s a Westy 12, or perhaps it’s a sticker-labeled can of whatever DDH DIPA that person stood on-line for that week.
The point is, you remember everything about drinking that beer, and deeply so. For me, the last “special occasion beer” that I had was Heady Topper…
I was in Waterbury, Vermont, at the world-class Blackback Pub for an event there. I’d been there since the bae had opened, and all afternoon, session-ing on my favorite pale ales and having a bite or two to eat. By perhaps my third glass, it was almost evening. And it was time for a change.
By happenstance, I was there with someone who both works at The Alchemist and lives nearby in the area—let’s call him Joe. He suggested that we go for a stroll and walk down the street a few short blocks to the American Legion, a place where he claimed he had visited before, and a place where he assured me that we could get a good beer and get it for cheap. Now when a person like Joe suggests something like this, you just simply nod and agree.
When we arrived, we walked down the steps to the entrance of the place, it’s facade looking like any other VFW or American Legion in anytown in America. Like a teenager about to ding-dong-ditch the house down the street, you know that one house you always drive by, we rang the buzzer. They let us in!
Immediately it was a situation like a scene in the movies where everyone turns their head, the record scratches loudly and the music cuts out, maybe a glass shatters on the floor. The guys there were, well, veterans, and they looked to be good old buddies who had been there drinking beers for a good long while, at that. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little bit scared.
“Self-service today, folks,” one of them muttered into his bottle of High Life, turning his back on us to once again face the bar. It was then I noticed that there was no bartender back there, and other than these four veterans, the place was deserted. I thought it was a test.
I stood there dumbfounded, thinking that once I go back behind that bar and grab myself a beer, it would become clearly evident whether I passed or failed their test… I was rescued! A friendly woman strolled in, apologized with a welcoming laugh, took her position behind the bar, and asked for our order.
“Cans of Heady Topper, all around,” Joe quickly said. As we paid for the beers ($5 cash per can!) and opened them, we actually got to chatting with everyone there. Who we were… Where we were from… What brought us into Waterbury? Laughing and joking together, by the time I had finished my can of Heady, we were all fast friends (or at least, after enjoying a whole can of Heady Topper to myself, I sure thought so).
As we got up to leave, I took one last look around, thinking, that was one helluva beer, one that I wouldn’t soon forget… Most definitely a “special occasion,” if I ever had to say so.