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You Can't Go Home Again

I had my back to the light and my face was upon the things where the light fell. My face, by which I looked upon things that were in the light, was itself in the darkness. --Augustine, Bishop of Hippo

There may be Biblical precedents for the notion of the self-analytical literary confession, although to my knowledge the first writer to explore the idea that "it takes one to know one" was Augustine (born 354 A.D.), later made St. Augustine, but at the time just an ordinary cleric obsessed with his sinful past.

From the vantage point of later life, and during the course of various ruminations that were designed to make the case for conversion to Christianity, Augustine freely referred to his youthful lusts, debaucheries and indiscretions, cataloguing and dissecting them, and offering them for the painful scrutiny of his readers. By doing so, he became perhaps the first public figure to emit a primal scream, predating John Lennon by at least 1,550 years, unburdening himself as a means of seeking catharsis for seemingly irreconcilable inner desires, addressing his internal dissonance, recognizing it, and conquering it in the name of something far better.

For Augustine, the problem was sin.

For the Curmudgeon, it is swill.

It has been a long and arduous path to self-knowledge, trudging upwards from the desperate and degraded depths of Schaefer "Weekender" 30-packs to the sublime pinnacle of vintage Alaskan Smoked Porter, but at least the swill-soaked years of my wayward youth were not passed in vain. From them are derived valuable glimpses into the human psyche, and possible explanations for why the majority of American beer drinkers remain in the same abject, leaden state of bondage that I managed to forego.

How do I know this shtick so well? Because I was there, baby. I could spend the next decade drinking Guinness, and I'm still not sure the overall balance of a lifetime would be tilted to good beer over bad. The truth is, I was really bad for a long, long time � and then I got better, although it took a long, long time. Now I'd like to see to it that you don't have to go through the same thing. I want to make the world safe for drinkers of good beer, and for the next generation to be spared the hardships we had to endure.

There are questions: Must one necessarily experience bad beer to gain an appreciation for good beer, or can understanding and knowledge of the good somehow be gained in the absence of the bad, and without that point of comparison? What happens to you when you gain knowledge of the good, but see so much bad still entrenched all around you?

How the hell did I get here?

Apart from a handful of wee nips as a child, taken from bottles of my father's beer, my first solo "cold one" was consumed at a junior high school party. Actually, four of us split a can of (shudder -- cough -- it wasn't easy for Augustine, either) Budweiser. The primary objective of this action, which took place out in the woods, a safe distance from the prying eyes of the hostess's parents, seemed to be the establishment of street credibility by having beer on our breaths and mimicking the outward appearances of drunkenness, with which all were familiar, if not by personal experience.

It was a stormy April a year later when the gang staged the first of many campouts at the Floyds Knobs farm of one of my closest friends at the time. I dutifully helped to drag three cases of Fall City longnecks up a wooded bluff, leading from the chilly waters of a creek where they had been hidden by a sympathetic senior football player. For these efforts, I was amply rewarded with by first genuine and unstaged bout of inebriation, a rite of passage made tolerable by the icy flavorlessness of the beer, which numbed my teeth, bolstered my confidence, and gave me an escape from shyness.

We were oblivious to the elements, paying no heed to the rising wind and rain that heralded the arrival of a storm, but Jeff's parents were paying attention, and soon we saw the headlights from their pickup truck coming down the dirt path. We were told that tornadoes had been spotted, and we'd best move the party, beer and all, to the barn by the house. Our paranoia subsided once we realized that they didn't care about our drinking as long as we stayed put, and we piled into the bed of the pickup, lay on our backs, stared up into the swirling eternity and swore through stinging raindrops that we could see tornadoes fornicating -- except that wasn't the exact word we used.

Another year later, when my friends began getting their driver's licenses, the bountiful paradise of Louisville's west end liquor stores beckoned to us, just beyond the provincial confines of New Albany, down Vincennes Street to the K & I toll bridge, and over the Ohio River into Portland. It was then that the frustrating struggle to find a brand of beer that did not totally disgust me began in earnest.

Owing to my sadistically youthful appearance, I wasn't often the one chosen to go inside Liken's or the Corner Store and try to get served, so I was at the mercy of my companions's tastes in beer. This was problematic, because at this stage the "flavor" of a beer was little more than an unpleasant impediment to ingesting its alcohol and trying to look cool while grimacing. My friends liked Sterling and Pabst; I didn't, but they were doing the work, and I was in no position to argue, so I had to adapt.

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 Rich O's Public House
 3312 Plaza Drive
 New Albany, IN 47150
 (812) 949-2804
 info@richos.com
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