Recently my world took a trip to hell in a handbasket that was carried by beer snobs. I realize that this might sound like a ridiculously hyperbolic thing to write, but as someone who has devoted the better part of his adult life to cooking and eating and teaching cooking and eating (yeah, I taught several classes on dining etiquette at The Culinary Institute of America) I am acutely aware that there are a lot of people who take food, wine and -this really blows my mind- beer way too seriously.
The most recent event that crystallized my thinking on this happened a few weeks ago at of all places an annual family members social at Vollmecke Family Orchards Community Sponsored Agriculture (VCSA) farm in Coatesville, Pa. The VCSA is run by farmer Karen Vollmecke (Chester county Farmer of the Year 2006) and her mother Jan, and is the place to go for superb organic produce and fruit and a ramble through some of the most beautiful farmland in the county.
I don't belong to the VCSA , but I've been going up there to trade some of the bread I make for the eggs that the Vollmeckes harvest from their magnificent free-range chickens. So it's a measure of the Vollmecke's magnanimity that they invited me and my family, and also indirectly explains why I chose to bring my tool kit and help out with the cooking.
A CSA works best if the people who contract to buy a portion of the crop also spend some time working on the farm. So since I don't buy any of the crop or spend any time weeding or pruning, I figured the least I could do was prep and cook a bit to show my appreciation.
It was while I was cooking that I met four people, the like of which I had previously only encountered at art galleries in Manhattan, at music stores haunted by greasy looking grease-balls in black t-shirts and thick black-rimmed glasses and at other venues where connoisseurs of one thing or the other gather to amuse themselves by tormenting others with their expertise.
Just a few short paces from where I was cooking were two kegs of beer. (It wasn't an accident that I chose to work the grill closest to the beer. Believe it!) I don't remember if it was the first time or the fifth time I decided that I was so hot that I needed a refill, but what I can never forget was the scene that greeted me by the keg of Alaskan ESB beer: a tall very-white bespectacled woman of a certain age (probably my age) with badly cut and frizzy white hair standing shoulder to shoulder with a tall very-white bespectacled man of a certain age with a very definite paunch. Both held empty cups in hands that looked like they hadn't held anything heavier that a toothbrush in a very long time. Now, I had made it to the keg just a moment before they did and since they both looked so miserable -and I had already had enough of this particular brew- I said "Please, you help yourselves, I'm going to have the Victory lager instead."
The woman fixed on my face with a pair of dead gray eyes, and in a tone of voice that was at once monotonous and as discordant as a trio of cats in heat said "Oh, are you sure, is there something wrong with it?"
"No, I said, it's just a bit bitter and I've had enough."
"Bitter?" the man said, his face as still as sheetrock.
"Bitter?" the woman chimed in "even for an ESB? I can't believe it."
The last comment was delivered in such a withering tone of condescension that I realized then and there that I had two choices to make: lift the keg off the ground, try to hit both of them in one shot and run like hell, or turn away, fill my cup with Victory lager and get back to work. I chose the latter -and was sorry I did.
As I was carefully filling my cup by letting the beer slide gently down the side to keep it from developing too much foam, some guy comes along and tells me I'm doing it all wrong and that I should watch him do it. So what does he do? The exact same thing, but much-much slower. The end result, of course, was no better than what I had done, but I was too polite to break his thick skull about it, and let him walk off secure in the knowledge that he was a siphon meister.
Now if you think for a moment that my suffering at the hands of beer snobs was over, you'd be wrong, very wrong. While Mr. Expert had been teaching me how to pour beer boredom had piqued my thirst and I had emptied my cup. And I damn well wasn't going to go back to the grill with an empty cup. As I was refilling and enjoying the recent departure of the three brew-scags a scraggly looking twenty-something guy steps up to the keg and says "Pilsner?"
"No," I said "lager"
"Oh" he says in a tone that made his disgust palpable. Then the wiener turns his back and walks away! There is only one word that is up to the task of describing a guy like this, "wiener" isn't good enough and I'm too polite to use it. (It's wanker.)