Sunday, April 16, 2023

Ode on an IPA


Sometimes when I’m feeling grateful for something, I am moved to write an ode to it. This is one of those times. Also, I’m planning to create a new category in the albertnet index, “Drink,” and it’ll be nice to have a fresh post to top the list.

The poem

Ode on an IPA

Of any beverage, I like beer the most.
But not just any rotgut swill will do.                        2
In fact, I’d like to now propose a toast:
To holding out for only first-rate brew.

What use have I for lagers, which are weak?
Or stouts and porters, cloying as they are?             6
It’s strength and bitterness my palate seeks.
In this regard, the IPA’s the star.

I can’t imagine any better booze:
It’s hard to beat in terms of ABV,                             10
And truly unsurpassed in IBUs,
With feisty hops that add to its esprit.

   So what should therefore fill our holy grail?
   A hearty, hazy India pale ale.                                 14

Footnotes & commentary

Title: Ode on

Why is it sometimes “ode on” and sometimes “ode to”? Beats me. I almost wrote “Keats me,” because it’s hard to think of “ode on” without remembering Keats’ famous “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Hmm. Perhaps I can only speak for myself here. You may have no idea who Keats was. You might be saying, “Wasn’t he that groundbreaking economist?” No, that was Keynes. And I see we’re getting way off track here, only two words into the title of this freaking poem.

Title: IPA

It’s tempting to think if you don’t know what an IPA is, you’re on the wrong blog. But in fact you should read on … you’re about to be educated on something really important!

Line 1: beverage

I think “beverage” is a really corny word. It’s right up there with “luncheon.” I can hear it now: “Okay, ladies, what beverages would we like for our luncheon? Shall we set out doilies? Perhaps we can sit out on the veranda.” But I couldn’t use the word “drink,” because a) I’d have to fuss with the meter some more, and b) “drink” has connotations of alcoholic beverage, and I want to be clear that I like beer more than any other ingestible liquid, alcoholic or not. (I’m not counting water here; if I could only drink one thing the rest of my life, beer would be an obviously fraught choice.)

Line 2: rotgut swill

After reluctantly settling for “beverage” in the first line, I was very pleased to pen “rotgut swill will do.” I think “rotgut” is a word that deserves more usage, though we’re fortunate in our life circumstances if we have little need to trot it out. For guidance on using “rotgut” in a poem, click here.

Line 3: toast

Next time I have a drink with friends, I’ll propose a toast, and it’ll be this one: holding out for a first-rate brew. Of course, if my next drink happens to be a Coors Light, this would be a pretty hypocritical toast. Fortunately, the likelihood of that scenario is slim. This was not always the case, I hasten to add. As a starving student, I sometimes had to make do. For example, I was once headed to a BYOB BBQ (in this case, the “B” was for both “beer” and “beef”) and was hoping to mooch off my friend. Alas, he was hoping to mooch off of me. So we dug around in the change jar, under sofa cushions, etc. and came up with around five dollars total. This was enough to purchase some house brand chicken franks and buns (fortuitously on sale!) and a twelve-pack of Meister Brau, so we were good to go. In some ways I don’t really miss those days.

Line 5: lagers

In case you’re not an aficionado, there are essentially two main categories of beer: ales and lagers. There are wide variances within these, of course. Most watery American macro-brews (e.g., Coors, Budweiser, Miller) and most Mexican beers (e.g., Corona, Tecate, Pacifico) are lagers. Lagers really are weak and watery. This can be objectively confirmed by looking at their alcohol content and IBUs (more on this later). I’m tempted to say lagers are for people who don’t actually like beer and would like it to be as close to water as possible, but that’s not really fair. Lagers have their place, like after a really long, hot hike, or when you’re eating Mexican food, or when somebody offers you one.

(To the wise guy in the back claiming the two main categories of beer are regular and light: you are not funny, and there’s no valid reason to even acknowledge the existence of light beer.)

Line 6: stouts and porters, cloying

Full disclosure: I probably couldn’t tell a stout from a porter in a blind taste test, and I doubt I’m alone in this. But then, I’m no expert; as I said, I have little use for them. I almost wrote “stouts and lambics.” Although one source claims that lambic is actually the third main category of beer, it’s really not very common. It comes only from a single region in Belgium and although every one I’ve ever tried has been sweet, I’ve read they can be sour. I figured I ought to focus on beers readers are familiar with, rather than trying to act like some kind of know-it-all.

I do enjoy a Guinness now and then, actually, and though it really is kind of sweet, I will acknowledge that “cloying” is a bit of an exaggeration. (Chalk it up to poetic license.) I recently read somewhere a very believable account of why Guinness, a very low-alcohol ale, is so popular in Ireland: it has to do with the pub culture and the desire for patrons, typically men, to spend a very long time socializing there. A strong beer wouldn’t do; everyone would be passed out, unless they developed a strong tolerance, which would of course destroy their livers.

Line 7: strength and bitterness

I do like a strong taste, in pretty much everything. Ever been at a restaurant, and you ask the waiter about some fish entree, and he says, “Don’t worry, it’s mild, not too fishy”? I never got that. Why shouldn’t it taste fishy? It’s a fish! I never eat tilapia because it tastes like nothing. It’s the lager of fish.

The other sense of strength has to do with alcohol content, which I’ll get to later.

I’ll grant you that bitterness is an odd thing to desire, outside of the obvious metaphorical sense (i.e., “I want a beer as strong and bitter as I am!”). Bitter beer is certainly an acquired taste, just like strong black coffee, espresso, green tea, very dark chocolate, and arugula. (I personally don’t see the point of espresso, other than European affectation, but that’s why the Americano exists.)

I remember the first time I had an IPA. It was like fifteen years ago, and it was the excellent Racer 5 from Bear Republic Brewing Company in nearby Cloverdale, California. I was throwing a surprise birthday party for my friend Trevor. I chose Racer 5 without regard to its quality, actually: I simply liked that the “5” on the logo was red, because Trevor’s nickname was Red 5. (He was the best sprinter on our UCSB cycling team, and, particularly if he got a good lead-out, he almost never lost. I once gave him a lead-out and as I pulled off, I thought of the scene in Star Wars when Han Solo sets up Luke Skywalker to blow up the Death Star, and yells, “You’re all clear, kid!” Red 5 being the name of Luke’s X-wing fighter, I tried pinning that name to Trevor and it stuck.) At the party, a pal complimented me on my excellent taste in beer. At the time I totally disagreed: the Racer 5 was far too bitter for me. But now it’s one of my favorites.

Line 8: the star

This is a bit problematic, since arguably Stella Artois could claim to be the star since it’s their name, or Heineken because there’s a star on their label. But “star” makes sense here, and it rhymes properly, and I’m sticking with it.

Line 9: booze

The point here is that in my book, an IPA not only beats out other beers, but beer beats out all other alcoholic beverages. Mixed drinks can get you into trouble, as can the imprecision of pouring wine. Moreover, I just like beer.

Line 10: ABV

ABV is alcohol by volume expressed as a percentage: the other measure of a beer’s strength. Legend has it IPAs were stronger in order to survive the trip from England to India, but Wikipedia says this is a myth. For whatever reason, IPAs are traditionally more highly hopped than other beers, and stronger. Most beers put the ABV number right on the bottle. This is kind of handy if you’re making an effort to modulate your intake.

You might think I prefer a higher ABV because I want a strong buzz when I drink. Not so. I will readily admit that part of the point of beer is the alcohol, which is pleasant, and which does aid in relaxation at the end of the day, and helps ease any residual pain in my legs from a hard bike ride. But I’m a big guy and a 12-ounce, 5% lager just doesn’t do it for me, while two beers is more than I care to drink at a sitting. A 12-ounce IPA in the realm of 6.2% (the ABV of a Lagunitas IPA) or 7.5% (a Racer 5) is perfect. Two lagers would be like a 10% IPA; not even the Drake’s Denogginizer Double IPA has that (though it’s close).

Line 11: IBUs

IBU stands for International Bitterness Unit, an objective measurement of bitterness (details here). I’m not sure how scientific or accurate it truly is, but I do find it helpful. Anything over 50 is a good, strong beer. (A small number doesn’t mean a lousy beer; I like Fat Tire ale and it’s only 15, which is typical of a lager.) The highest I like to go is the Denogginizer at 90 IBUs. The main use for this figure, for me, is when I’m at a pub with my wife mansplaining to her what watery lager she’ll like the best.

Line 12: feisty

Did you know that the word “feisty” comes from the word “feist,” meaning a small mongrel dog, especially an ill-tempered one? Fun fact!

Line 12: hops

Hops make beer bitter, but that’s only part of the story. I think, or like to think, hops make beer sprightly in other ways. Maybe this is all in my head, but who cares? Placebos are legit.

Line 12: esprit

From the Latin spiritus, spirit. Pun intended.

Line 13: grail

Let’s not forget that a grail isn’t just something that’s sought after. It’s a chalice. And what’s the point of an empty vessel? Let’s fill it! With good beer!

Line 14: hazy

Lots of IPAs are hazy these days. Wikipedia says this is “achieved using a combination of brewing techniques, including the use of particular strains of yeast, the timing of adding the hops, and adjusting the chemistry of the water.” I just love the taste of a hazy IPA. It seems to be the specialty of my favorite brewery, Fieldwork, which—just my luck—is walking distance from my house. Look how different this Fieldwork hazy is from the red ale next to it:

I think of a Fieldwork hazy as the grapefruit juice of beers. Just delicious. In fact, I would have worked the name Fieldwork into the poem itself except that I can’t: the word is dactylic (i.e., the first of its three syllables is stressed and the next two unstressed), which is incompatible with the iambic meter of a sonnet. I thought of writing the whole poem in dactylic trimeter just to work in Fieldwork, but that would have taken too much effort.

Email me here. For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment