While not always a conscious decision, our choices often reflect our moods and surroundings. Think about what drives your beer selections. Are you seeking something strong to spark up your night? Or selecting a lighter brew to refresh you from the day’s work? With the vast array of beer flavors available our choices will indicate where we’ve been and where we intend to go. Beer is about the moment…so shouldn’t you pair it with the one you’re currently in?
This summer the “beer life” returned me to Portland, OR, and as I waited for my conference to begin I was reminded of a particular instant with beer. This momentous experience illustrated to me how a beer’s flavor can reflect those of the atmosphere while teaching me the importance of considering the mood when selecting a brew.
My first trip to Portland was for the Beer Bloggers Conference. With the conference over, I was getting together with an old friend who had moved there. We meet up at a bar close to where I was staying. As we enter the lively atmosphere, a room full of warm color and character(s) strikes us. Dim and din, the place is best suited for forgetting oneself than catching up with someone else.
I pick up a menu and start scrolling through their beers. Most of the names are imperceptible over the clamor however one stands out: Old Rasputin. The intense Russian imperial stout that “Never Say(s) Die” perfectly fits the persistent, blaring mood of the room. We shout our order to the bartender over the soulful music blazing in the background. Beer in hand we squeeze ourselves into an open table.
While barking our reminiscences and new news to one another, the meat and cheese platter we had ordered arrives. As we eat, the brew’s boozey notes cleanse the charcuterie’s richness (chocolate and pate go together a lot better than you would think but that’s a story from a different conference) with the dark malts grasping onto the pungency of the cheese. The vibrant flavor of Old Rasputin meshes with the energy of the room and matches our excitement as we chat on. Our beers finished and food gone, the overbearing nature of the room begins to dominate the conversation.
We exit the bar and allow our hearing to return. It’s lightly sprinkling out; the first rain I’ve experienced in this town that’s known for its wetness. Not ready for the night to end, we continue to talk as we walk along. A bottle shop we stumble upon is closing but the staff allows us to grab a brew before they finish up. A great selection, but only one fits what I’m feeling: Ninkasi’s Helles Belles.
Not the most exotic offering they have but one that could rejuvenate the mind and match the serene scene outside. We sit outdoors under a veranda and watch the soft showers lazily drift downward. Wind gently pushes the sprinkles onto our faces and the dew collecting on my brow gives the sights a sparkle.
As I pour the beer for us, the glittering gold beverage enters the glass and releases a floral perfume into the surroundings. Mixed with the rain, I get the sudden impression of drinking beer in the shower. The cleansing sensation is a stark contrast to the exhausting atmosphere of our previous locale. The gentle malt character brings a sweetness that is finished with a lightly bitter afterthought. Reminding me of the enjoyment of the evening but the reality of its impending end. The last train was about to arrive. We finish our beers then sadly say our goodbyes as the scene comes to a close.
No matter what match you are making for beer, the decision will need to consider the surrounding sights and sounds. When you’ve had countless moments with beer its interesting to see which ones stick with you. This moment has been imprinted in my mind as a result of more than just an appreciation for good conversation and company (I’ve had plenty of both). But rather, it has impressed upon me the importance of our surroundings and its influence on our tastes. From the energetic greeting of two old friends to the uncomfortable calm before their bitter-sweet farewell, two beers were able to describe an entire evening and every mood. That is truly rare and something to always seek when pairing beer.