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Sour Beer

Christina Lee

beer-199650_1280Since my first timid slurp, rife with notes of Palmolive and expired milk, I have distrusted sour beer and all its enthusiasts. Each one has been served by a smirking bartender who addresses my splutter with a smug, “Yeah, it’s not for…everybody.” 

Who is it for? I imagine a backroom speakeasy for sour lovers, swapping words like “rhizomes” and “I.B.U.” and high-fiving. No, definitely something way hipper than a high-fiving. Fist bumping? No. See, I don’t even know.

After a few bad experiences, I gave up trying to drink sours and began instead enthusiastically professing my hatred for them.

So, when we were out to dinner last night with a friend who’s a brewer, and when he and his wife ordered sours, I went on the defensive.  

“Ugh, gross,” I said intelligently.  

Brian looked crestfallen. I braced myself for the judgment. But then, instead of dismissing me or patronizing me, he offered advice. 

“You just haven’t tried the right sour…we just need to find you the sour that you like, and then you start to get the flavor! And then it’s so complex and fascinating. That’s what I had to do.” 

He loved his craft in such a whole-hearted, relaxed way; he had no room left to take my reaction personally. He was so genuinely enthused. It caught me off-guard. I wrote down the names he recommended as “starter sours” and promised to give them a shot.

A colleague of mine, a legendary music teacher, retired this year. When I say legendary, I mean it. This guy made Mr. Holland look like a total schmuck. At his very last concert, he told the audience he knew the three steps to living a full life. We all, teachers and students, leaned in to listen.

“Find what you love,” he told us. “Get really, really good at it. Then give it away.” 

I’ve thought about his advice nearly every day since. It’s pretty much the key for writers, and artists, and teachers, and people of faith, and every human being on the planet. Before last night’s dinner, though, I thought that last step, “give it away,” could only be a grand gesture— teaching a class, opening a school, starting a non-profit.

Of course, those are excellent gestures. But Brian’s sour-beer evangelism reminded me that this generosity should also happen in everyday, “throwaway” moments. It is vital there, too.

When I tell people I studied poetry, I get a lot of “poetry just isn’t my thing.” And if I’m tired, or feeling judged, or just feeling lazy, I dismiss them. I shrug and say, “Yeah, it’s not for everybody.” I shut them down because I feel shut down, which is the opposite of generosity. I love the idea of finding “starter poems” for the poetry-suspicious, of that being part of my job—to give away what I love.

They might not change their minds, just as I might not be a full sour convert. We’re entitled to our own tastes, after all. But who knows? I’ve already tried the first beer on the “starter sour” list, and actually, it’s pretty delicious.