Drink, Memory.

All About Beer, September 2011

As a children's librarian, I read hundreds of picture books to kids every year. Once a month or so, I pick up a book that seems oddly familiar and I have the experience, an almost physical sensation, I've begun to call the Memory Rush. As I begin to read, a sense of recognition washes over me. I know this story, but from where? I realize I have read the book before, many years ago, and a story from my past rings into the present.

Recently, the Memory Rush involved a beer. A friend suggested the Lagunitas Brewing Company's Hairy Eyeball, a beer I had heard of, but never tried. On the hunt, I went to a local liquor store that had relocated and expanded, a business move no doubt influenced by this new golden age of craft beer enthusiasm. Finding a Hairy Eyeball on the mix-a-six shelves, I went home psyched, like a '66 teenager with the first press of Blonde on Blonde. That night, three sips in, I had a Memory Rush: the Eyeballwas sweet and boozy, with slight carbonation and a silky mouth feel. I knew this beer, but from where?

On the fourth time around, it came to me: A decade ago, craft beer was an open road I wanted to explore as far as I could. The beer I found one day had a picture of Thomas Jefferson on it, the Tavern Ale by Yards Brewing Company. Based on Jefferson's original recipe, the beer salutes one of America's first home brewers. I knew none of this at the time, but I grabbed a couple to share with a buddy of mine, someone whose interest in good beer and American history matched my own.

But memory can be an unreliable narrator: does the Hairy Eyeball really taste like the beer I had tried ten years before? Does it even matter? The Memory Rush was enough. It showed me how far my palette had traveled, awakened me to the joy of trying something new, and reminded me to be grateful for a friendship that continues today.

Bottle labels can trigger memories, too. At the sight of a Humboldt Brown label, I found myself back on my honeymoon: Joshua Tree, California in early August. The daytime temp was 105, a heat that stings like a blanket of thumbtacks. Burning through an endless mirage in a Mustang convertible, we found a ramshackle joint at the edge of the desert, but it could have been the edge of the world.

Only you will understand this: Those times when you need a beer. When the craving is so acute, so palpable, you become almost blind to quality. Malt, hops and a buzz to fend off the day become lifeblood. The place had one beer, the Humboldt Brewing Company's Hemp Ale. I didn't even ask for a glass. Between the desert heat, a new-marriage high, and the weirdness that only Southern California can provide, I savored that ale - a nutty little gem laced with hemp - as if it were my last beer on Earth.

We all have these moments. It could be in a crowded outdoor festival or with friends around a table. Craft beer, its beauty and mystery, becomes part of our journey, together through life. Now go crack open a beer you've been saving, find your dusty copy of The Giving Tree, and enjoy the rush.