Saturday, August 01, 2009

1299 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

There was time when beer was the only alcoholic beverage I drank. That was back when beer in the Student’s Union bar at ANU was a cheap 20 cents a glass (10 oz) or a $1 for a jug. Before I graduated I had moved on to spirits with Canadian Club being a favorite. Although the Scottish father of one girlfriend was always trying to convert me to Scotch, even at his daughter’s wedding reception! During those days wine was just starting to interest me. It became the primary focus only after I had a job and money to spend.

Decades later my exposure to beer usually means a Corona when Miranda and I have a quiet lunch or dinner at one of the local restaurants. But my interest in beer has been reignited after I met an Englishman in Washington, DC! It all came about when 20 of us sat around a table trying to figure out which research laboratories were the most deserving of government largess. After 10 hours of restrained squabbling it was time for dinner. Lebanese food and Lebanese wine, a passable start to the evening. But what to do next, walk back to the hotel, seek out an ice cream parlor, or follow the Englishman to a pub where he said they serve over a thousand beers. The English are not known for exaggeration but a thousand beers? Three of us decided to check it out, one because like the Englishman he makes his own home brews and the other two because we were thirsty.

What we found after a not insignificant walk on a rainy night was a covered stairway leading up to what looked like a house and turned out to be what can only be described as a dingy, dark bar. This didn’t look good but the dirty carpet, worn floorboards and smell of stale beer didn’t slow down the Englishman. Down to the bar only to find that there was no space. Up to the main floor where he found us a table cramped up against a wall, surrounded by tables of 20 somethings coddling all manner of beer glasses and bottles. Beer bottles and cans were everywhere as were beer posters and signs. A waitress placed a small booklet in front of each of us and said she would be back to take our orders. The Englishman was not exaggerating. There were 10 pages of beers with at least 100 per page. There were beers from Albania to Wales. The beers from Belgium alone covered almost two pages. Australia had two, two beers that is. There was one beer from a country called Tasmania! I didn’t want to point out the obvious because the list did split England, Scotland and Wales.

I started with a St Peter’s Old Style Porter (10.9 oz for $10.95USD) and followed that with a Daleside Old Leg Over cask ale (16.9 oz for $10.95USD). I was just warming up for a shot at a Thomas Hardy’s or JW Lees vintage ale when it was decided that we all needed to be sane and sober for another day of deciding who was worthy of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money.

But I’ll be back!

The Brickskeller was begun in 1957 with 51 different beers. In 2002 it held the Guinness World Record for the most varieties of beer commercially available, a crown which, I believe, is now held by the Delirium Cafe in Brussels; they serve over 2,400 different beers. The Brickskeller claims to be the Mother Church of Beer and to have served over 6000 different beers. With George Washington University close by you could call it a cross between a university bar and a dark, slightly unkempt, English pub. But whatever you want to call it, it’s definitely worth a visit.

I said I’ll be back but in truth I only get to DC two, sometimes three times a year. That means relying on the Brickskeller to quench my new found interest in beer could leave me might dry. Fortunalely San Diego does have its own version of the Brickskeller called South Bay Drugs and Liquor. Drugs and liquor in one place? Well this is California.

South Bay Drugs and Liquor began life as a drug store (or Chemist for those outside the USA) but has grown a sizable listing of 300 or so local and international beers, including vintage ales. Now I know where to get that JW Lees vintage ale.

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