The minister in the picture would call it a “session.”
If you took a picture of a session, it might look like what others would call “having a beer.” But it’s more than that. Much more. A session is a piece of a conversation that winds around lifetimes. Stops and starts but always keeps going. Years and distance fall away.
It’s a session.
As the minister dodges those white hose contraptions which are part of the clean up and rebuilding after the floods, winds and fires of hurricane Sandy, and he sits down for just a moment to have his picture taken, I look at the picture and think, Yep. That’s him. Our sessions go back over 30 years.
Right now, he’s kind of busy helping share the grief and the anger and the horror brought to his Jersey Shore community the night hurricane Sandy changed lives forever.
Not much time for a session. So this will have to do. I’ll bring the beer.
I see him sitting in the church alone and I wish I was there. But of course with faith, I am there. So I hand him his glass.
Sessions pay no attention to the boundaries of time. We think back to our very first session.
My sister had brought the minister, her fiancé, home to meet the family. We’re standing at the kitchen counter of my parent’s house in the wooded hills of north central New Jersey. I am on a visit from Chicago to meet this bona fide Englishman, I open a nice cold beer for my soon to be brother in law the minister.
An Oxford educated fellow who also knew the rough and tumble streets of his hometown Manchester. A former liquor salesman soon to be ordained as a Vicar in the Church of England. A guy who likes Van Morrison. He and I raised our frosty cans to toast his welcome; he took a drink, got an expression of absolute horror on his face and spit the beer on the floor.
I’d never seen anyone do that. He’d likely never done it. Especially in the kitchen of his fiancé’s parents. With an expression half way between indignation and bafflement, he said to me, “Is that really beer? Do they make any good beer in this country at all?”
It took awhile. But over the years and many, many sessions, I came to see that sometimes you have got to spit the beer on the floor. Sometimes you have got to ask, “Where’s the good beer?”
As my brother in law became my life long friend, walking with me through seasons of both hope and sorrow, preaching as the snow fell on a Christmas Eve English village church, sitting in a pub wondering if rock and roll really did end in the 1970’s, actually taking on the burden of being a Chicago Cubs fan, that question about whether they really make good beer in the USA went looking for a definitive answer.
Sometimes sessions are like faith; they have to contain a little bit of doubt to make them take hold.
And through the years we were doubtful about the notion of really good American beer.
We always evil beer. Evil was corporate beer. Evil, to us, was Budweiser.
Now, all these years later, as our hair turns from long to gray, I can definitively answer the ministers question and say “Yes!” they will be making great beer, not just in America, but in Chicago! In a reconverted warehouse in the Logan Square neighborhood.
At this session right now. In the wake of the hurricane, perhaps news of new good beer is just what we need. So I go on.
The Off Color Brewery will be opening up soon. Started by an two guys who will undoubtedly have lots of sessions of their own as their hair turns from long to gray, Dave Bleitner and John Laffler.
Laffler is an internationally recognized, award winning beer guy . . . .who just quit his job at Anheuser Busch, makers of Budweiser, where he was brought in to add prestige to the brand.
And because this is a session, I’d speculate with the minister, what it was that happened just before Laffler left his last job. . .
Imagine, I’d tell the minister, the senior marketing team at Anheuser Busch, ensconced in their mahogany paneled board room, sitting passively, each with their hands folded on the gleaming 30 foot teak table, getting ready for a meeting sure to include the word “branding.”
Thirty one year old John Laffler, steps up to the power point projector, clears his throat and says, “The name of our new beer is going to be “I Think That Stripper Really Liked Me.”
The minister bursts out laughing.
So it’s a good thing Laffler left Anheuser Busch’s “Goose Island,” brand to start , “Off Color Brewery,” where the Stripper name really is being considered for one of their new brews.
“Will they really use the name?” the minister asks me, laughing even more, now totally forgetting about his day helping to clean up after Sandy.
“Beats me,” I say. But it might be one of the best beer names ever. And you know what else they’re doing? Off Color Brewing is bringing back German beers that have not been brewed in over five hundred years.
“Five hundred years!” says the minister, nodding with approval. Imagine being able to taste what people tasted five hundred years ago.”
“Think of all that’s changed since then,” says the minister. “ And now good beer in America! It’s finally happened.”
The minister’s question, do they make any good beer in this country? finally answered after all these years.
Just when we needed it the most. At a session.
After the storm.
Originally published in fictionique. Photo credit: New York Times News Service. Rev Neil Turton. Bay Head New Jersey.