Dark Beers, Dark Years. The idea is simple enough. I'd like to tell about a dark beer. I'd also like to tell you about some dark years. Specifically, my early to mid-twenties. They were rough times; times that I generally do not talk much about. There are only a handful of people from that time, outside of family, that are still a part of my life – it's funny how that works out – and so to the people that know me now but didn't know me then, some of this may be surprising. Or sad. Or maybe I talk more than I realize when I'm drinking and so you've heard this all before. That's fine, too. I'm doing this mostly for myself anyway. But to the people that knew me then and still know me now – thanks for helping me get here.
I'd seen Stone's Americano Stout on the shelf a few times before I finally grabbed one. Each time, I couldn't help but think about Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley, singing “Tu vuò fà l'americano”. Even now, with the beer poured in the glass on the table in front of me, I see that smokey jazz club and hear “Americano!Americano!” over and over again.
I remember seeing that movie in the theater and not really getting it. Actually, totally not getting it. I remember talking to my stepfather Jack about it the next day. One of the worst movies I had ever seen, I told him. It didn't make any sense, I told him. He seemed disappointed. He thought it looked good.
Some time passed, maybe a year, maybe two, before Jack brought up The Talented Mr. Ripley again. And in that time I had watched the movie several more times and my opinion of it had drastically changed.
Jack said something to me like, “Hey, I saw The Talented Mr. Ripley.”
I responded with excitement, “Oh you did, isn't it so good!”
“I thought you hated it.” he said, reminding me of our previous conversation.
Then I said something like, “Oh yeah. No, I really like it. I've watched it a bunch since then. That's right though, I did hate it at first.”
And that's it. I bring it up because the beer is named Americano, which makes me think of Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley, which reminds me of that conversation I had with Jack, which reminds me that it is one of the only conversations I can actually remember having with him.
I know we talked more than that. All the time. I remember when he dropped me off at the beginning of my second semester of college and told me if I got into any trouble to call him, not Mom, and he gave me his business card.
I remember talking to him about the song “Silent Lucidity” by Queensryche, except at the time we couldn't remember the name and thought it was a Pink Floyd song. This led to at least one, maybe two, speculative Pink Floyd cassette purchases in search of that song. He eventually figured it out.
I remember there was a period where his minivan smelled like maple syrup whenever he turned on the heat. I don't remember if it was the powder blue Dodge Caravan, or the maroon Ford Windstar. Of course he denied it, but I swear something strange happened with an order of pancakes or waffles in that van.
And I remember a talk about my future. About what I was going to do with a math degree. I remember we talked about actuarial science. And about the actuarial exams. And I felt like I had some things figured out at the end of that one. But I mostly remember that conversation because it happened on September 11th, 2001.
Jack died on March 16th of the following year. And I remember that phone call from my Mom like I just got off the phone with her seconds ago.
Standing in the living room that day, I couldn't wrap my head around it. John had just died in July of 2000. He was my younger brother. He was twelve. I was still fucked up from that and now in the kitchen my Nan was wailing, understandably so, things like “Oh God, what did we do to deserve this?”
John passed away just two months after I had finished my fourth year of college. And it was as that fourth year was coming to a close that my Mom informed me that I should find another place to live for the summer. Moving home was no longer an option. Now, I'm wasn't sure if this was a predetermined thing, like “technically he should have graduated by now so technically he should stop living here”, or more like they were just sick of me coming home for breaks and being an asshole hanging out downstairs with my girlfriend. For the record, I only had three classes left before graduating, the result of switching my major from design to math my freshman year.
I half-thought they were kidding. However, when I arrived home for the summer with my car packed full of everything I owned, I was informed that my things could stay but my person could not. And so I found a couch at a friend's place. And I drove to Texas with another friend. And New Mexico. And Colorado. Then my money started running out, and I headed back to that couch.
When John died, my parents didn't know where I was. They knew who I was staying with and had a general idea of where that was, but they didn't have a phone number. And this was before everyone had a cell phone. Or at least before I had a cell phone. It wasn't until after 9 o'clock that night that they were able to get a hold of me. On my drive home, I hit a deer. By the time I got to the house, everyone was asleep. I don't fault them for that. They had been dealing with it for an entire day. I had known about it for two hours.
My grandmother was asleep on the couch and she woke up and met me in the kitchen. She gave me the details. She gave me a hug and a glass of water. I told her about the deer.
After John's funeral, Mom suggested that I move back home. Thinking only of myself, I turned her down.
As I stood there on March 16th, trying to remember one of the reasons why I didn't move back home, I stared at nothing and repeatedly thought the words Jesus Christ; I realized I couldn't remember a thing. I tried to remember the last time I saw Jack. Christmas? But I couldn't remember a thing about that Christmas. I still can't.
When people would call me after John died, I remember I just couldn't keep it together. I would just cry and try and talk and all these strange sounds would grow out of me. But after Jack died, people would call and I would talk to them, and say I was doing good. That I was trying to just be there for my Mom and Brothers. And if I was getting deep with it I would calmly reveal that I wasn't really sure how to feel. Jack had basically raised me, but my Dad was still alive and a part of my life. I hadn't lost as much.
I had plenty of those moments: where I was there for my Mom and Brothers. But probably not enough. Probably too many times that I just used it as an excuse to leave work early, or not go at all , or ignore friends, just to go be by myself and self-medicate. Or maybe just to be by myself.
And you know all this hits a lot harder now that I have kids. They'll never meet. That's it. That's a fact. Sometimes though, I can't help but imagine what those meetings would be like. How big our family would be if we were all together at one time.
I used to have the terribly stupid idea that these tragedies got me to where I am right now. That maybe I wouldn't be in this wonderful place in my life where I have the best Wife and two awesome kids and a great dog. That it was those terrible things that led me here. That maybe there is another universe where those terrible things never happened and I'm the mess I was back then.
But you know, if that universe exists, then why can't there be a universe where none of those terrible things happened AND I have the great Wife, the Kids, and the Dog. Where is that universe? And what the hell does that even feel like?
Americano Stout, Stone Brewing
A tiny amount of tan head off the pour, on the edges and in the shape of a pointy, fractal amoeba floating in the center.
Not as much straight espresso as I expected, but definitely some strong roasted notes as I bring the glass closer, along with some bittersweet dark chocolate. I guess I'm catching just a hint of that dank pine and citrus rind from the hops but it is definitely buried, which is fine. It hard for me to tell if there is a slight brightness to the aroma from that (the hops) or from some other subtle fruit notes. This isn't the espresso hammer I expected, but it has a nice, well-rounded depth.
My initial impression is more hop flavors than I want – there's a citrus rind bitterness that seems to bookend the flavors that I want most from an Imperial Stout, never letting that roasted bitterness take hold of my tongue and just squeeze it. The redeeming quality though is a subtle but great dry fade out that definitely reminds me of espresso.
It tingles the lips and is either a touch light or just right considering the 8.7% ABV. Maybe I want just a touch more alcohol heat. But that's a maybe. It doesn't quite coat the mouth in that slick way that a lot of Imperial Stouts do, so in that regard it can feel a bit empty. But on the other hand, the lack of a satin sheet combined with the dry pillow that floats over the back of your tongue does make for a quick sipper.
Problem is, if you quick sip it, the roasted notes start to dominate. Which I guess isn't a problem at all since if you take a break it lets those hop flavors back in, which again, is not really what I'm looking for in an Imperial Stout, but I get it. Americano. Apparently, it's more of throwback to craft brewed stouts of the late 80's and early 90's (according to the Stone Brewing website). At the very least, it presents a different viewpoint. Sometimes seeing the same landscape from a different lookout can feel refreshing and new. Other times it just makes you think about that other view, that one that you're used to.
JR Shirt writes for BeerGraphs and hosts the Drinking With Shirt podcast with his brother, T-Bone, which you can listen to here. Follow him on Twitter and Untappd @beeronmyshirt.