My Mother's Craft Beer Epiphany

Jen Rizzo, September 12, 2013

I do not come from a craft beer family.

I was born in the midwest four years before Boulevard Brewing Co. came on the scene, and unfortunately their infectious energy hasn't yet managed to persuade the Bud Light drinkers in the generation above mine. The best photo I've ever been a part of involves a two-year-old version of myself with a tucked-in sweater holding a Coors can. Anyone who left the house on the week of my grandmother's death was under an unspoken obligation to acquire another two cases of Bud Light before being permitted back in the house. If we had a family crest, the Anheuser-Busch logo would probably be on it.

My mother, god love her, puts up with an awful lot from me. We are identical in build, voice and mannerisms, but are ultimately not cut from the same cloth when it comes to interests. Her idea of a pleasant outdoor afternoon involves traipsing through shady cemeteries doing genealogy work for friends in other states that have helped her out with finding her own family. Mine involves convincing her that this one's going to be a really easy hike, I promise. She is smart enough to not believe me but loves me enough to follow me. I'll take it. 

She approaches craft beer with a similar attitude, and has spent the years since my 21st birthday taking a sip out of everything I ever order when we're together. I'll hand her my glass, she'll take a drink, and then she wrinkles her nose just enough for me to see but never enough for a bartender to notice. If other people are around, we'll joke that I just keep trying and we'll get there someday; if it's just us we don't even bother.

My mother is a Bud Light drinker. 

Five years ago, I took her to her first craft beer bar in San Francisco. She grabbed us a table while I ordered a PBR (the macro alternative most of the places I take her to will have available) and an Anchor Porter. I gathered my courage before also asking the bartender if they had a salt shaker. 

I guess I left that part out. My mother -- and her sister -- drink their Bud Light with salt in it. They do this because that's what their father did. Before he passed on suddenly in the late 70s, his favorite pastime was sitting in the basement, occasionally requesting one of his daughters retrieve him a new beer. In case you've never poured any contents of a salt shaker into a beer bottle, let me save you four ounces of beer and a good hand-washin': Adding salt to a beer causes a chemical reaction that causes it to foam up very, very quickly. In order to make space in the bottle, the girls had to drink a few ounces off the top of it before adding the salt. That's just science. When they grew old enough to actually drink a full beer on their own, they added salt to it like their Daddy.

(Incidentally, the only part of the story we can't trace is why he took salt in his beer. I once asked my mother exactly what it tastes like, and she waited an appropriate amount of time before looking at her only daughter like she was something of an idiot and answering "Salty beer.")

In the summer of 2010, fueled by a career that wasn't what I wanted -- working too-long days for clients I didn't care about for a company that laid me off with no notice only to call me back again three weeks later because it turned out their project was un-cancelled -- I decided she and I were going on a vacation. She typically comes to visit me in San Francisco -- the food! There's an ocean! I already know the good bars! -- but I couldn't stand being here for another second. We booked a trip to meet in New York, stay with family in New Jersey for a few days, then travel around city-adjacent parts of the region for a few more days. 

Did I mention it was hot? It was hot. I was looking forward to the weather, because I had not yet adjusted to the traditionally cool Bay Area climate. It was only my second too-cold July and I was done with the whole thing. I was ready for heat. And New York rewarded me with 100 degree temperatures. Every day. 

I traveled a few days earlier than she did and stayed with an ex-boyfriend who also doesn't drink beer. I lived in the city for a year in the mid-2000s, but had only traveled as far north as his apartment once in the time I lived there. Having no insight from him and only one option mentioned on Yelp, I trudged across the neighborhood to a sketchy-looking warehouse that appeared at first glance to be a replica of every bargain-bin liquor outlet traditionally found by a river off of I-70.

And then, in the 100 degree summer of 2010, staying in an apartment that lacked central air, I bought a four-pack of 2008 Goose Island Bourbon County. It's not my fault the store had some two years after the release date. What was I supposed to do, just leave it there?

I drank two of them myself that night and woke up the next morning with just enough time to spare to pack my hangover safely next to my two remaining bottles and drive to LaGuardia to pick my mother up from the airport. We sat in traffic for a solid three hours between there and New Jersey, making both of us silently question the nature of this trip in the first place. By the time we reached my cousin's home, we were ready for a beer. The San Francisco-Kansas City crew was welcomed with Anchor Summer and a Royals-Yankees game on the television. 

The ritual began. I cracked an Anchor and passed it to her to try. She pulled the bottle back from her mouth, but this time, she didn't hand it back to me. I instinctively had put my hand out, having memorized the timing of this dance years ago, but she wasn't budging. And then, my heart melted as I watched her try it again. And again a few seconds later. I can only imagine what my face looked like, but I will forever have the look on her face memorized when she told me "It's fine." She never gave the beer back to me. 

I think what you're supposed to do when you finally get the moment you've been waiting for is to play it cool. Walk away as the car is exploding behind you. Never look back. But it has never been my style to look cool, and I wasn't about to start now. "Wait, what? No! Are you--- wait, what?" I sputtered at her. (She was playing it cool, incidentally.) "No, I'm serious. What is it that you like? Why this one?"

She gave me the same look she had given me years earlier when I asked what salt in a Bud Light tastes like. "It tastes like regular beer."

I flew 3,000 miles to watch my mother drink her first craft beer, and it turned out to be a beer brewed a mile away from my apartment in San Francisco. She drank them all week.

Since then, she continues to be a Bud Light drinker and I continue to not give her grief for it. She'll drink a Boulevard if I'm in town and make her go to a pool hall. If I happen to make it to Kansas City at the right time of year, I'll buy her a couple bottles of Hoppin' Frog's Turbo Shandy. She can be talked into most things if I use the word "citrusy" in the description. If it's available, though, I'll buy her an Anchor Summer. Because it tastes like regular beer.

Anchor Summer Beer American Pale Wheat Ale

Appearance (4/5): Clear, golden color, with great lacing that disappears relatively quickly. 

Smell (3/5): A little sweeter than I'd prefer, with a little bite of citrus.

Taste (4/5): Easy-drinking and less sweet than the aroma would bring you to believe. A little hop bitterness to balance everything out.

Mouthfeel (4/5): Crisp, light. 

Overall (4/5): Simple and refreshing. I buy the first six-pack I see every year and knock back a couple on my 60-degree patio, thinking about my mother's first 100-degree craft beer moment.