You CAN Go Home Again: Memory + Beers + Bars

Tristen Shields, August 11, 2014

"You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time back home to the escapes of Time and Memory."

- Thomas Wolfe from You Can't Go Home Again

Perhaps Mr. Wolfe was right about a lot of things and I'm not really qualified to weigh in thoroughly, but I know he was wrong on two counts, (1) beer and (2) bars can take you back to a version of home. Before I get into all that I should say that I love talking/writing about beer and hate talking/writing about myself, but I concede the importance of some background before I start blathering all over BeerGraphs. In addition to heading up the ColdBrewPost section of the site you will likely see me again in a contributing capacity. 

So, in true A.D.D. fashion here is a brief bio and three reasons you should care. 

Part 1: Boring Bio Stuff

Grew Up: Mostly Greater Cincinnati with Chicago and Houston roots
Education: BS Anthropology from NKU, MA History from UC
Reside: Marin County CA
Other: Musician, long-suffering Cincinnati sports fan and worker bee

1.    Writing: I've been writing since I can remember and published my first terrible poem in the 6th grade, resulting in a personal letter of gratitude from the President. Additionally, I managed to muddle through an MA in History with a commendable GPA, which is not a badge of honor, but merely evidence of my ability to cobble together 300+ pages of passable academic prose. I've also done stuff on beer in a variety of formats and publications.
2.    Beer: I love all types, from micro to craft to even the quality macro not yet ruined by boardroom thinking. My thesis/graduate work was centered around beer advertising and consumer culture from the 1800s to the present. I know beer styles, pubs, and their history which provides angles for depth and shading.  
3.    Perspective: Being mostly raised in Midwest, I know that world and living in NoCal, I'm right in the middle of a hotbed for craft-brewing and the like. Besides being well-travelled and plugged into two distinct US beer scenes, I also have the additional lens of academic/archival work.

Ok, glad that's over. Now, on to more interesting matters. 

Part 2: Finally Writing About Beer and Bars

I love Northern California and, for too many reasons to count, I'm hard-pressed to find another place I'd prefer to live. Still, recently I found myself in a roadside dive (the estimable Ernie's Tin Bar in Sonoma County), sipping a Scrimshaw Pilsner, reflecting on trusty Midwestern brews not available in my sun-filled, hoppy exile. Of course, I live in a great beer market, but like James Joyce writing in absentia about the dirty streets of Dublin (hyperbole intended), I composed a list of favorites from The Buckeye State, no doubt sweetened by the miles between me and them. 

Four Ohio beers I love, but can't enjoy without bubble wrap, a small fortune, and possible broken laws:

1.    Mt Carmel Nut Brown Ale: rates high against others with more notoriety
2.    Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter: strong representation of a classic style 
3.    Christian Moerlein Emancipator Doppelbock: Jake Speed said it best, "Christian Moerlein saved the day"
4.    Thirsty Dog Hoppus Maximus: excellent amber, not too hoppy at 43 IBUs

Hopefully you enjoy great brews from all over, but can always appreciate what's brewed not too far away, waiting at the local grocer or public house. Perhaps you too will find something special in the combination of a quality local spot and a beer fermented right down the road. 

Speaking of drinking spots, the only thing that makes beer even better is a quality space to consume it publicly with other humans. Thinking about all these Ohio beers it was only natural to connect a good pour with good places from my hometown resumé. I could tap a list of favorites to rival the Cincinnati Reds DL, but if I had 48 hours to kill, these would be my priority stops where, like Abbey Road on vinyl, grabbing a pint feels like it should.

Four Cincy bars where drafts + digs = just right

1.    Dutch's: it's evolved over the years, but remains focused on great libations with a staff like Beer Pandora
2.    Arlin's: classic college/neighborhood dive and everyone from patron to publican would proudly agree
3.    The Comet: hipster heaven or hell (you decide) with great quesadillas and an unrivaled juke box
4.    Crowley's: a staple on the hill long before rents went silly where the black stuff and local crafts go down easy

In Summation: 

There are too many cliches and quotes about going home so I'll spare you any extended melodrama. Yet, all this nostalgia yapping has me in a Fitzgerald sort of mood, so forgive me if I eventually sneak in a line from the The Great Gatsby

Recently I was able to swing through the old neighborhood and have a few with three of the best friends a guy could hope to have. My visit reminded me of something noteworthy and none of it was worth pining over. By choice, I'll likely never live in Southwest Ohio again, but that doesn't mean you can't retain a fondness for the places and things that most shaped you as a person. For me, a cold brew means friends and laughter and a connection to a certain optimism you try to never forget. Beignets taste better at Cafe Dumonde, ruebens taste better on the Lower East Side, and beer goes down a little smoother in your hometown surrounded by old friends. Memory is a funny thing and I guess we're all curating our past for a better way forward, as Nick Caraway says, like "boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." I did go home and no Wolfian existential crisis ensued, exactly the opposite in fact. Perhaps this is all a little heavy for barley, hops, and water, I mean, it's just beer right? Right?


Contact Tristen: 
twitter: @coldbrewpost