Jerry sits back into the couch and props up his legs on the ottoman as he presses the button on his Xbox controller.
“Whoosh.” The television comes to life with a theatrical tone as the gaming system begins to run its launch sequence.
His new neighbor, Gregory, is on his way over to hang out. The two twenty-somethings bonded immediately over video games when Gregory moved into the town house adjacent to Jerry’s unit.
There comes a knock, Jerry tosses the controller onto the couch and promptly goes to the door.
“Hey man!” Jerry greets Gregory with excitement.
“Hey! What’s happening?” Gregory gives a perfunctory response as he takes a step into Jerry’s apartment. They are becoming familiar friends and have spent hours playing video games together already, usually for long bouts of time that stretch into the early morning.
Gregory glides quickly to his usual spot on the right side of the fake, black leather sofa. The brightly colored blanket Jerry’s grandmother crocheted falls behind his back as he sinks back into the cracked, worn cushions.
“Well, I started the download three hours ago, but the internet has been slow. It’s almost done now, like 87%.” Jerry shuts the door and takes his seat on the left side of the couch.
“Aw no worries. I was reading some reviews and they apparently released an update to fix the glitches it had at launch. Hopefully it’ll download with the update.”
“Yeah, hopefully.” Jerry’s voice trails off as he regains the controller and begins clicking buttons, navigating his way through screens of apps. “I was watching some people play it on Twitch earlier, you gotta check this out.”
“Twitch?” Gregory is not as immersed in the gaming world as Jerry. But he is no amateur to gaming. He finds puzzle games more challenging but enjoys the fellowship of a good co-op or role-playing game.
“Oh yeah, Twitch!” Jerry brightens up his tone. “It’s a streaming platform where you can watch other people play video games. It’s awesome when you want to preview something before buying it.”
Jerry mashes a button on the controller to make the screen turn purple, and the Twitch logo appears. His profile comes up immediately. At the top of the search history is a thumbnail of the game they’re waiting to play.
“You have to watch a few ads now and again, but it’s cool.” Jerry presses play on the thumbnail, it expands to full screen and an ad begins to play.
“Try something unique,” the ad is narrated, “try something bold. Try Blare’s IPA Gold.”
“Mmm, those are good.” Jerry says.
“Ugh, I can’t do IPAs. I’ve never found a good one, and people always suggest new ones, but I just think they’re all nasty.”
“Not that one,“ Jerry pops back. “it’s fruitier with a hint of nuttiness. Not too bitter on the front end.”
“Meh, hard to believe.”
“No, really, I swear.”
“Okay.” Gregory says with a playfully mocking tone.
“You don’t believe me?”
“Well, it’s just that I’ve probably tried more than a hundred different IPAs over the years and never found one that didn’t make me want to gag.”
“Well, I promise, this one will not make you gag. You’ll have to add this one to your list.”
“Sure, I don’t mind trying it, I’m just telling you, I’m not a believer.” Gregory chuckles. “Do you have one? I’ll try it right now.”
Jerry looks around as if there really might be a Blare’s IPA Gold sitting right behind him on the end table.
“Erm, uh, no, I don’t.”
The two sit in silence for a beat. The ad is over and now on the screen is another player somewhere in the world streaming the live game. Jerry’s copy of the game is still downloading.
“Wow, man, the graphics look pretty damn good.” Gregory sits with wide eyes staring at the screen.
“Yeah, they built it for 4k.”
Another moment passes as the two sit silently watching before the live feed abruptly ends.
“What happened?” Gregory asks.
“Uh, pfft, sometimes they quit playing.” Jerry bolts out a laugh.
Gregory chuckles, “Oh, ha, oh well.”
“Let me check the download.” Jerry presses a sequence of buttons on the controller and the download screen reappears. “Ugh. Still 87%. Sorry, man, this is taking forever.”
“That’s cool. Put on the other game.” Gregory suggests nonchalantly.
Jerry presses another sequence of buttons while Gregory grabs a second controller from the coffee table. The screen lights up.
“Man, for real, though, I can’t believe you’ve tried over a hundred IPAs and still have never had a damn Blare’s Gold.”
“Yeah, I know, I don’t know. Is it local only, or do they distribute all over?”
“I think I’ve seen it up north and I know a buddy on the west coast who drinks it.”
Jerry is somewhat of a craft beer connoisseur, and though he has never made his own beer, he can tell you how to do it. He loves to tell brew masters how to improve their recipes or try to guess on the spot what ingredients they used. Most of the brew masters just shrug off the social faux pau, while some have trouble hiding their discomfort as he pelts them with his annoying cadence of questions and assumptions. He does it out of passion, not arrogance, and any time he has an audience interested in his advice, he’s on top of the world.
“You know what?” Jerry perks up with an idea. “Fuck this game, it’s going to probably take at least another hour to download. Let’s go downtown and you’ll have yourself the first IPA that you’ll love.”
Gregory laughs, “Really? A Blare’s Gold?”
“Yep!” Jerry stands up with excitement. “A Blare’s IPA Gold. Infused with an aromatic essence that lingers through your nose for days.”
“Yeah okay, whatever, what the hell, let’s go.”
Jerry holds down a button on the controller and the television goes dark, Gregory stands up and puts his phone in his pocket.
“Want me to drive?” Gregory asks.
“Nah, we can walk. It’s only seven blocks. We can make it before we’d find a place to park.”
“Right on. Where are we going?”
“Jack Brown’s Surf and Turf. It’s on Third Avenue just past Church Street. They’ll have it on draft, I’m sure.”
Jerry pans the room, “Let me grab my wallet, and…” he grabs his wallet from the end table, “got my smokes,” he slips his fingers into his jacket’s inner breast pocket to reveal a half-emptied soft pack of cigarettes. “Let’s roll.”
They take a casual pace down the driveway and turn onto the sidewalk. The gravel crunches underneath their footsteps as Jerry’s cigarette lighter flicks inside the palm of his hand to hide his fire from the cool, autumn breeze. Cars zip by them on the busy six-lane road and the tall buildings block the sun as they come to a stop at the corner.
“Let’s cross here.” Jerry takes the lead in the crosswalk when the signal turns.
“It’s such a beautiful day, isn’t it?” Gregory makes conversation as they traverse the intersection.
“It sure is. Maybe they’ll have a band playing on the patio.”
“I wouldn’t mind getting a burger. Do they have good food?”
“Yeah, it’s good. They’re more known for their beer selection, though. I mean, that’s how they came to be known. But the burgers are incredible. They’re made from wagyu beef.”
“Wagyu? Wow. I can’t remember the last time I had a wagyu burger.”
“Oh yeah? They have some unusual burgers. They like to make it weird. Like, they don’t have any lettuce or tomato.”
“No lettuce, no tomato, huh?”
“Yeah, none.” Jerry laughs. “You can’t even order it. They don’t have it.”
“But they have good beer, huh?”
“Oh yeah. And you’re gonna love the Gold, dude. They apparently triple-press the hops and brew it in 125-year old whiskey barrels. That’s what creates the flower-scented lift off the tongue when you sip it.”
“Oh, wow. Okay.”
The two carry on down the sidewalks, bobbing and weaving through countless other pedestrians as they speak loudly to each other over the noise of the city.
“So, the last time I came here I got to meet the brew master who is responsible for the Blare IPA Gold.” Jerry is pollyannaish. “I had no idea until he saw me drinking one.”
“What did he do?”
“He asked me how I liked it.”
“What did you say?”
“I told him it was like magic how he infused the grapefruit with the blueberry, and that the toasted grains were an especially nice touch with the triple-pressed hops.”
“What’d he say?”
“He said he was impressed. It was indeed triple-pressed hops. He said I have a good pallet.”
“Hmm. I love blueberry.” Gregory seems entertained.
“Oh man, you are going to love this beer. The blueberry doesn’t come out right up front, it’s in there, but you’re going to taste the grapefruit more predominantly. But I’m telling you. It’s the best beer I have ever had in my life.”
“It’s going to change your life.” Jerry laughs playfully.
The pair walks slowly through the crowd for five more blocks talking about the beer. Jerry is crab walking sideways facing Gregory explaining to him the process the beer master had described to him.
“He said he aged it for exactly seven weeks, three days, twenty-one hours and forty-seven minutes. Every time. Down to the minute.”
“Whoa. That’s intense. And he told you that? His secret?”
“Well, he said the process is so tedious that he doesn’t think anybody will care to replicate it. He uses orange peel to wipe down the inside of each barrel between each batch.”
“Holy cow. Dang, so this is a one serious beer, huh?”
“Best I’ve ever had.” Jerry grins. “When the hoppy effervescence bounces off your uvula and tickles the tip of your tongue like a blob of disappearing cotton candy, you’ll taste the watermelon notes.”
“Watermelon?” Gregory seems impressed.
“Yeah – watermelon.”
“I’ve never heard of a beer with so many, uh, stages?”
“I call it a sequence. The herbs in the Gold finish last, so you’ll taste a blend of rosemary and coriander right after you swallow it. But that balances beautifully with the previous apple notes.”
Jerry rattles on about how the sweet notes dance an intermingled ballet with the sour notes; how the bitter notes are a backdrop for the savory notes. The traveling duo comes to a stop at Third Avenue where a city bus is waiting for the light to turn.
“Hey, now would you look at that!” Gregory points to the bus and laughs. It’s wrapped in an advertisement for Blare’s Beer. “What are the chances?”
“Ha! I know, right? They make good beer. I guess this is a sign. You’re about to have the best beer you’ve ever had.”
“Yep.” Gregory plays along. “I suppose so.”
The crosswalk signals for them to pass and the gentlemen speed their gait to get across the busy street. One storefront down from the street corner sits Jack Brown’s. It has incredibly tall wooden doors. People struggle to push them open as they spill back onto the street exiting from the tightly packed establishment. Loud music is heard echoing inside and tall tables can be seen from the storefront windows. The building used to be a tailor’s store in the early twentieth century. Now, its brick façade is painted black and neon signs embellish the windows.
The two fellows make their way into the foyer, but it’s so close-quartered they must stand shoulder-to-shoulder as the crowd shuffles. Some people are leaving with leftover food boxes, others are bellied to the bar hoping to make eye contact with an overburdened bartender. Servers are hopping food while laughter and cheerful commotion fill the tiny space. The music playing varies from heavy metal grunge to light and airy folk. The crowd is almost exclusively late twenties to thirties pre-millennial hipsters. Brew masters and breweries are treated like rockstars, twisting together their magnificent, alchemic, grain-based concoctions. No idea is too farfetched when it comes to brewing beer, and these are the icons who try it over and over until they get it perfectly balanced.
“How long do you think before we can get a table?” Gregory has to moderately shout.
“Shouldn’t be too long. There’s a bar in the back where we can probably sit sooner but it’s outside.”
“I don’t mind.”
Jerry scans the room for a path. “Okay let’s go this way.”
Jerry leads the way politely through the crowd to the back of the building. A sturdy glass door with a horizontal metal bar opens to a covered patio behind the building. It’s closed off from the alleyway by gigantic concrete walls which extend to the back of the next building over. Different styles of greenery complement the space where a long bar runs along the side wall. Wading through the two-top tables they find a pair of seats in the middle of the bar surrounded by other imbibing patrons.
“Woo hoo, we made it!” Gregory scoots up his stool and sets his elbows on the bar top.
“Yeah, here we are, home of your first taste of the best beer you’ll ever have.”
“Do we want to order some food right away or have a few first?”
“Oh, they have the coolest ordering system. Here. Scan this QR code.” Jerry points to a sign fully covered in tape on the bar’s face. “You can order from the menu on your phone, and they know exactly which seat to bring it to!”
“Wow, that is awesome.”
“Yeah, that way the bartenders don’t have to slow down on taking beer orders.”
Gregory’s eyes dart around the patio to analyze this wonderful new venue he’s found. Jerry tries to make eye contact with the bartender mixing drinks at the end of the bar for a large group of guests taking up half the two-tops.
“It might be a while.” Jerry surrenders. “The food should be quick, though, which, by the way, I should recommend that you try a seafood dinner with this beer. Or chicken. I highly recommend pairing it with seafood, but chicken would be the next option. Don’t get it with beef or pork. The subtle afternotes of the half-blanched barley they use in this beer clashes in my opinion with red meat.”
“Okay.” Gregory scans the menu.
Jerry continues… “you’re gonna love how you can taste the toasty middle right after you close your lips around a sip. At first, get ready for a slightly bitter smell countered by the sweet taste of the first drop that touches the lips. Then as you gulp it, you’ll get the hints of fruit followed by herbs.”
“Cool. Well, I guess I’ll have the flounder.” Gregory gazes into his phone as he taps the screen to secure the order. “What are you having?”
They fall into a comfortable silence for a few moments as Jerry begins to place an order from his phone. Gregory turns his head toward the outdoor stage. A band is setting up to play for the evening as they begin their soundcheck.
“And… there.” Jerry looks up from his phone and shifts his head toward the bartender still finishing the round of drinks. “We’re probably getting our food first from the way it’s looking. Oh well.”
The band eases into a slow and bluesy groove as everyone’s attention becomes diverted. The hush comes over the crowd only for a moment before each table returns to its conversation. The overhead strings of lights come on and a bit of breeze drips down into this hidden enclave as dusk approaches.
“This is swell.” Gregory beams.
“Hah, yeah, this place is swell. That’s the only word I can think for it.”
“It’ll be swell when you try this beer.”
Jerry is amused with his accomplishment. He is an ambassador at heart and confident that Gregory will love this beer as much as he does.
“Looks like he’s almost finished. I’m sure he’ll come over next. I know he must have seen us by now.”
Gregory turns and looks. “Yeah, I think you’re right.”
“Won’t be long now, the sweet, bitter, savory passages that you’ll find in this beer are going to blow you away, man.”
“Okay, I’m ready.”
Through the gate on the other side of the bar a young woman pushes her way in, comes over to Jerry and Gregory, and leans over the well.
“Flounder and crabcakes?”
Giving an approving nod and smile, Jerry motions to accept the food. She sets the meals in front of them.
“Thank you, miss!” Gregory says.
“Thank you,” follows Jerry.
“You just let me know if you need anything else.”
They both turn their attention to their plates. Jerry politely gestures affirmation to the young server as she turns away.
“Mm. So good.” Jerry boasts after stuffing a few fries into his mouth.
“Wow, yeah. They have good fries.” Gregory also stuffs his face with potato.
“What a great day. Nice walk, good food. About to have the perfect IPA that you never knew existed. I wonder if the game has finished downloading yet?”
“Yeah, I wonder, too. I can’t wait to get back and play it.”
“Same here. Oh man, this crabcake is so good. Hey — it looks like bartender is finished.”
Gregory lifts his head and sees the bartender walking over to stand in front of them.
“Hey, guys! Sorry for the wait. I had to make those sixteen drinks for that party over there. What can I get you fellas?”
Well,” Jerry started, “we walked all the way from Inverness Pointe just to have a beer.”
“Nice!” The bartender replied. “Well, we’ve got beer for you. What’ll you have?”
“My friend here, believe it or not, has never had a Blare’s IPA Gold. Not one! And he hates IPAs. I told him he’s gotta try a Blare’s before he gives up on IPAs.”
“Yeah,” Gregory chimed in, “I’ve had hundreds of different IPAs and they all are disgusting to me. Jerry here says I’ve got to try this one, that it has some interesting floral notes to it.”
Eager with anticipation, Jerry piped up, “Yeah, I told him about how it’s fruitier with a hint of nuttiness and not too bitter on the front end. And how it’s infused with an aromatic essence that lingers through your nose for days, you know, because they triple-press the hops and brew it in 125-year-old whiskey barrels to create the flower-scented lift off the tongue when you sip it.”
The bartender stares blankly and nods with a wide-eyed smile as Jerry goes on.
“I told him how it’s like magic when the infused grapefruit dances around with the blueberry on your tongue, and that the toasted grains are an especially nice touch with the triple-pressed hops, and how the blueberry doesn’t come out right up front, but it’s in there, so you’re going to taste the grapefruit more predominantly.”
Jerry continued; Gregory smiled. The bartender began to chuckle as he realized Jerry’s passion for this beer.
“I also mentioned how when the hoppy effervescence bounces off your uvula and tickles the tip of your tongue like a blob of disappearing cotton candy, you’ll taste the watermelon notes. And how the herbs finish last, so you’ll taste a blend of rosemary and coriander right after you swallow it.”
I think it’s brilliant,” Jerry goes on, “how it all balances beautifully with the preceding apple notes. Followed by sweet notes dancing an intermingled ballet with the sour notes; how the bitter notes are a backdrop for the savory notes. I told him he’s gonna love how you can taste the toasty middle right after you close your lips around a sip. But you know, I did warn him – at first, get ready for a slightly bitter smell countered by the sweet taste of the first drop that touches the lips. Then as you gulp it, you’ll get the hints of fruit followed by herbs.”
The bartender is left speechless, aghast, and jaw-dropped. Regaining his composure after Jerry’s soliloquy, he turns his head to Gregory.
“Yeah, ahem, erm, so, we’d like two Blare’s IPA Gold. Draft, please.
The bartender turns back to Jerry, and shrinks his shoulders as he sets down his towel.
“Gosh, man, I’m sorry, but we’re out of that beer.”
“Really?” Jerry asked.
“Yeah man, sorry, but the keg got tapped two days ago and we’re still waiting on the distributor. Is there anything else I can get for you guys? Something to try? I can give you samples.”
“Meh, it’s okay,” Jerry says, “just give us a couple of Bud Lights.”