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Barry Crimmins

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The Final Draught Saturday, January 1, 2000

by Barry Crimmins
Originally published in The Cleveland Plain Dealer Sunday Magazine

Last week, my friend Minkton invited me to join him for a beer at the Rattlelakes Brewing Co. -- Brewers of Fine Malt Beverages For Nearly Two Years. I figured, why not? I hadn't gone out for a drink for months. I estimated that I must be thirsty.

Nowadays I'm a twelve ounce weakling when it comes to drinking but this does not mean I am without a checkered and carousing past. At times my debauchery reached international proportions.

Ten years ago I traveled to London to appear on the British equivalent of Saturday Night Live. Since I only had to work for five minutes during an entire week, I had plenty of spare time to invest in scholarly pursuit. My choice? The people and pubs of London with a special focus on the indigenous beers of the region.

I felt it wise to investigate something I had already become conversant in on the other side of the Big Drink. My research was most gratifying. For the benefit of science, here is a distillation of my findings.

British pubs serve beer at the temperature of the dogs who sleep in it just prior to its being poured. Rest assured the canines are well cared for and have comfortable lives as flavoring agents. None of them are foolish enough to drink their bedding.

Although there is an endless variety of brews in England, the only difference I could detect from one beer to the next was the degree of filth that coated the beer tumblers from pub to pub.

Never eat anything called "Pancreas Pie" in hopes it will stabilize several pints of local lager.

They close the pubs in England every few hours; otherwise, nobody would ever go home. It could be the Pancreas Pie that awaits them. I did find one after-hours joint that served me as late as 4:30 PM.

The Brits are friendly and fun. If you buy them a few pints, they will join you in a rousing rendition of that Eighties barroom tribute to Margaret Thatcher, "Reagan With A Blue Dress On"

Make sure that at least one person in your group refrains from the local beer and sticks to something less potent, like gin or rum or grain alcohol.

Never go drinking with me in a monarchy. There is something about a half-gallon of porter and/or stout and/or ale that encourages my surly side to come out. I become especially aggressive with anyone who believes in the lucky, magic, divine right of kings. As best I can remember, the term "in-breeding" tends to provoke particularly passionate rejoinders from our British cousins. It was during one of these disputes that I confirmed that Bobbies really do not carry guns.

Upon completion of my research I happily returned to America and the bland domestic brews on which I had been weaned.Since then, my beer consumption has dropped off precipitously. I've gone through less beer during the Nineties than I did in seven days in England. Of course, the fans at last Year's Super Bowl could collectively make the same claim.

I still have a brewski now and then so I agreed to meet Minkton at Rattlelakes. The first thing I noticed about the brewery was that there was nothing "micro" about it. This bar couldn't fit on the deck of an aircraft carrier. The place was jammed and everyone was discussing the same subject -- beer. Each patron was describing his or her own method for selecting the perfect Malt Beverage. Every round brought another dissertation. For the first time ever, I felt uncomfortable at a bar. I led Minkton over to a table.

A server followed and asked us what we were drinking. Realizing Rolling Rock was not an option, I requested the beer list. I was relieved to find it was in English but still had to beg for a few minutes to "make my selection." Minkton was getting embarassed, "While my friend is deciding, could you bring me a medium bucket of the Porter Stout Wheat Decemberfest."

She nodded, "Right away and might I say, Sir, a very good choice."

Then Minkton, a man who belongs to a bowling league, began to deliver a treatise on his selection. He was using phrases like "a hearty yet subtly brusque finish".

"Listen, beer steward," I scoffed, "I'm having one pop in this joint and we are out of here. Now, without going into molecular composition, what do you suggest?"

The waitron returned with Minkton's PSWDfest and he took charge, "My friend would like the sampler."

Moments later, she was back with five snifters. As each four ounce beer was placed on the table she described its lineage and contents. I have seen heavyweight championship fights with less verbose introductions. I inquired if there were any credit hours available if I finished all five beers. No such luck.

On my far left was the Raspberry Amber Bock. I tried it and between winces indicted Minkton for taking me drinking at Knotts Berry Farm.

Next was the Indiana Pale Ale -- less fruity, but I was beginning to suspect somebody was smuggling British dogs into the greater Cleveland area.

This was followed by what Minkton was consuming, the PSWDFest. A distinct concoction suggestive of a carbonated beverage made from cuspidor run-off. Here's looking at you, pal.

Then, in the spirit of the season, Celebratory Cinnamon Christmas Stout. Liquid shoe polish spritzed with more than hint of Spic and Span. Merry, Merry.

Finally, I lifted the Double Dutch Porter to my lips and was shocked to taste chocolate beer. Unsweetened chocolate beer. I glared at Minkton and sneered, "What say we get out of here and go treat ourselves to a hops fudge sundae?"

The server returned and asked for my evaluation of the beer, expecting me to select my favorite for an adult-sized order. I looked around and realized everybody was having fun. I said, "It seems to work and that's lovely. But I prefer beer as the lubricant rather than the subject of conversation."

Both Minkton and the server appeared genuinely injured by my comment so I softened the blow with a falsehood. "I think all of your brews are excellent but I am in a bit of a hurry so I won't have time for another."

As I left, I thought someday I would drop in again and be friendlier with the staff and all of the conspicuous consumers of their designer beer. Maybe I would tell my tales of London pub-crawling. But then again, maybe not. It's probably best to let sleeping dogs lie.