Hello, my name is Michelle and it's been 28 years since I've had a beer. Wait a minute....does something not seem quite right to you? Let's do the math. I'm 31 years old and it's been 28 years since I've had a beer? So that means I was....three?
The math is correct. It has been 28 years since beer has passed my lips. When I was a child, I was terribly scarred; beer was the nastiest thing on the planet and I vowed never to touch it again. Still confused? A brief summary:
One fine summery day, my three-year old self rode in the backseat of the car while my parents drove to some place my memory can't recall and wishes to substitute a place called Mingo Creek where I spent many pleasant hours playing in the water and catching minnows. It was a hot day and I remember having a terrible thirst and demanding a drink. My poor parents planned to pick up lunch on the way to the park and had nothing with them that I could have. 'Dad has something!' I whined. Sure enough, my father was sipping a cold beer in the front seat. (This was the early 80s--do keep this in mind!) I was told over and over that I couldn't have it but eventually my annoying pleas won and in exasperation the cold can was passed back. I took a mighty chug.
That was the first and last time I ingested beer. Until a couple of weeks ago when I was offered a wonderful opportunity (more to come on that in May!) that necessitated a rapid beer education, it seemed my childish vow was going to hold out the remainder of my life. A few of my beer drinking friends offered to help me out. The first place we went to was the Blue Dust in Homestead, PA. It's a small place, located on Amity Street just over the tracks from the area known as the Waterfront.
It is possible that a few of my friends sensed that I was growing cold feet because I was gently assured that they had many different types of beer and that the food was good. Oh, and Tuesdays are .25 pierogi! In Pittsburgh, if you don't eat and love pierogi you are unceremoniously tossed out of town on your ear. Everyone here loves the little noodle dumplings stuffed with mashed potatoes and sauteed in butter and onions.
Pittsburgh is also known for its steel mills even though nowadays there are very few operating mills and the city is very clean compared to what it used to be. Blue Dust pays a respectful homage to our city's roots with a mural painted on its walls depicting the mills bathed in a gentle golden glow.
Our waiter brought us over a sampling of different beers to start with: Hoegarden, Rogue Hazelnut, Lagunitas WTF and Duck Rabbit Milk Stout. We started with Hoegarden. Everyone took a sip and shared their thoughts about the flavors before passing it on to the next person. No one was overly concerned about passing germs--we are a close bunch and someone remarked that surely the Catholic method of wine sharing without germ passing worked just as well for beer. I can't say that was the best idea but no one got sick so perhaps there was a bit of truth in it. By the time the beer came to me, I had an idea of what 'things' to look for.
Hoegarden got the most diverse set of opinions. A few thought it was light and airy. Another said it had a malty finish. I thought it was bitter and murky but the two most amusing opinions were Mark's 'burn electrical' description and Joe's 'piss tastes better.' I'm not sure how either knew what those two flavors were but I'll take their word for it!
Dinner arrived after we had only tasted a few beers which was a good thing because it was quickly becoming vital that some of us needed a bit of solid nourishment in our stomachs before proceeding. I ordered a chili cheese dog that came with a side of chips and salsa. The dog was a hebrew national hot off the grill with just the right amount of char for that summer barbecue taste. Lacking beans and spice, the chili was a little disappointing. I can appreciate the Blue Dust's decision to exclude the beans but the chili unfortunately was as dull and lifeless as chili served in a high school cafeteria. I do wish the cheese had been cheddar of the sharp variety rather than cheddar of the giant bland bagged variety. The onions were crisp and tried valiantly to provide the kick that the chili was lacking.
The chips and salsa were similarly delicious and mediocre. The chips were well salted and had the slightest green taste to them that would have went perfect with excellent salsa. As it was, the salsa while house made and bursting with freshness, lacked the same thing as the chili. It was completely without any attitude. This was salsa for toddlers...not really fit for beer drinking men (and women!).
The pierogi were delicious. Small and handmade by someone's babcia (I do hope I got the word correct for that--my Italian genes would prefer to say 'nonna'), the pierogi were lovingly stuffed with the just the right amount of mashed potatoes and carefully sauteed in butter with onions until the onions began to take on just the smallest amount of sweetness and the edges of the pierogi began to turn a delicate shade of golden brown.
After the meal was mostly consumed, we returned to the business of beer. I learned how to smell each beer before taking the first sip and then letting it sit in my mouth for a moment or two before gently swirling it around and swallowing it. The way the different flavors played out--the initial taste, secondaries and then the finish never failed to surprise me, especially the ones that finished with a nutty aftertaste.
Lagers, Ales, Stouts...hops, barley, wheat...warm versus cold and 'why' were all tossed at me by many eager and knowledgeable mouths and I tried my best to take it all in and keep it straight in my head. I even took notes including all of the beers we tasted:
Hoegarden, Rogue Hazelnut, Lagunitas WTF, Duck Rabbit Milk Stout, Dragons Blood, Corona, Fiery Monk, Oberon. Merry Monk, Voodoo Cowbell, Fat Gary, Guiness, Dogfish, IPA, and Golden Draak
I wrote a little description of what each one looked like, how it felt in my mouth and my impressions of its taste along with the opinions of the others. I did learn that I prefer the darker beers to the light; they don't taste as bitter as the paler ones do. With one exception: We were brought a mystery beer that was medium colored and tasted so awful that it took every bit of my willpower to swallow it. I am so grateful that was not the first one we tasted otherwise I might have been too afraid to continue on.
I still have quite a lot to learn but I did learn one other thing that night: Men might be men when it comes to beer but when it comes to chocolate thank-you cookies they are boys. Not a one could wait until they got home to dunk them in a cold glass of milk!
601 Amity St
Homestead, PA 15120-1519