Beer’s magical powers

Beer glasses 2016BEER!
Helping ugly people have sex for more than 5,000 years
                           — slogan seen on a T-shirt

Yes, there are better things in life than beer, but beer is our compensation for not being able to get any of those better things.

Beer’s magical powers

Beer. I drink a lot of beer. Not the “two 12-packs every week” definition of a lot that would have your clinician frantically scribbling notes on your medical records, but the “two tall mugs on date night” definition that has your spouse cautioning, “You know, you drink a lot of beer.”

There was a time in my life when I did not drink beer. That was in the days when my foremost aspiration was to play second base for the Cincinnati Reds. Some Babe Ruth League coach told me that drinking and smoking would end any chance I had of ever stepping onto a major league baseball field, and in my youthful naiveté I believed him.

Shortly after my last game of organized baseball, I drank my first beer and discovered that I had been cruelly deceived, made the victim of a malicious hoax. In retrospect, I realized the only chance I once had of playing professional baseball depended upon my consumption of huge quantities of beer.

Sure, I never would have made the major leagues anyway, but until my dying day I would have believed that I had the talent to be in the Reds’ starting line-up. That’s just one of the many graces that beer grants us.

A person with a much limited range of skills, I cannot sing, dance, play a musical instrument, do quadratic equations, prepare complicated food recipes, cast with a fly rod, write poetry, win barroom fights, or gain the affection of random beautiful women. With the assistance of beer, however, I can do (or attempt to do) all of those things. Except solving quadratic equations and enticing random beautiful women.

Anecdotal observation has made me aware that I am not alone in my fantasy that beer enhances one’s skills, abilities and panache. I have seen the clumsy launch themselves into a tango, the tone-deaf seize and begin strumming a bass guitar, the tasteless barge into a kitchen and announce they will make pâté de foie gras, the small and weak confront a large muscular fellow named Bruno and attempt to do him physical harm, the unattractive and socially inept hit on women who are not merely out of their league but completely out of their universe.

The power of beer: there is no obstacle it cannot overcome, no barrier it cannot breach, no height it cannot scale, no challenge it cannot meet. Nor, unfortunately, no depth to which it cannot sink.

Used judiciously, beer is the lubricant that greases the wheels of social intercourse. Used recklessly, beer is the incendiary that ignites social conflagrations. As with any potent medicine, excessive doses can bring on causative rather than curative effects.

We gamble with that because we desperately need beer to treat the ills that beset us. Our self-medication with beer is our attempt to inoculate ourselves against the cultural disease diagnosed by the American writer Chuck Palahniuk in his novel Fight Club: “We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact.”

Yes, there are better things in life than beer, but beer is our compensation for not being able to get any of those better things.

This reliance on the power of beer is nothing new. We think of alcohol as being one of the curses of mankind that emerged in conjunction with Industrial Age, the era of change in the Western world’s economic and social order that began about 1760 and mushroomed over the next 250 years into the dehumanizing techno-industrial, capitalist-consumer civilization in which we are all now trapped. And it’s true that beer and rum were the most popular sedatives and mind-altering drugs of the English speaking world through the course of those two and a half centuries.

But beer has far deeper roots than the steam engine or the steel foundry. Archaeologists and anthropologists tells us that beer appeared at the dawn of the Agricultural Age, more than 7,000 years ago, when Jacob’s settled farmers prevailed over Esau’s nomadic herders and began to plant and harvest cereal grains. (Jacob and Esau)

Because wild, uncultured yeasts in the air can land on and start the fermentation process within almost any cereal grain that contains sugars, “beer” was a natural occurrence as soon as farmers began storing their harvested grains in pits or bins that provided the enclosed “brewing vat” that allowed the helpful bacteria perform their anaerobic miracle. We can be thankful for that beneficial coincidence; one school of anthropologists contends that the invention of bread and beer was responsible for humankind’s ability to develop technology and create civilizations (The Complete Guide to World Beer by Roger Protz, 2004).

It wasn’t long before beer began to exert its magical powers over people. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem written about 2100 BC in ancient Mesopotamia, regarded as Western civilization’s earliest surviving piece of literature, there is a passage about the wild man Enkidu who “drank seven pitchers of beer, his heart grew light, his face glowed, and he sang out with joy.” One would think.

Records of beer production have also been found in the written history of ancient Egypt, and in the ruins of Sumer archaeologists discovered the remains of a poem praising Ninkasi, the goddess of brewing, that includes a recipe to brew a Sumerian version of beer from barley. Shards of pottery fired in ancient China show beer was brewed there more than 5,000 years ago, about the same time that Neolithic people in Europe were home-brewing their first buckets of ale.

By good fortune I do not have to partake of beers made by those ancients, because their recipes did not include hops, and for my taste a beer must be “hoppy.” Hops, a bitter medicinal plant, was first added to beer in the early 9th century, in France of all places, a nation not famous for its beers, but it’s only been in the past two hundred years that hops has been a standard ingredient in the brewing process, beer historians tell us.

A friend has told me that my preference for hoppy beers is consistent with my character since those ales, like my personality, are both bitter and sour. For the record, I am not that bitter.

India pale ales, my favorite brew, did not come into prominence until the middle of the 19th century. Fortified with a generous portion of hops, India pale ale could tolerate the long, slow, hot voyage in sailing ships from breweries in England to the “Jewel in the Crown,” the British empire’s colonial possessions in India, where it was welcomed by thirsty troopers of the crown and the British East India Company. That historical connection lingers: if I drink enough IPA, I can speak with a passable Scots-Irish accent.

I can also sing, and dance, cast with a fly rod, write poetry, and (in my imagination) hit over .300 and make amazing defensive plays at second base. I have no desire to engage in barroom brawls these days, and since I am married to the most beautiful woman in the world there is little reason to seek the attentions of any other.

If a random beauty were to offer to buy me a drink, however, I would accept. If the drink is a really good beer.

Because beer has magical powers.


More stories about wildlife, outdoor adventures, hunting, fishing, and life in the North Country are published in my three collections of essays, Crazy Old Coot, Old Coots Never Forget, and Coot Stews , and my novel, Hunting Birds. All are available in Kindle and paperback editions at, and in paperback edition through IndieBoundindependent bookstores.

About Jerry Johnson

Curmudgeon. Bird hunter and dog trainer. Retired journalist and college public relations director. Former teacher, coach, mentor. Novelist and short story writer. Husband, father, grandfather.
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