Brewseum is a fundraiser for the International Museum of Art and Science in Museum. In a its own words: “A Night at the Brew-seum” celebrates diversity, culture, and art from around the world, with live music, prizes, international cuisine, and of course, beer. This was my experience.
The crowd was large. Too large for a space so small. It was a mixed bunch, with the elite of our small town blending with the lower levels of society. Beer and food were the common denominators that allowed this convolution and subversion of the social order. They milled about, blinking like subterranean dwellers newly-released into the day, though it was near dark and the only lighting was out-of-place Christmas lights and the outdoor variety meant to protect the interests of the institution from the teenage taggers. In search of inebriation and satiation, they ignored the restrictions of class and race and bumped and ground to the beat of cover bands and piped-in music.
I had parked way out, in a grassy field, unmarked spaces that blended into each other, particularly where certain large-SUV drivers had parked contrary to the rest of the row, almost pre-drunk in the anticipation of the evening’s drinking. The grass was dry and crunchy on the way in, showering me with buds long-dead, the hope of tomorrow gone without water, or even a farmer’s daughter. I passed a cowboy and his companion for the night. She may have not been receiving a check for her evening’s rental, but she had chosen the costume regardless. She smelled of cheap perfume that focused on quantity of smell rather than quality. I pressed by them, through the door and into the melee.
My ticket had come to me at a slight discount, ten dollars off, leaving me with a forty dollar bill to pay to enjoy the festivities. To offset my discount, I had volunteered to work a cooler during the last two hours of the evening. Some 25 local restaurants were serving food and next to each of their booths was an ice chest, filled with a beer pairing and manned by a volunteer to pour. My wife, on the planning committee, had offered the list of beers and allowed me to choose my brand. With glee I looked over the list and selected my favorite brewer, Shiner.
The first two hours were a blur, bumped, bruised and assaulted by the milling crowd, in search of food, beer and company. It was a bar atmosphere, overflowing into the art-decked walls of the museum, and I was just another piece of flotsam, pushed by the ever-shifting tides. The food was spectacular, particular Roosevelt’s @ 7, a local favorite of mine. They were serving both of my favorites, the Roosevelt club (an amazing club sandwich, topped with a fried egg) and the Sammy Davis Chipotle Pasta. I passed three times, each passing filled with requests for a little more to fill the plate. Adam was pushing their beer pairing, which slipped my mind at the time (I was 3 Shiner Blacks in, at that point), and, though indeed I tasted it, my slightly muddled mind was unimpressed.
Four steps out from their booth, I ran into Beth, one of Roosevelt’s managers (and a friend). She was eating couscous, eyes wide in pretend interest, claiming the mealy and repulsive pile on her plate was delicious. As a critic, as an urban explorer, as an undaunted light-bearer, I passed. She laughed, I slugged back whatever Adam was serving and wandered towards my wife.
There is a moment during every good drinking night when the haze begins to settle in and whatever emotion is bubbling beneath comes rushing out. Suddenly I was filled with glee and excitement to an overflowing point. I skipped three steps, walked up to her table and loudly proclaimed, “HI!”
Sis and I have been married for three years, and in my then-present state of inebriation it only took her one look. “You. Need to settle down.”
And that was that. My buzz blunted, I submersed myself in the crowd, allowing their energy to vicariously appease my own desire for stupidity. It was a good night for people-watching, for drinking with abandon, for staring into the face of democracy and fearing for the future, for losing oneself in the maelstrom.
I felt her hand on my arm. “It’s time to push some beer.”
Sis led me to her office and handed me a t-shirt emblazoned with the Brewseum logo. She kissed me on my warm lips, my glistening forehead, my glowing, alcohol-powered machine, and wished me luck.
The original occupier of the Shiner cooler hadn’t seemed too interested in his work, more excited about sampling the other wares then pressing his own into eager hands. Me, half buzzed, took to the job with a passion that left many of my patrons asking if I was employed by Shiner. The cooler had been stocked with Family Reunion Packs consisting of Shiner’s Bock, Black, Blond, Kosmos, Light, and Hefeweizen. My favorite of those has always been Shiner’s Black Lager, so I gathered up three of them (two in one hand, one in the other), turned to the passing crowd and called out in my best carney-voice:
“Today you can have 100 years of Texas tradition in a cup! Step up here and hold out your cup, you’ve tasted everyone else, now sample a homegrown brewer, independently owned and operated!”
The heads swung around, almost comically, like ducks on a pond, hearing the hunter’s foot across a dry branch. The vendors to the right and left of me started laughing, but teetering on the edge of drunkenness, I felt no shame; and the line began to form.
The Black was the first to go, as every third guy in line would ask what I recommended. I was honest and pushed my favorite. It was surprising how little information people had concerning one of my favorite brewers. After the Black, Kosmos was the next empty, though in actuality the vendor next to me, Bad Bob’s BBQ, were to blame for this. Every time my cooler would swing open, an empty hand would dip in and return with multiple Kosmos for their crew. I didn’t complain, as the beer was enjoyed and it saved my fingers an icy bath.
The Bock was the next crossed off the list. Customers always seem to call that “A Shiner,” not understanding that there are multiple brews to choose from. I guess that’s the curse of branding and simple-minded consumers (consuming a product that makes the consumer more simple-minded!). Few things brought me as much joy as older men shuffling up and asking for a Bock, rattling off a story of their first one, 40,50 years before. There is beauty in the past, the past is remembered not only in minds, but also in actions repeated, the twist of a cap, the turn of a wrist, the flow of that familiar taste down the throat, the exhalation after, this memory is just as important as any other, and in our company we repeated the ceremony, calling up the past and passing it a cold one.
Without my three popular brews, I began scrambling to find someone in charge. But tonight, with so much alcohol around, food to fill the stomach, loud music, and 700 friends to share the moment with, there was no one to supply me with more of my Texas faithful. So I decided to push the rest of this stuff out.
I must confess I dislike both Blonde and Hefeweizen. But they followed the previous just as quickly, and I was left looking at a cooler full of Light, a line full of previous customers looking for repeats of Bock and Black, and the vendors were beginning to shut down shop. My pitch shifted from aggression to stressing caloric responsibility. I laughingly pointed out to the sods that they had eaten more meals than they could count, and maybe it was time for a light beer. Ah, the simple-minded drunk, bless him.
I poured the last beer into a cup and turned to the family next to me, the founding family of Cocina del Caribe, and asked if they had anything left. One of the daughters passed me a tray filled with fried, cheese-filled, pastries called pastillos. Drunk, hoarse, and tired, I bit into this pocket of awesomeness. My eyes widened and I instantly regretted focusing my attention on the BBQ all night, while all along, the most amazing drinking companion food was resting a foot from my hand (for the record, their food had been paired with Red Stripe, which I enjoyed, as well). I wonder if the drunken patrons that passed their booth all night even paused to consider the food, blazing with alcohol and focused on the next glass of beer, but those that did found a new favorite.
The night was a success, as a fund raiser, as a time for revelry, as a moment to lay aside the importance of academia, as a chance to get drunk, as a opportunity to educate Texans one their oldest local brewery. I wandered into the night, buzzed, happy, ready for a smoke, a toothbrush, and a bed.
I was the only volunteer that emptied my ice chest.