Welcome to Beer With Baby, a column in which beer writer Joshua M. Bernstein reviews craft brews through the eyes of a tired, over-stressed parent.
Last month, Americans were aghast over a Senate report that uncloaked the CIA’s nefarious interrogation techniques. The catalog of horrors included mock executions, sleep deprivation, and a music playlist including Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” the theme to Barney & Friends, and Tupac’s “All Eyez on Me.”
If I’d slunk down a darker career path, I would’ve added another tune to the torturous mixtape: the wails of a teething toddler.
Childhood development is an evil yo-yo. The first months are sleepless purgatory, as your offspring is essentially an input-output machine: Food in, waste out, repeat. Right when you ponder a bourbon IV drip, your child starts smiling. Joy! Then the kid starts crawling and walking, leading you to foam-wrap every sharp edge in your home and install baby gates. Keeping tabs on the perpetual-motion machine is exhausting if manageable, especially with a double IPA (or three). After all, your kid is finally (fingers crossed) sleeping through the night. But that brief respite is atom-bombed by teething.
Not even pure grain alcohol can dampen the pain of teething.
Your milk-slurping kid’s transformation into a creature capable of chomping corn is equal parts cruel, interminable, and bloody. Ever hear that phrase “cutting your teeth”? Well, it’s real. Your child’s gums are essentially thinning out until a tooth breaks the surface. Sound awful? It is. Especially the accompanying symptoms: rashes, drooling, night screaming, and enough to tears to overflow a kiddie pool.
Typically, the bottom and front teeth come first. Violet cut hers like a cranky champ, meaning several fingers of bourbon still remained in my Weller bottle. Cutting molars, though, is a whole other hellscape. Do me a favor and look in the mirror. Open your mouth wide and marvel at your molars. So huge! Now imagine those gargantuan teeth erupting through your gums like craggy white volcanoes. You might weep as well.
“Sweetheart, what can daddy do for you?” I asked Violet a few weeks ago. She was sitting on the carpet, crying her hazel eyes crab-red. I picked her up and hugged her tight. That usually does the trick. Usually. She pushed me off, cranking her howls to 11. I put her down and grabbed her a frozen washcloth. She launched it like an amateur discus thrower. A teething ring earned the same fate, as did Violet’s plush stuffed monkey.
“Violet, why did you throw your comfort monkey?” I asked.
Her response was a helpless whimper, a sound that’s like a shiv to a father’s heart.
You can happily crush the Bucolia amber ale, Baby Genius session IPA, and Swish double IPA until the cows come home.
Flustered, I went to the fridge and grabbed a few cans of The Substance, Bissell Brothers’ flagship ale. Since the sibling-run Portland, ME brewery debuted last winter, it’s won over legions of Northeast beer drinkers with its decidedly modern approach to East Coast pale ales and IPAs. Cofounders Peter (business) and Noah (brewing) Bissell have ditched that tired template of a rich, caramel-driven malt bill, fruity and earthy hops, and balanced bitterness. Instead, they focus on baby-smooth brews, heady aromatics, and a kiss of barely-there bitterness. You can happily crush the Bucolia amber ale, Baby Genius session IPA, and Swish double IPA until the cows come home.
I opened the Substance, inhaling the pale ale’s dank aroma and finding myself transported back to my high school’s parking lot. I took an anesthetizing taste, loving the lush layers of citrus, pine needles, and tropical fruit. Unlike so many California-born hop grenades, the bitterness was there for balance, not to lay waste to my taste buds. Stress vanished like a one-hitter’s puff of smoke.
Violet, however, was not calming down. She looked up at me, through tear-rimmed eyes, and extended her arms. She didn’t want me. What did she desire? Parenting is not about following a playbook. It’s about trusting your instincts, doing what feels right, right in the moment. I passed her an unopened can of Substance. She started gnawing on the cool cylinder, her cries quieting.
“One day, sweetheart,” I told her, taking a pungent sip, “you’ll learn that we open the can to make the pain go away.”