At some point in my daughter’s life, when she’s old enough to avoid being traumatized by the thought of her parents’ sex life (if that’s even possible), I’ll point to a beer bottle and say, “That helped me make you.”
If nature and nurture have worked their magic, she’ll laugh. And then I’ll tell this tale.
My wife and I married in August 2011. We were each 33, an age when last calls are less important than waking up for work. We were two peas in a pod, ready for a third. In your thirties, making a baby is not as simple as throwing a fifth of Beam in the backseat of a car, removing your pants, and taking a ride to kingdom come. Time was required. Months disappeared. Our spirits lagged, beleaguered by one negative pregnancy test after another. After trying for some time, copulation becomes obligation. Beer helps. Oh, does it help.
One morning, after drinking myself into a state of disrepair, I awoke to a scream. Our dog barked bloody murder. “We’re pregnant!” my wife shouted, her words bringing pain and pleasure. Nine months later our daughter, Violet, debuted.
Alcohol is not an ideal coping technique. But damn, does a beer feel mighty good after changing a diaper.
To celebrate, I drank a Sierra Nevada Celebration. It was not the last one I drank in my daughter’s presence.
Having a child does not bathe your life in rainbows and magic-hour sunlight. After two days in the hospital (if that long!), you’re sent home with a wailing infant and simple instructions: Don’t shake the baby. You wonder why the nurses repeat that command, over and over…until your child will not stop screaming, and then you get it. You want to shake the baby. A million dollars to stop screaming! But you do not shake the baby. Instead, you soothe her and calmly drink beer.
Well, at least I drink beer. As a beer journalist and author, I have a built-in excuse. Research. It’s always for research, no matter if I have a deadline or a howling daughter. The howls. They are for several very good reasons. My daughter is hungry. She has a dirty diaper. She wants to be held. She’s tired. She doesn’t like that thing, which it is our job as parents to deduce, Sherlock-style.
Therapists, I hear you: Alcohol is not an ideal coping technique. But damn, does a beer feel mighty good after changing a diaper, feeding my daughter, or burping her. Parenthood is not easy; it devours your time, sleep, and sanity. It’s nice to take the edge off with daddy’s little helper, craft beer.
Here are my go-to brews for the five stages of my newborn daughter’s days and nights. People tell me that kids grow up quickly. I believe them. My challenge is drinking fast enough to keep up with her.
Feeding: Left Hand Milk Stout
As a human being accustomed to subsisting on foodstuffs ranging from dumplings to kale salad and folded slices of pizza, I’m amazed that my daughter solely subsists on breast milk. It’s like a fitness junkie reducing his diet to a vitamin-packed protein smoothie—as nutritious as it is boring. When I’m bottle-feeding my baby girl, I like to share the experience by drinking a lactose-packed milk stout, preferably Left Hand’s luscious version. One sip for her, one sip for me.
Burping: Victory Prima Pils
Much like an affinity for Natural Ice and frozen burritos, the celebratory burp is something you outgrow. For babies, though, a burp is not a social gaffe but a necessity, something they can’t quite accomplish without assistance. You need to pat that tiny back until, like a volcano erupting, a belch rumbles forth. The pain dissipates. You feel…pride? And the need to burp, too. A quickly quaffed Coors Light will do the trick, but I’m no longer 21. Instead, I look to a prickly, effervescent pilsner such as Victory Prima Pils.
Changing Diapers: Avery Ellie’s Brown Ale
I’m no stranger to fecal matter, having scooped my dog’s doo-doo for years. So when our daughter popped out, changing a diaper didn’t faze me. (Warning: too much information ahead.) That’s because the guano of breast-fed babies is innocuous, a streak of brown that’s slightly sweet. Naturally, that puts me in the frame of mind to drink affable brown ales, such as Smuttynose Old Brown Dog or, due to its lower ABV, Avery Ellie’s. It’s lightly nutty and has a bit of brown sugar sweetness. I warned you, didn’t I?
Rocking: Founders All Day IPA
One second, my daughter is smiling. The next, she’s auditioning to be Hollywood’s next scream queen. A soiled diaper? Hunger? Exhaustion? Answer: None of the above. She wants to be held and steadily rocked, like a living metronome. Calming can take a while. I need beer. I also need steady hands. (I would never forgive myself if I dropped my daughter while drinking. More importantly, neither would my wife.) To retain my wits and my reflexes, I reach for a citrusy, low-alcohol IPA like this Founders gem. It’s a beer designed for the long haul.
Post-Bedtime Beer: Lagunitas Hop Stoopid
From morning to night, you must be ready to answer your child’s every beck and call. By the time my newborn’s eyes are cinched shut and sleep, blessed sleep, has arrived—hopefully for more than a few hours—I’m exhausted. There is no gold sticker for another successful notch in the calendar. But there is an imperial IPA, such as Lagunitas’ piney and tropical Hop Stoopid. It’s a bitter and sweet end to my night.
Joshua M. Bernstein (@JoshMBernstein) is a beer writer and author of The Complete Beer Course (Sterling Epicure, 2013). If he’s half as good at fatherhood as he is at drinking beer, Violet’s gonna be in good hands.