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.
I’m only allergic to two things. First up: felines. Oh, how cats make me scratch and sneeze. The second is clichés. In both writing and the real world, I do my best to subvert the same-old, same-old.
My editorial career commenced at a porn company, where I interviewed starlets about back-door escapades for magazines named Cuddles and Hot Chocolate. Post-porn, I freelanced for doll magazines, the New York Post, and Time Out New York, where I discovered that writing about getting pie-eyed was a viable career path. Beer became my beat; hangovers were a workplace hazard. Through the IPA-soaked haze, I wrote two books. And I got married, celebrating with a reception at a dive bar rocking dual light-up dance floors. Life was an ad-libbed journey, heavy on unpredictability.
Then my wife and I went and had a kid. In a blip (well, a two-day labor), our identities shifted. We went from fun-loving Brooklynites to Brooklyn parents, a reviled breed noted for its affinity for Bugaboo strollers and Baby DJ School.
Like a barley wine aged in bourbon barrels, being a parent gets better with age.
It’s enough to drive a dad to drink a beer—or, more accurately, lots of them, a practice which occasionally makes me weepy about my daughter, Violet. This month, she turns one. The last year has been a whirlwind of poop, sleeplessness, more poop, and the incalculable joy of watching my wee bird walk and utter words such as “daddy,” “mommy,” and “mole.” Violet has gone from larval blob to little lady. Now, we hang out. We blab. We play. Like a barley wine aged in bourbon barrels, being a parent gets better with age.
Yes, it’s a cliché. But not everything gets better with age, especially in the beer world. Namely, I’m talking about wet-hop beers. Come August and September, farmhands ceaselessly toil to harvest hops, the fragrant flowering cones that supply beer with bitterness, aroma, and flavor. Like fresh-clipped grass, hops rapidly deteriorate. To preserve their essence, most are kiln-dried. But a growing number of brewers time brew days to the harvest, using fresh cones to create that grassy, evanescent embodiment of the season, wet-hop beer.
These beers are best fresh—like, drink-it-when-you-see-it fresh. And last week, not long after nabbing Violet from daycare, I was ready to drink. “Let’s get home and, uh, play,” I told Violet, snapping her into the stroller and rolling home.
After ferrying Violet upstairs and plopping her on a toddler-size toy car, I hit the fridge for Deschutes Hop Trip, an annual specialty. When harvest arrives at Oregon’s Sodbuster Farms, the Deschutes crew piles into a truck to snag sacks of recently plucked Crystal hops, a mild cultivar with a spicy, floral profile. They’re rushed back to the brewery and, lickety-split, used to brew a supremely aromatic pale ale.
“That’s citrus,” I told Violet, holding the bottle beneath her button nose. “Citrus.” From feeding Violet dim sum to teaching her how to twerk, every action can be an instructive learning experience. Why not learn about hop varieties before her first birthday?
She tried grabbing the bottle, but I gently pulled it back. “No drinking and driving, sweetheart,” I told her. I sipped the juicy, fruity ale, savoring the sweetness and the delicate aroma, a slowly unfolding dance of flowers, grass, and ripe oranges. It was the perfect encapsulation of fall, a beer at its absolute peak. It would never be better than right now.
As for Violet, she was constantly getting better. Every day the lights in her brain burn a bit brighter, the synapses firing a bit faster. A year ago she was a blank slate. Now, she’s a tiny human with a personality, emotions (so many emotions!), and endless capacity for joy.
“Up!” she said, extending her arms into the air. I put down my beer. I picked her up. And we spun in circles till dizzy, her laughter as intoxicating as any beer.