The Art of Beer
by Kent Lewis
I grew up surrounded by art lovers. Once a month, while most kids were watching the latest episode of Muppets from the relative safety and comfort of their bean bag, I was somewhere in downtown Seattle following my Dad through a gallery full of brightly oiled canvases and glass sculptures. It wasn't so bad in the summertime, but that's roughly a four week window, so most of my time was spent wet, cold and bored. Times have changed, however, and now you can find me wandering galleries in Portland's Pearl District instead of watching Must See TV.
The extent of my personal art collection in college consisted of a cornucopia of cardboard CD covers and choice beer posters. While I enjoyed select pieces of art at growing up, it never really captured my interest. That all changed when I took Art History 101 sophomore year. Over the course of a quarter, I was introduced to art ranging from cave art graffiti to giant Campbell's soup cans. I learned the ins-and-outs of light, texture, composition, and most importantly, nude women.
After only three months, a lifetime of direct interaction with art and artists finally started to come into focus. I was able to understand what motivated artists and what it took to create a masterpiece, or crap for that matter. I was able to appreciate my Dad's own appreciation of art and enjoy it in new and interesting ways. Who knew elective classes could be so valuable?
Flash back to senior year in high school: pimples, sparse body hair and a rail thin frame from growing 12 inches in 8 months. Beyond not getting art, I was also not getting women, nor was I getting drunk. My parents' had offered me sips of wine and beer since I could walk, and I always said no. Why would I want to drink something that made my parents talk loudly to their friends? How uncool.
Entering a co-ed dorm freshman year was a bit of a mindblower. Two things I didn't get in high school were omnipresent (not the art). I quickly took to drinking and moderation was not my middle name. The unfortunate side effect was a tendency to value beer as a vessel for generating a buzz while not enjoying the taste. That's virtually impossible to do when drinking Keystone Light anyway.
My lackluster appreciation for beer lasted beyond graduation and into the beginnings of a professional career. Everything changed, however, when my roommate and I decided to try our hand at home brewing. It seemed like a rite of passage being from Portland, seeing how there are more microbreweries in Oregon than stoplights.
Our first attempt was a stout, which wasn't going to win any awards, but it was drinkable. The next batch was a nut brown ale we called T-Shirt Brown, as we used an old shirt to filter the beer when cheesecloth wasn't available. I remember the first sip I took from the carefully measured, filtered and aged concoction. It was fantastic. Busy, but never precocious.
Whether it was the fact that I helped make the beer, or appreciated the ingredients and brewing process, I'll never know for sure. I do know that I'd developed a taste for beer virtually overnight. It all came together for me that afternoon, as if I was walking through a downtown art gallery and realizing for the first time that I was looking at a Picasso.