Friday, November 04, 2011

Buying beer in New England

This is an excerpt from an American travelogue Sam Page and I wrote a few years ago, I posted this for the reading pleasure of Stephanos a.k.a. 'Beers I have known blog'.


...Jim took us to his favourite off-licence/ liquor store. Sam and I were agog at the sheer size of this place; it was bigger than most wholesale warehouses I’ve seen. Jim was keen to show us the microbrewery isle. Calling it an isle just doesn’t do it justice, it was more like a small continent of ale, there are principalities in Europe smaller than this isle. Sam and I slowly made our way down the row studying every beer with a similar demeanour employed by folk slowly wandering through fine art galleries.

Just who is driving here?
Left to right is me, Sam Page and  our host Jim Reily
(I'm pretty sure Jim should have been holding a steering wheel, but...)

Each beer was only given a few bottles width of space on each shelf, and the racking was five or six shelves high, I have never seen so much beer in all my life, let alone real ale! One of Sam’s favourites came from the Frank Zappa brewery, and had the cover of ‘We're Only in It for the Money’ on the label.

We could have spent hours in that store, but as we only had a little while before we needed to pick Drew up we grabbed some half gallon flagons of milk stout and headed for the checkouts. On the way out I was stunned to see some St.Peters beers, they’re (made just a few miles from my house in Suffolk).

As I walked up the second isle of ale I was astounded to see countless more beers from England, mind you, they weren’t cheap ($20 for six bottles of Stella Artois my arse). While I was amazed to see more English beers than I’d ever seen in England my mind boggled at the logistics, let alone the food miles.

In the same way that I always look for my own band’s CDs in record shops, no trip to an off-licence is complete without checking out what single malts are in stock. Sure enough they had all my favourites, but oh my - they were expensive; with the odd exception of Bowmore, which worked out at just ten pounds a bottle. I rushed like a child to tell Sam of my discovery and had a short but enthusiastic chat about whisky with him before my eye was caught by an entire isle of vodka. I’m not a fan of vodka - in fact it’s probably the quickest way to empty my body of all bile in a most uncivil way - but I am a fan of gawping at obscure alcohol.

As I stumbled along the rows staring slack jawed at the pretty labels I suddenly became aware of the fact I was being followed. With the amount of childish running around that I had been doing I entirely expected the two large blurry objects in my peripheral vision to be security guards. I moved to the next isle. Each time I shuffled forward I heard the sound of stiff soles on plastic flooring echoing my own footsteps. I decided to face the music and casually turned round. I tried to look relaxed enough not to give off an air of guilt, but also so that I could try and feign some sort of innocent surprise when I got my collar felt. It’s very confusing being middle class, if you’ve ever felt guilty for no reason while being followed by a police car you’ll know exactly what I mean. Much to my surprise my stalkers were a middle aged couple who look more surprised than I when I turned to them. After a slightly awkward pause the man lent forward slightly and said in a low and quiet voice,

“The whisky is back over on the row by the doors.”

I guess he had heard me chatting with Sam and assumed I couldn’t find the whisky. I thanked him earnestly, and walked to the tills. This couple summed up the feeling I got from most people in New England - everyone is quite happy to give their neighbours the space to go about their business without interference, but are more than willing to gently help out if they think you are wanting for something. It’s a very endearing way to be. This couple will never know that they were the first piece of what developed into a great jigsaw puzzle of affection I feel for New England.


Entering Mass