Sunday, September 14, 2008

Beer, baseball and friends: a case

A case of customized homebrew brewed to your specs is an annual feature of the Poetry Scores Experiential Auction. For the inaugural 2006 auction, Joe Esser was the homebrewer and Larry Weir (of KDHX) had the winning bid. This is Larry's story about his customized case of homebrew. The photo is of Larry and his wife at the 2007 Experiential Auction.


So it starts on a whim. Poetry Scores is hosting their first “experiential auction”; a chance to share an experience with various local people of note. My wife and I have no other plans that evening, the event is to be held in one of the favorite places in our neighborhood, The Royale, which is run by our friend Steven Fitzpatrick Smith.

What better thing to do? We like to support arts organizations, and we enjoy sitting outdoors on a fine evening and having a few beers with friends, and we got into the spirit of things by joining the silent bidding on several of the experiences offered.

Ultimately we were outbid for most of the items (including having dinner with our friends Art Dwyer and Ann Haubrich in their lovely home overlooking the Mississippi River), but I got into a fierce bidding war with Steve Smith over having a case of beer brewed especially for me, in a style of my preference. This was the item I wanted the most.

I ended up with the winning bid for the case of beer, only because I was able to make a last minute bid while Steve was pre-occupied with the business of running his business. As a friend, I promised him that I’d reserve a bottle of the beer for him. Afterwards, I met Poetry Scores cofounder Chris King for the first time, and we exchanged contact information for getting together and discussing what style of beer I would like to have.

There was never a question in my mind about the style of beer that I would like. I love Scotch Ale. And Schlafly’s makes the best one I’ve ever tasted. So that was an easy choice. I wanted to scotch ale modeled after Schlafly’s. And I even had a name for it: Highlanders Scotch Ale.

This is where baseball comes into the picture. I play in a Strat-o-matic Baseball League. It’s the Soulard Table Baseball League, currently in its 18th year. We’ve played in various bars in the Soulard area over the years. It’s a combination of beer, friends, and baseball.

From March until October, if you stop by Hammerstone’s at 9th and Russell in Soulard and step back into the private room in the courtyard on any given evening, there’s a fair chance you can see the league in action. Maybe one series will be being played; maybe several.

If the weather is bad, lately we’ve been going to Phelan’s at 8th and Soulard. If you see some of us there, have a beer, and come by the table for a chat and we’ll be happy to talk about the game, and maybe make a friend.

It’s a tough one to describe in just a few words. Think Rotisserie Baseball with dice using last year’s numbers. In-game strategy and evaluating available and developing players are equally important.

When I first got involved in a Strat-o-matic baseball league I knew I wanted my franchise to have its home base in Cleveland, due to a short story I wrote many years ago that had a key plot point revolving around an Indians game at Cleveland’s Memorial Stadium. And as luck would have it, my wife and I would soon be attending a high school reunion - from Cleveland High School. So I named the team the Cleveland Highlanders.

Getting back to the beer, the next step in the experience was to meet again with Chris King, and for the first time to meet homebrewer Joe Esser, who would be doing the brewing. We got together on a Thursday afternoon in September at the Tap Room to talk things over and have a few samples of other things that Joe has brewed.

Joe makes good beer. And he loves doing it. Over the samples and the conversations, we discovered we had many mutual friends, and were joined by Schlafly’s brewmaster, Stephen Hale. More samples followed.

It was inspiring to hear expert brewers talk excitedly about their craft. The highlight of the afternoon was a trip to the basement to sample a few of the young beers directly from the brewing vats, including a taste of their Imperial Stout, just before it was poured into Bourbon barrels for aging.

I would have loved to stay longer, but it was a Thursday afternoon, and for years, I’ve been in a Thursday night softball league. My position is sometimes in the infield, sometimes in the outfield, but my real job is to bring the beer.

The next step was designing a label for the beer bottle, and for some time my wife and I had talked about drawing a logo for my Strat-o-matic baseball team. It turns out that it works well as a beer label too, with the addition of a bit of text that Joe added.

Because Joe lives in New Jersey, and it takes time to brew beer, I knew it would be a while before the experience would be complete. But finally the time came, and once again I headed to the Tap Room with my wife to meet Chris and pick up the case of beer. Some chat, a light dinner, and a surprise. Our waitress brought us a sample of their just untapped Imperial Stout. The same beer that I had sampled from the vat had just been released from aging in the Bourbon barrels. And boy was it good!

The next step was simple. Take the Highlander Scotch Ale home, put some in the fridge, and wait.

Twenty four hours later, it was finally time. We sampled the first bottles with a bit more ceremony than your average softball beer. Found a couple of souvenir mugs (from a Schlafly beer tasting event), and poured carefully. And the taste ... a bit of bitterness at the front, which was expected, good smooth finish, and by the end, all I could think was YUM!

This is no everyday beer. It’s a beer that demands the company of friends. Or baseball. Or both.

Since then I’ve shared a few bottle with some friends, including Steven Fitzpatrick Smith as promised, and have enjoyed a few myself, but sparingly, and saving for special occasions. All of the reviews from friends who have tried it were very positive.

One such occasion was our softball team’s winter get-together. In the fall, we would have grilled, but in the icy winter, a pot of chili seemed more appropriate. I often include beer as part of the chili recipe, and the Highlander Scotch Ale seemed just right for the event. Two more were capriciously consumed by the cook.

The chili was made the night before the party, so I could spend more times with friends at the party. During the course of the evening, we sampled various beers, including the Scotch Ale and the Imperial Stout.

I was able to save the final bottle until Opening Day of the 2007 Major League Baseball Season. Despite being a huge baseball fan, I’ve never had the chance to see the Opening Day Ceremonies, and now I could be there for the celebration of the Cardinal’s World Series Championship. Before heading downtown, my wife and I opened the final bottle of the Highlander Scotch Ale and had a toast.

We knew it was time for another season of beer, baseball and friends.


Poetry Scores will hold its 2008 Experiential Auction from 5-8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 21 at Atomic Cowboy, 4140 Manchester Ave. in St. Louis.
Admission is $10, which will be discounted from your first winning bid. All proceeds from the auction will go to Poetry Scores, a St. Louis-based arts organization that translates poetry into other media.

Bidding for this year's customized case of homebrew (brewed by Anthony Brescia) is open now by emailing or adding a Comment here.

1 comment:

madx2 said...

Great Story! Any chance of seeing the label designed for the beer?