Near my house is a Mexican restaurant. The kind of places I like to go feature haphazard and idiosyncratic decorative touches—accretions of whatever the owner finds interesting. This is not one of those places. It’s glossy and corporate, and the interior is as generic as a midrange hotel. But it has a nice bar where seats are always available, and two TV screens featuring the most interesting sporting events currently happening, and food that’s better than average and cheap during happy hour.
It’s also the kind of place specializing in margaritas. Beer is an afterthought. Typical for these kind of places, it arrives in chilled mugs someone from 1987 thought were cool. Mostly Mexican lagers on draft, but an eclectic mix of the three craft handles.
Recently: “You have anything new on tap?” They rotate about four times a year, and sometimes the bartender says yes, as he did a couple weeks ago. Among the new slate, “Something from Ecliptic—a pale? Not an IPA, I don’t think.” “Let me try it.”
In the bar’s dim light, it sparkled a molten gold. Clarion bright, as if to spite fans of haze. From it arose the scent of forest—shall we say spruce just to be interesting? The first taste was all teeth. It was biting back. It is a beer from before this decade, when people expected hops to sting rather than seduce. The flavors are definitely arboreal, I decide as I drink, and I’m sticking with spruce—Sitka spruce, like the ones that grow old and wide near the sea air. The prickle of bitterness can further chill an icy night, but it can also crackle in the mouth like fire. After half a glass, I see that this Ecliptic is a warmer, even without much malt. Such a strange sensation, bitterness, so close to heat and cold.
Bitterness and I are becoming friends again. That pale ale, still sharp to my tongue with each first sip, has given me several evenings now of pleasure. Sometimes you crave a gentle, sweetly perfumed beer. Sometimes you want a crisp lager. But sometimes you want a beer with teeth.