Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Entirely Drinkable

Two bottles of the Allagash brewery's Belgian ale followed me home from Portland on my most recent trip to Maine.

The last time I'd had a taste was the first time, too, and since then I've been keeping my eyes peeled for the Allagash Four in every distinguished grocery and beverage store around Cleveland. For nearly two years, I satisfied my tastes with the White and the Grand Cru, the two brews that La Cave du Vin offered just down the street, as the Four evaded me. Even on a 2007 trip to Maine I was unable to find the tall bottle I sought, and wondered if it perhaps had been discontinued. I found a Trippel and a Dubbel, but no Four- until this September, on another New England homecoming.

Commercial Street runs through the Old Port, impossibly attractive with a harbor on one side and a brick-heavy storefront on the other. The Downeast Beverage company offers a similar interior, brick-lined and scattered with wood crates full of wine and interesting beers. I nearly missed my prize among the bottles of local brews. An investment of 1500 mL found its way, carefully wrapped, into my duffel bag and onto the plane, finally taking a spot in my refrigerator, esteemed beside the months-old porters and ales crowding the door.

Naturally, my plan was to save these drinks for a Four-worthy occasion. The semester picked up, though, and most celebrations- an aced lab quiz, a collection of plays read- weren't quite big enough to warrant popping the cork on the beer. Winter break sped along and when Andrew left for Pennsylvania, he took a bottle home in anticipation of our New Year's rendezvous. A perfect opportunity to sip, again, the Allagash Four.

Lucy gave me my first sip. We sat in her little living room, maybe on the extra bed, and she called it complicated. I remember the Allagash that way and think of it as such before any other description comes to mind. A quiet afternoon it was, I'm sure, and while I don't remember exactly it might have been the same day we ate at Norm's for oversized square chunks of cornbread, served by waiters with curious scars. At the time, my beer knowledge was limited and my tastes largely untapped but I know that I loved it, even without a basis for comparison.

As I said, since then, I've been keen on finding the reminder of such a real and full few hours, so upon finding it, I wanted to make the sipping count. New Year's Eve dawned and carried on to night, but I found myself, as the hour approached, that I didn't want to crack that beer. The amount of food in my stomach and the amount of noise in the house intensified the general stress of what's generally a forced holiday, and I wanted nothing else than to enjoy the Four. I saw midnight come and go and tasted champagne instead, shrugging off the anxiety of the crowded room with kisses and a sorry game of Asshole.

It wasn't until the 2nd that Andrew and I finally popped the bottle. All New Year's celebrations past, we spent the morning mulling over a crossword and boring coffee before eating, reading, and driving to an unlikely rock gym in the mountains. We got back in time to pull the cork and fill two frosty glasses and I took the first and determining taste. It isn't skunked! It's still good! I exclaimed, and then I fell into it again- the distinctly Belgian style and the distinctly Maine subtleties wrapped up in the flavor. I got drunk as family made dinner, wrote essays, had debates, played cards, and finished my mug at the table with a quiet and triumphant grin.

No obvious celebration made excuses for the Four that evening. We cracked it on our own and enjoyed it and one another's company. It's a high-point beverage, certainly, but it's not a party beer. It deserves a special occasion but not one that's created for the masses. The Allagash Four makes its own celebration, which might be why I like it so much, besides the fact that it's just a tasty drink. The two times I've had it were ordinary evenings made memories because of the setting and the company: a port city and a close friend, a mountain house and a partner in crime, accented with a tall bottle brewed with 4 malts, 4 sugars, 4 yeasts, and 4 hops.

Maybe I'm just tasting sentimentality. I wonder if that's this beer's buzz?

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