Beer, Poker, and Lawnmowers
Coming out of college I did not care about beer. Why should I? Beer was boring. Beer was easy. Beer was simple. In college, the people around me who drank it did so in mass quantities in an attempt to take on the biggest, baddest, cheapest buzz they could survive. Flavor? What in beer could I find that spirits or wine didn’t cover to a level I (erroneously) assumed was completely foreign to beer? So I dabbled in fine Tequilas. I ran the rapids of countless whiskey rivers. I imbibed sweet wine out of cheap glassware, pretending I was Kerouac hiding in a redwood cabin. And while I envisioned myself slamming poetry alongside bottles of port, a not-so-profound nor original conclusion was eventually made: drinking is social. Duh. Alcohol, in all its good, bad, and “oh my god, what was I thinking?” brings people together. But the type of people you meet depends a lot upon what fills your stein, glass, chalice, red plastic cup, or whatever. What I was seeking was not just what would fill my glass, but with what type of people I could fill my life.
I moved to Houston in 2001 after seeing most of my college friends disperse across the country. Contacts faded and new friends became difficult to find, despite a plethora of people covering this vast metropolis. One of my good college friends that did live in the area invited me to join a monthly poker game he attended with a couple of his brothers-in-law and their friends. I jumped at the chance because, if nothing else, I am a degenerate. It seems funny to say, but these encounters over the next couple of years redirected my life down a path I continue to follow this day.
A couple of the poker players I met were home brewers. Several of them were craft beer enthusiasts. Sitting around the table, losing and winning hordes of mad cash (nickels) throughout the night, I learned a lot about home brew and craft. I tasted beers that opened up an expansive new world of flavors. I discovered a beverage I truly connected with; accessible to all, wide-ranging in its divergence, a great conversation center-point, and an excellent excuse for congregation. I enjoyed learning and the people that educated me just as much as I enjoyed drinking the tasty infusions. Maybe the most important thing I took away from those early encounters was that craft beer had a community unlike any other spirit I had tried. Sure, wine and liquor have passionate enthusiasts and communities of their own. But I’ve never found one as welcoming and disparate as craft.
One beer that stood out to me was as regular at our poker games as me losing. A beer many share a connection with, as it is often one of the initial catalysts propelling people in the Houston-area into craft: Saint Arnold Brewing Company’s Fancy Lawnmower. I doubt I need to go into its tasting notes and just how much this beer has helped to influence and redirect many people’s palates. But, to put it simply, Lawnmower is a beer that ANYONE can enjoy. A simple yet flavorful, refreshing and light concoction that is welcoming enough for anyone to try, without being so foreign to one’s palate that it is immediately rejected for its differences. Though my tastes have grown and changed over many years of craft beer drinking, I still buy and enjoy this brew regularly. Lawnmower spiked my curiosity about just what beer could really taste like. It led me to Saint Arnold’s other options: Amber, Texas Wheat (R.I.P), Brown Ale (now Ale Wagger), and Elissa IPA. These beers helped create a foundation that branched out to a multitude of styles from all around the world. A path that you could say was cleared by a Lawnmower.
Continuing on this trail over the past few years, I have followed the growth of the craft beer industry and all the marvels that have come from it. Where I once struggled to find people of common interest, I now make new friends regularly through the gathering power of this wondrous elixir. I was welcomed into the Houston beer community with open arms and have met numerous people I now consider good friends. Many of these people are as rich and complex in character as the beers we share. They are as interesting and varied as the copious craft selections that now line the shelves of countless stores. And despite the fact that many of us may be polar opposites in certain facets of our lives, we are brought together, and enjoy each other’s company, through our connection and commitment to craft.
Beer is social. Beer is people. Beer is good. Not my words, nor are they new. Just true words worth repeating.