Sometimes it's fun to think about what I did with my money before I started drinking. In the more prosperous times of ten or fifteen years ago, I could piss away my paycheck on used records, books, rock shows, and East Village sushi without a second thought. But these days, as any newspaper will be quick to remind you, non-essential expenses have all submitted themselves to a radical re-evaluation, and what used to be important to me has in many cases become the stuff of mere luxury. I've begun selling CDs on eBay -- not so much for financial gain, but to remind myself that even in a crap economy, people in Montana will still pay handsomely for the Soul Jazz releases that local preacher-types and concerned citizen groups have presumably denied them access to. And like everyone else I know, corners are being cut, sacrifices are being made, vacations postponed, and ambitions put off. Contrary to what elders might have told us, my generation has definitely seen this movie already, and we're begrudgingly accepting of its necessary routines.
However, as hard as the times may be, I know I speak for many when I say that I have NO plans to stop drinking. My wife and I recently rationalized a multi-hundred dollar dip into our nest-egg for enrollment in wine-making school because upon graduation completion of the program, we'll have five cases of a drop-dead amazing Sangiovese-Cabernet blend to help us through whatever Grapes of Wrath nonsense 2009 may unload upon us. I like to think that it's exactly these sorts of seemingly miniscule budgetary adjustments that will make the grim realities of present history less alarming for us to address.
Which is why I really wish I hadn't just discovered the existence of beer that tastes like bacon.
Go back and read that sentence again. It is not some spectacular typo caused by my tripping and smashing headfirst into the laptop. There is, in fact, beer that tastes like smoked bacon, and one need not employ a time machine or sophisticated alchemy skills to enjoy it. You will, however, have to throw a little bit of that scarce cash around in order to partake, but I wouldn't recommend it were it not worth the wonderful experience of drinking what is tantamount to liquid meat.
Like most of the great beers I've been exposed to in recent years, WFMU's Scott Williams is to blame for my latest fizzy obsession (and by extension, I also hold the station's Bob W somewhat accountable, since he's apparently the one who tipped Scott to this miracle of the German Old Country.) The bacon beer is called Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier and is alleged to earn its peculiar taste by having the malt exposed to burning beechwood logs early in the brewing process. (To your possible disappointment, there is not any actual bacon used in this beer's creation.) The first retailer at which I secured a bottle of my own was Brooklyn's legendary Bierkraft, who claim to stock upwards of 1000 different brews at any given moment. During my brief obsession with Innis & Gunn cask ale, I made regular voyages there for the explicit purpose of stocking up, so it's safe to assume that if you're even vaguely interested in the boutique beer phenomenon, Bierkraft can easily become something of an obsession. However, the problem with Bierkraft is that it is often discouragingly expensive, especially in times when the international financial market seems like a drunk college kid about to shoot an apple off his own head while blindfolded. Happily, I've used some recent free time to scout around NYC in search of a better deal and have learned that the bacon beer is available in many other places for a lot less money. Whereas Bierkraft sells 16.9 oz bottles for around six bucks each, I eventually found them elsewhere for as little as $3.99. With many of us forsetalling grocery expeditions with stops at the CoinStar machine, a two-buck-per-bottle difference is nothing to shake a rotting bag of organic vegetables at.
The bacon beer comes in three varieties which Scott or Bob could probably explain the nuances of with much greater eloquence than I, so I'll just list them: Märzen, Urbock, and a wheat version. I've tried the first two, which are quite similar, but I'll give the edge to the Märzen for it's deeply appealing color and magnificent scent of smoked meat and even smokier fireplaces. It's definitely not something to chug multiple bottles of at a party, but as an accompaniment to a hearty meal, or as a liquid component in your favorite chili recipe, this stuff neighbors more closely to godhead than any other brew I am currently aware of. Furthermore, it makes an excellent and affordable gift for whichever beer snob in your family or social sphere you decide is the most deserving. Contrary to what others might say, I believe that alcohol makes a perfectly thoughtful gift for any holiday. I have never once torn away sheets of wrapping paper and been disappointed when such labors revealed a bottle of wine, Maker's Mark, or Grand Marnier, and fancy beer should be treated no differently. After all, it is commonly said that the best gifts are those that can be shared with others. But there is also a compelling argument to be made for greedily consuming those same gifts in the abject darkness of solitude, and you are hereby encouraged to shop accordingly. Happy holidays!