an acquired taste.

Shortly after my twenty-first birthday, I ordered a beer at Black Cat, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant across the street from my apartment in Boone. I had come to the conclusion that I was going to have to learn to like beer, mostly because drinking wine or mixed drinks at bars was really expensive. I was going to ease myself into beer appreciation, so I ordered a seasonal ale: something expensive and fancy. My birthday being in the fall, seasonal meant pumpkin beer. It did not take multiple sips for me to realize that I hated it. I can't say for certain that I even finished it. I resigned myself to the conclusion that I would never acquire the taste for beer.

That was the wrong conclusion. The right conclusion is that pumpkin beers suck. Always. Even when they are not loaded up with pie spices, they taste awful. Ever the idiot, I am periodically convinced to try a pumpkin beer, thinking that since it's so novel and interesting, it must be good. Unfortunately, novelty is not a flavor. Pumpkins are not meant to become beer, and while that is sad for them, they should just learn to accept and appreciate their many other uses.

Pumpkins notwithstanding, I did learn to like beer. And now I like it the most of all. At the end of a long day, it is a brew that I crave. I had not understood the idea of an acquired taste, thinking that if I just found something that was easy for the novices, I'd become an instant beer drinker. But the truth is that liking beer is work. There is no shirking it, so you might as well get to it.

I learned to like beer by dating a musician. True, I dated a musician before him, but we didn't really drink together. For one thing, I was underage for most of our relationship. For another, he didn't really like the way my tactlessness increased with my blood-alcohol level. Other people thought I was just so candid and funny; well, except that one girl who I made cry.

Josh never met anyone he didn't like to drink with, and the first few months of our relationship coincided with Lowes' Foods offering twelve-packs of Bavaria for $9. Bavaria is kind of Heineken knock-off, and it is a beer for novices, though it still took me a while to actually like it. It's light and non-offensive. That's my code word for boring, now that I've moved on to much bolder brews, but it was I needed back then. Not bursting with flavor, but refreshing without the bitter beer face.

At some point, the price of Bavaria went up, probably due entirely to us. Sometimes I pass by the Bavaria in the grocery store and think of buying it for nostalgia's sake. But then I see that it's $13 now. For that price, I'd rather drink something else. Actually, I'd rather just pay less and deal with a worse product. With Bavaria out of our price range, and our relationship no longer in the stage where he was trying to impress me all the time, we became PBR people.

It's a funny thing about cheap beer. Most people that I know prefer a specific cheap beer and will eschew all others (unless it's free or there's nothing else around, of course). I know that PBR is bad. It is actually offensive. Bavaria was a mid-range beer because it didn't taste bad, even if it didn't exactly taste good. But PBR doesn't manage even that. It tastes bad in the mouth. Sure is cheap, though. And by now, I am so used to it that it is what cheap beer tastes to me. Give me a Coors or a Busch, and I will think it is positively nasty, because it is nasty in a way that I am not used to.

So in my fridge, there is PBR. For a while, Harris Teeter carried Lionshead (which we called Gryffindor beer), yet another cheap American beer. Lionhead had the benefit of being non-offensive at offensive beer prices. Josh tried taking it over to other people's houses in an effort to spread the word and get everyone on the Lionshead train. But I guess it didn't work, because those gold and red packages stopped appearing in the beer aisle, so it was back to PBR. Sometimes we will get Yuengling when it's on sale. Yuengling is less offensive, though you don't notice it until you go back to PBR.

Even PBR is not as cheap as it used to be. Whenever it's at $7 for a 12-pack, I consider dropping the extra $2 to get Yuengling. And then while I'm down at that end of the aisle, I think about just going for the extra $3 after that for Sam Adams. At that point, I realize that I've managed to talk myself into spending $5 extra, and maybe $7 is not so bad. I am not a starving musician, so I could afford to buy nice beer every single time, but I don't. I really don't mind cheap beer now, and if I drank Sam all the time, it wouldn't be special. Sure would be good, though.

We drink beer out of glasses. A long time ago, when my family was visiting Italy, my mother saw another woman request a glass to pour her beer into. My poor unsophisticated mother was embarrassed for not doing the same, as if drinking out of a glass was another of those Lady Rules that she did not know (and thus did not teach to her daughters). I'm not afraid to drink out of a can or a bottle, but we have beer glasses, so I use them. And it does make me feel sort of fancy and classy, even though I know it's still just PBR in there. If you didn't see me pour it and didn't hear me burp after finishing it, you might think I knew the Lady Rules.

We have a lot of glasses, picked up at thrift stores and yard sales. A couple were stolen from restaurants. Shocking, I know, and I swear we haven't done that in years. But we have them now, so what are we supposed to do but use them. They come in all shapes, including some hideous bulky glass goblets that have the labels of the very cheapest beers on them (PBR, High Life, Falstaff). Josh even has a fancy German beer stein that he picked up at an estate sale, though he informed me that it was just for display.

And that's what I have to say about beer.

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