I’ve had the informative displeasure of working and otherwise consorting with a lot of food and drink extremists through the years and it’s turned me against seeking out the best of anything in those fields. Too many grim all-day slogs through industrial parks in the vegetable-packing and sex-working district in search of mankind’s finest porklafel roll have taught me that “pretty good and fairly accessible” is the sweet spot and “best” is for the berds. I’ve been guilty of ranking things online but I trust you all knew I was making that up as I went along; I’m talking about the happy hedonist’s true enemy, the legitimately expert evaluator of tacos and sugars and sherries.
Some things are better than others and some things are better still, we call those things the best and bully for them. I’m not here to dispute the logic or empirical truth of any of that. I’m just here to not care nearly enough to sacrifice my Saturday’s sanity to track it all down. Sure, I’ll rave that this or that IPA is the best and I mostly mean it most of the time, but that proclamation is never intended to imply “… and therefore the only one a decent person could contemplate drinking.” By this more reasonable standard anyone can have the “best beer” as long as you interpret that to mean the best beer in your fridge this morning, or now that it’s mostly stopped snowing even the best one at the store closest to your house.
I live in Massachusetts but I’ve never been to Tree House. This is not intended to be a squeaky contrarian badge of honor, it’s more that this purported bestish brewery in America happens to be inaccessible by public transport, we don’t own a car, and I can’t in good conscience rent a car to stand in line to buy beer. I’ve had some Tree House here and there over the years, though, and I can therefore tell you what everyone else does: good stuff!
Driving into the woods to wait in line for beer is, of course, absurd, but I say that as a man who has spent approximately 250 hours—ten and a half days!—reading Sara Paretsky’s series of VI Warshawski detective novels since my last paycheck or indoor restaurant meal, so who on earth am I to regulate how another body spends its hours? There’s some cultishness to the Tree House scene I’ve invented from anecdotal accounts and my own biased imagination; I’ve got it down as a sort of Adult Beer Disney scenario where everyone’s jumped through so many hoops to make it part of their identity that they’ve had to blind themselves to whether they’re actually enjoying the experience, but here I must reiterate that I’m not qualified to judge those sick, sick freaks.
I don’t know what the coolest beers are anymore—I gather that the exploding-berry ones are popular with the sort of people who have multiple dedicated sneaker buying applications on their phones?—but last I tracked such things Russian River beers and their Pliny line in particular were pretty big noise. I’d always wanted to try them and a couple weeks ago I was able to, as having friends in Californian places finally paid off when my pal Handsome Dave sent some Pliny the Elder, Blind Pig, and a few of the fancier Belgian-type ones.
Pliny the Elder is a classic West Coast double IPA, by which I mean it is excellent, 8% ABV, and has a mango lavender bubble bath aroma before the bitter pine and grapefruit finish. Pliny the Elder turns old enough to drink itself this year, too, which is neat. Blind Pig is smaller and gentler, fruitier and possibly better. I’m sure the following comparison is influenced 90 percent by packaging, but they remind me of West Coast versions of Maine Lunch and Maine Peeper respectively, with the special edition Pliny the Younger resembling Maine Dinner in that I’ll never have either one.
The first thing I drank last week was the Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition I used to put an edge on my Guinness as we watched the Dropkick Murphys St. Patrick’s Day show on Wednesday, yikes. I’ve dropped a lot of biases and posturings these last few years, which has been for the better on the whole but I guess also leaves me newly susceptible to observing white ethnic pride holidays if I’m not careful. But we’re still trying to stay off the streets over here and we’ll take any little couch-party prompt the calendar throws our way. Guinness was the first beer I ever drank on purpose, maybe 30 pints a week at the fantastic and departed Kinsale on 3rd Avenue somewhere in the 90s sometime in the 2000s. It’s perfectly good beer! I really like the stout barrel-aged Jameson, too, that’s an objective nostalgia-free house favorite and the only Irish whiskey we stock. I recommend it, Russian River Blind Pig, and VI Warshawski.
The one and only time I went Tree House, it was because my wife decided to do Tough Mudder, which takes place only about 20 minutes from the brewery. My version of Tough Mudder was waiting in line for an hour to buy a case of various Tree House beers. (I’ll refrain from making this sound even sadder by pointing out my daughters did Mini Mudder as well.)
I offer the following anecdote with no judgment. 40 minutes into my wait, an announcement comes over the PA system that a specific limited release beer had sold out. The guy immediately in front of me instantly leaves the line and walks out. That was the beer he was there for that day, and he wasn’t accepting anything else. I can respect such a hard-core stance, while also wondering: Why not stick around when the end of the line is in sight, and you can still get some amazing beer?
And I guess the answer to that is: if you’ve already heard all the hits, and you came to hear the obscure songs you only know from an obscure bootleg of old four track demos, why stick around if you find out they’re not in the set list?
the treehouse beer, while good, is certainly not "wait in line for hours"-good. the beer you get when you want it is the best tasting beer.