A Simple Taste



"Make sure you get back before the game starts. People are showing up at my house and the ice in my cooler is lonely," Mike yells through the phone. "Take it easy, I'll be there," I reply. I hang up and coast through the automatic doors of BevMo. A swift gust of air pulls me into the store.

I let out a half-hearted nod to the girl at the register before I zig-zag through an endless library of spirits; Beam, Daniels, Cuervo, Morgan and Walker; titles that read like authors.

I reach the craft beers where racks of six, 12, and 18-packs sit under rows of two-pint bottles.  Breweries from along the coast beg for my attention with bottles like North Coast Le Merle, Lost Abbey Devotion and Allagash White Sabayon, stacked in single-file formation.  But the European section catches my curiosity. Belgian darks, German bocks and Irish stouts, line the first aisle; with names that are impossible to determine unless you're familiar with regional Euro dialects. Colorful labels tempt the unexperienced to blindly purchase a random bottle and risk whether they'll love it or hate it. As I browse the shelves, I recognize one of the labels, Abbey Leffe, from my favorite European bar.

Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fá, a dingy Roman joint with a faded sign and a door that proudly went unnoticed. The bar was a home to all who went; the kind of place where meeting there was implied rather than suggested. Dimmed lights illuminated the old pictures and dusty glass boots that hung on oak panels. After class, we would go there to watch soccer or to chat over a pint. Each beer had a memory to go with it; Italiano Bibock spilled all over my friend's leather jacket, accidentally of course. Grassroots went best with people-watching in Piazza Trilussa. De Ranke Guldenburg was the last beer I had there and my current favorite. As for the Abbey Leffe, I remember it leaked over the rim of my glass during a conversation about parallel universes; a conversation that left me wondering what our place in the universe was.

I pull out the list of beers I'm supposed to bring to the party. Pabst, Coors Light, and Miller High Life. I roll my eyes, the same beer as last time, and the time before that.  Taking the Abbey Leffe with me, I head to the domestic section and fill a cart with the requested.

I arrive at Mike's place and dump the boxes onto the counter; my bottle, in its own plastic bag off to the side. Eyeing it, Mike takes the bottle and glares at it like if it broke into his house.

"What the hell is this?" he demands.

"It's called Abbey Leffe, you gotta try some," I say. Puzzled, he puts it down.

"I'm good."

I pour the Leffe into a glass and sit down on the couch for kickoff. Miguel hands a Bud Light to everyone but me. We welcome a new season of football with a toast. I sip timidly while my friends chug aggressively. When they level their heads, they revel with elation:

"Damn that's good," Miguel says.

Meanwhile, as I savor the bitterly sweet Leffe, I'm reminded why I loved that homely Roman bar with the fifteen taps. It wasn't about how amazing the beer was, it was about the now-dormant memories that were made there. Whether it's causing havoc in a no-name European bar or watching college football on a Saturday afternoon, there are always friends and there is always beer. Tastes may be different but the experience is all the same.

"Joe, how's yours?" Mike asks.

"It's pretty good."

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