Introducing The Beertender

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Introducing The Beertender, a column for those who dive below the frothy surface of life, view the world through the bottom of a glass and see that it is good.

A simple question to start: Why beer?

What's the point of giving much thought to beer? Isn't beer meant to be a quencher first and foremost, a refreshing, fizzy tipple celebrated by sports fans and working men, spared the scrutiny of snobs and their tasting notes? Don't we threaten the Great American Equalizer with too much discussion and flavor and hoity-toit?

The answer, of course, is no. The world of beer is huge and ancient, and we benefit from inquiry into its countless forms and functions, if only to entertain but more likely to tell us something about ourselves.

If wine is for those who like to think themselves cultured, beer is culture. The most rudimentary discussion of beer references the panoply of human civilization. Geography, language, history, politics, art, chemistry, climate, health, economics, even sex and religion can come up when a drinker innocently asks, "So, what's this beer all about?" "Why does it taste like that?" "What were the brewers thinking?"

A true interdisciplinary study, beer stands as one of the few things humanity has produced that has not only been present throughout the evolution of our civilization, but has also in many ways driven it. The ten-millennia-old shift that transformed human beings from hunter-gatherers to farmers happened because we wanted reliable sources of grain, and we made beer almost as soon as we made bread. (Enough with berries, Og, me need beer. And gruel and unleavened bread but mostly beer.)

Remember: Beer has been a bland, light, fizzy thing sold by talking animals for a very brief span of its existence. Before the turn of the 20th century, beer was a food product first and foremost. It was brewed for nourishment and as a safe way to get your fluids as much as for intoxication. Refreshment and buzz are but two of the benefits of good beer, a product that also provides bacteria-free drinking water, nutrients from the grains, vitamins from the yeast and an array of flavors and food-pairing ability to rival any other beverage.

So, especially now that the corporate beer spell has been broken across the Saint Louis area, let's begin to ask: What the hell's in my glass?

Matt Thenhaus is a Saint Louis bartender who believes there is a time and place for every beer. He blogs about beer for Gut Check every Wednesday.

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