Thursday, November 2, 2017

If She Drinks Beer, She's a Keeper

Perhaps the problem is that I didn't get the hops gene.

Otherwise, why would I feel the need to observe that while I wouldn't want to say breweries have taken over Richmond, breweries have taken over Richmond.

And it's not just the sheer number of breweries - although that's got be way above the norm - but the fact that so many of Richmond's cultural events now take place at breweries. It's as if the only way to attract people is with beer.

So of my most interesting choices for culture tonight, there was storytelling at one brewery or opera at another. No kidding. I opted for the brewery where I saw Shakespeare most recently, since I've seen Shakespeare at both. Ridiculous, isn't it?

Three Notch'd Brewing Collab House was hosting a special edition of Secretly Y'All, Tell Me a Story, held in conjunction with the Library of Virginia's exhibition "Teetotalers and Moonshiners: Prohibition in Virginia" (which I've not only seen, but attended a panel discussion about).

The theme was "Cheers, Beers and Tears" and tonight they were tapping the bourbon barrel-aged "Last Call," a beer which had been a collaboration between Three Notch'd and the Library. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but do you see what I mean about this town being beer-besotted?

Unlike with the Shakespeare performance, chairs had been set up for those who'd come, not for beer but to hear stories, and mine was near a barrel, on top of which rested an assortment of nerdy Library of Virginia stickers, two of which - "Got books?" and "I like big books and I cannot lie" - came home with me.

Since this was a one-off edition of Secretly Y'All, there were only five storytellers, although they each got a generous ten minutes instead of the usual seven. Initially, some of the hardcore beer geeks kept talking over the first storyteller, but eventually even most of them were sucked in by true tales being shared with strangers.

One woman told of her time working for Redhook Brewery in Seattle and how that went south once Anheuser-Busch bought them and harassment entered the equation. Another told of her moonshiner great-grandfather and the family's Appalachian roots, stressing that it was pronounced with a "ch" sound, not  "sh" ("That's like fingernails on a blackboard to us hillbillies") and trying to counter stereotypes ("We have our teeth, we wear shoes and some of us are educated").

The oldest of a large, fundamental Christian family told of her mother earning side money as a mystery shopper, which once involved her having to order an O'Doul's at the bar despite her fear of being kicked out of the church for drinking a fake beer. Instead, she was accused of coming on to a man (incidentally, her brother, so make that incest). The always reliable Mr. King told of his days as a private detective investigating moonshiners, most of whom, he assured us, would give you the shirt off their backs.

Closing out the evening was what amounted to a ringer, an older man from Botetourt County (which he pronounced "BOT-tot"), dressed in jeans and a green checkered shirt with red suspenders, speaking in a distinctive southwestern Virginia drawl.

Not sure about how much we city slickers knew, he first asked who'd heard of Botetourt (most) and who knew what a bender was (all). Alrighty, then, he could go on.

His story had to do with an old drunk known to go on three-week benders and how, as a young man of 20, he'd been asked to "babysit" the drunk, The benefit of this odd job was hearing the old guy's colorful moonshining stories from his younger years.

Tonight he told us one about three 'shiners who set up operation in South Carolina (because there was the least law presence there), buying cans from Continental Company in which to put their moonshine, and then slapping labels on the cans saying they contained tomatoes.

They shipped the cans north on trucks to distributors in Philly, Pittsburgh, NYC and Chicago, and eventually got so bold as to ship on trains, at which point Continental got worried and stopped supplying cans rather than risk a lawsuit.

And don't you know those moonshiners were smart enough to close up shop, take all that money they'd earned, move back to Botetourt and buy farms to live out their lives on?

Kind of gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling, doesn't it, although if you were drinking "Last Call," that feeling could be nothing more than the 8.5% APV.

So another hop-scented cultural evening came to a close without my lips getting anywhere near a beer.

But with the temperature still hovering in the '70s, it only made sense to stop for a bite on the way home and My Noodle & Bar had their front door wide open and the booth closest to the door available.

As if that weren't enough, a guy was folded into the highest perch above the booths, first playing an accordion and then a violin. The way I see it, if you're going to indulge in steamed dumplings and broccoli with chicken while the soft November night air wafts in, how better than with someone bowing a violin for your aural enjoyment?

After a first date a few years back, the guy emailed me about how fascinating he'd found me, but saying point blank, "If you drank beer, you'd be perfect."

But I don't. Got beer? No. I like wine and I cannot lie.

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