04 December 2009

The Session: Stumbling Home

So I've decided to join The Session. This month's subject is about "your favorite watering hole." Which is a cool topic, except....

When I first started drinking beer, I wasn't much of a fan of bars. Pay two or three times as much for so-so beer (keep in mind, I started my beer life in Ala-fucking-bama, of all places!), inhale the horrible smoke of others and generally have to put up with noise from the kinds of assholes that I normally stay at home to avoid? No thanks.

As I've progressed in the hobby, I've come to appreciate the bar experience a lot more. Partly this is because I live in Kalamazoo, now, where my local (yeah, my fucking local) is fucking Bell's. How can it get better than that? And besides that, Shakespeare's is right next door and there are probably a dozen great beer places in town, including Gallagher's, O'Duffy's, Harvey's... I mean, hell, in Kalamazoo even the ratty-ass college bar The Up-and-Under serves great wings and offers specials on Bell's Two-Hearted. Good beer's just part of the atmosphere here, and believe me, it's something I have learned to appreciate.

But for this post I want to highlight something else. Something a bit more... elusive. Or if not elusive at least under-appreciated. It's one thing for great beer bars to exist, for great location to offer an ever-rotating list of amazing taps for us beer geeks to enjoy. (And on that note, let me mention that even in the beer hellhole that is the Heart of Dixie, The Nook offers an unparalleled beer selection and amazing beer-geek atmosphere -- anyone living in the area or just passing through should definitely stop in for a pint or four of some amazing brew.) No, what I want to talk about is that little hole-in-the-wall, that little spot that could care less about us, the beers geeks, but serve something better than expected for us anyway.

In particular, I want to talk about Huntsville's own Thirsty Turtle.

Something of an institution, this place is a tiny bar in a strip mall on the corner of Whitesburg and Airport. Last I was there (it's been over a year since I've been in), it was sandwiched between a Mailboxes Etc. and a sub shop. Stepping in, it's a smoky little dive that serves as a sports bar for those looking for a little alcoholic diversion. The food? Standard pub fare, although I must admit that their burgers are about the biggest, greasiest slices of heaven I can imagine. Not the kind of place that would ever serve the beer geek clientele or would really care to court our business.

And yet this location served Yuengling draft 20oz'ers for prices that I'd normally expect to be paying for BMC products. Sure, Yuengling isn't exactly beer geek heaven, but it's a fine amber lager with a great mouthfeel and a clean finish, and so much better than Bud-Miller-Coors that it's not even a contest, really. Those used to wide availability of great beer may not realize how nice that is, but when I worked at the bookstore a quarter-mile away, those of us on the closing shift used to go by pretty regularly to unwind and bitch about customers, corporate, and other random craziness. To go in expecting to have to get by on a few mixed drinks (or, even worse, macrobrew products) and find a nice quality lager waiting was the kind of treat that not even the finest of beer establishments can really duplicate.

So the next time you're hoisting an 8oz sample of high-end barleywine or the finest treat from Belgium at your local beer-geek haven, remember to drink to those spots that don't have to cater to beer geeks to stay in business, but choose to sell some better-quality stuff anyway. These places don't cater to us, but they tolerate us and make sure they've got a tap or two that we can live with, even if it's not the spectacular brew that we'd really rather have. Cheers to the Turtle, and to a thousand other places like it, for offering something a little better than they have to so that beer geeks like me can have something decent. For spending a little bit more on that "specialty" keg even though it may not be the most obvious choice.

To the Turtle, and a thousand other places like it: Thanks.

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