In college I had a pothead friend prone to making grandiose statements. Nothing was ever merely okay with this guy; every experience was either the best or the worst of his life. That grilled-cheese sandwich we'd just eaten in the cafeteria? The worst in the history of the New England Small College Athletic Conference. Those Phish shows he kept going to? Incredibly, each one was the best concert of all time! (This is possible, I suppose: It's like taking a million shits, and saying each one stinks the worst of all. How are you going to measure which stinks the worst? Each shit could, theoretically, be the stinkiest, because, when you think about it, they're all shit.) And the best beer homeboy ever had?
Heineken Brewery, Amsterdam. After a two-and-a-half hour tour, during which he learned the entire history of the brand, he was treated to a tall pint of the freshest Heineken in the world. Two fingers of foam at the head, beads of perspiration cascading elegantly down the frosty glass -- my buddy took that stein and drank. To hear him tell it, he sipped with the satisfaction of a man quenching a thirst that had plagued him since the day he was born, although odds are he was probably drinking contaminated canal water out of a used syringe, so fucked up was he on mushrooms and ecstasy. But the passion behind his tale always inspired me, so when I went to Amsterdam, I made a point of going. I scheduled the brewery for the last day of my stay, and after checking off all the other items on my to-do list -- the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, paying a prostitute to watch me eat three ears of corn naked while two other prostitutes sang into a fan -- I was ready for that beer. But when I got to the Heineken Brewery, it was closed.
You can only imagine my disappointment.
The Coors Brewery Tour was worse.
Don't get me wrong: Coors was open -- but therein lies the problem. I'd been on the Coors tour before, and I had not been impressed. At one point, our guide actually had us standing in a long, narrow hallway, studying framed posters of beers -- never mind letting us taste those beers, or sharing a few anecdotes about the most gruesome disfigurements in the history of each beverage's production. No, the crack Coors team thought that the best way to keep their products imprinted in our skulls was through good, old-fashioned poster-starin'. It was pathetic.
But when a Nepalese midget courier recently delivered the news that as of June 26, the tours would be "newly upgraded" -- and still free -- I decided to give Coors another go. After all, what had the company ever done wrong? Besides polluting the environment and having a founder named Adolph, that is. So I tipped the courier six paper-clips -- currency to his people -- and headed for the hills.
If by "newly upgraded" Coors means "even less impressive," the brewery's announcement was right on the money. The only addition to the tour was a series of museum-like displays where you can ponder questions such as, "How long does it take to brew a Coors beer?," then lift a placard and discover the answer, "An average of 55 days, the longest in the industry!" Or "What is the shelf life of a Coors beer in a can?" "About 112 days!" And finally, "What the fuck am I doing in the Coors Brewery?" "Your editor rejected your column idea about trying to teach a capuchin to drive. This is all you had left!"
Inside the brewery, all was essentially the same: the stinky brew-kettle room that prompted a fat kid in the Jeff Gordon T-shirt to comment, "It smells like somebody farted Grape Nuts"; the Quality Control Laboratory with the sign celebrating "1 Million Hours Without a Lost Time Injury" (this could be why Coors is still #3; in my lab, so constant and reckless would be our quest for innovation that no chemist would have all of his fingers); the packaging plant with Coors Lights whizzing past; the gift shop where, amongst the personalized mugs, there still wasn't one labeled "Adam" (it's not like I'm named freaking Punjab); and, of course, the poster-lined hallway of shameless self-promotion.
Yet when a waitress asked me that evening what I'd like to drink with my dinner, I couldn't help but think back on all I had seen and learned during the day: the importance of fine barley, the delicate act of germination, the kiln that dries the grain. I thought about all the hard work that goes into crafting a delicious, quality beer, and it moved me.