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The Barmaid Blog™: Life for a 30-something Manhattan Barmaid


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"Hey, honey, what's the difference between ale and lager?" He's a big guy, wearing a Dartmouth ballcap, and accompanied by a couple of friends. They've been sitting at the bar for a little while drinking mid-level American beers, and I get the impression they're genuinely shocked at our beer selection - not just that the Bar itself serves so many different ones, but that so many different ones even exist.

"Um, I can never remember which is which," I reply, "but one is top fermenting and one is bottom fermenting."

"What does that mean?"

"It means that in one of them, the yeast forms a foam on top of the liquid while it's creating the alcohol, and in the other it doesn't."

Simone, who's pouring a few glasses of Chivas nearby, adds, "It's ale that's top-fermenting and lager that's bottom. And they call the liquid 'wort.'"

"Hey, she's pretty good," Big Green says.

"We've all got our strengths," Simone smiles, then points at me. "You should hear this one when she gets going on single malt Scotch." She whips her long, blonde hair back around, and heads back down the bar with the (admittedly pretty good) blended Scotch for her customers.

"Yeah, I'm not much on the fancy stuff," he says. "What about stout?"

"That one I know," I bounce a little. "That's when they roast the malt or the barley before making the beer with it."

"And porter?"

"Same as stout."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean stout and porter mean the same thing - beer made with roasted malt or barley."

One of Big Green's friends, a guy who has clearly shaved his head only to beat his hair to the punch, chimes in. "Why don't they just pick one word and call it that? It's not like they're from different languages, like 'Cava' and 'spumante' both mean sparkling wine."

"I swear I haven't the faintest idea," I shrug. Nice to know at least one of them has some answers as well as questions, though.

"Hey, blondie!" calls out Big Green. Sadly, it being the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, with the Yankees game already over, the crowd is thin enough that she can hear him pretty well, and has time to bother.

"Call me Simone," she says when she returns to our end.

"Simone, why do stout and porter mean the same thing?"

"Linguistic accident," she says. "Stout used to just mean a very strong beer. But the breweries used the word stout to describe porters so much more often than other beers that they just started using it as a shorthand."

"Well, what about chocolate stout? There isn't really any chocolate in it, is there?"

"No, it's just a stout made with chocolate malt, which also has no chocolate in it. They just roast it at higher temperatures, which caramelizes the malt. I think a couple of microbreweries actually add chocolate, but that's a gimmick."

"Damn, where did you learn all this stuff?"

"I kind of grew up in a brewpub."

"Shit, really? A gorgeous blonde who loves beer and knows everything about it?" Big Green swats Intentionally Bald on the shoulder a few times. "I think I've died and gone to heaven."

"Can't stand the stuff, actually," she tilts her head and grins. "I'm a wine girl, through and through." Big Green is starting to ask her about the difference between Beaujolais and Bordeaux when I head down to the other end of the bar to take some orders.

Vince swings by with some empty glasses, then leans over the bar as I'm pulling a pint of Guinness. "I've been thinking about going back to college."

"That was out of nowhere."

"Yeah, I was just trying it out, seeing how it felt to say it out loud. 'I've been thinking about going back to college.' How do you think your roommate will take it?" Vince and Jill have been dating for several months.

"You haven't told her?"

"Not so much. She's got an MBA, and I've got three years left as an undergrad, assuming anybody would even let me in."

"If you're worried about how you measure up to her, I wouldn't. She could be dating another MBA, but she's dating a barback who used to roadie for punk bands. Why would you suddenly be beneath her if you became a college student?"

"That's not it - well, not quite. I'm a little worried about that, but look at what she does for a living. She could get an offer halfway across the world a year from now, and I'd be stuck going into my junior year."

"You're worried about her moving away a year from now? I didn't know you guys were that serious."

He nods slowly for a moment, looking past me. Then he pulls his shirt up. I've seen him in just pajama bottoms or boxers often enough that I can see he has a new tattoo. It's only a few inches tall, and I have to get pretty close in the Bar's limited lighting, but there's no mistaking it - that's a picture of Jill's face over his heart.

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