I was a tiny child a decade and a half below legal drinking age when I discovered the most important thing about beer: It is mostly about fads and hype, not what the stuff actually tastes like. Beer is the liquid equivalent of restaurant beef, as in the sentence “We’re not selling the steak; we’re selling the sizzle.” With beer, it’s “We’re not selling the brew; we’re selling the head.” Like in those Stella Artois commercials, where the Old World but youthful-looking barkeep in his Old World but new-looking wood-paneled saloon verry carefully pours just the exact, precise quantity of Stella into the special red-starred Stella glass and then verry carefully levels off the head to the exact, precise rim.
I discovered beer as a near-toddler not because I was exposed to it at home. I wasn’t. My parents, New Yorkers transplanted to Southern California, were quintessential aspiring sophistos 1950s-style. They maintained a capacious liquor cabinet stuffed to the swinging door with every sort of hard stuff and attendant mixer you could imagine, especially gin, because every sophisto household of the 1950s featured a brace of martinis hitting the coffee table between the time Dad got home for dinner (5:30 p.m. — this was the lost era of the 20-minute commute) and dinner itself, served in good time (6 p.m.) for the kids to get their homework done and themselves into bed, followed by Mom and Dad making more Baby Boom babies.