A Halloween Story
I swore off alcohol the first time on our wedding day. The night before my brothers decided to throw me an impromptu bachelor party. Sarah went out with my sisters to drink champagne and ten dollar cocktails while I drank Pabst like it was water and sampled various homemade concoctions made of fruit and grain alcohol. When Sarah came back a few hours later I was vomiting on the porch and my vision was blurry. The next day I decided I would never drink again.
Obviously, I changed my mind.
Over the next three years I had many run-ins with the demon booze. I threw up outside the Horse Brass, a venerable Portland institution, now sullied with memories of regurgitated Pliny the Elder. I blacked out at a strip club I hadn’t intended to enter during a friend’s bachelor party. I literally ran home and was still barfing in dumpsters the next morning. Sarah took me out for a breakfast burrito and I thought I would die just smelling it. I was sure that time it was over. No more overindulging.
I didn’t learn my lesson.
The last time I drank to the point of retching was after a Halloween party we threw. We served pumpkin brownies, pumpkin cookies, and pumpkin beers. I, being frugal, couldn’t let nearly empty bottles go. I finished the dregs and promptly deposited them back into the toilet. I was furious with myself. Everyone had already left, but I was convinced I acted like an asshole. Sarah was about one month pregnant at the time. I promised I would never be this drunk in front of our kid.
And I never have been.That’s not to say I’ve been perfect. I drank far too many free samples at a Fruit Beer Festival preview event. I’ve been over confident at a few family Christmases. But the only reason I’ve barfed in the last four years was a case of norovirus.
I held onto the last bottle of Pumpking from that fateful Halloween. It sat in the back of the closet between the imperial stouts and sours as a orangy reminder of… something. Looking at it in there didn’t make me feel better. For years, thinking about pumpkin spice made me feel a little sick. Seeing that old bottle of Pumpking just filled me with shame.
This year, I finally decided to get rid of it. I drank it.
There’s a reason you don’t see vintage pumpkin beers every October, it doesn’t age well. Held up to the light, a whole nebulae of flotsam spin into view, that’s what’s left of the roasted pumpkin. I poured it carefully, to avoid any chunks in my glass, and gave it a sniff. I wasn’t overcome with a wave of nausea. It smells like caramel. It smells like an old barley wine. The first sip tastes very stale. The body thinned out years ago, and the spices are totally gone. It tastes bitter and oxidized. It’s fine.
It’s not particularly good beer, but it’s just beer. The power was in the story I was telling about it. Now that it’s gone, the story doesn’t seem to matter all that much. Yeah, when I was younger I got drunk on pumpkin beers. That’s fine. I don’t have to turn it into a morality play.
I actually feel better now, despite drinking a beer five years past its prime.