The NFL hired their first full-time female referee last week, and the public reaction played out exactly as you'd imagine. Decent, reasonable people saw this move as vaguely positive; the bleating heads who get paid to say dumb shit about sports said dumb shit about sports; and the people who listen to sports radio and therefore quite likely don't get paid by anyone to do anything said … well, I have to admit I'm not sure. Maybe they quoted their favorite applicable sonnets, but they may also have slurped and stammered and wheezed about how it is impossible for a woman to properly adjudicate a football game on account of "she never played!"
This is a very popular argument in the sports world, most commonly farted out these days to decry rational, data-driven analysis. Nerds in moms' basements who couldn't possibly understand sports because they never kissed a cheerleader, etc. This form of meatheaded gate-keeping isn't exclusive to sports, of course. In the beer game, a humble and uncredentialed opiner will from time to time have his lack of brewing experience thrown in his face. If you've never mashed the tun or churned the wort or whatever, do you even know what beer IS, man?
Thing is, there might be some truth to this. I figure actually brewing my own beer once in my life would have to make me at least marginally more qualified to judge other people's efforts, wouldn't it? Or maybe not. This feels like an excuse for laziness and a denunciation of education, BUT, hear me out: What if an in-depth knowledge of the production process biased me in some unhelpful way? Imagine a reviewer that thought, "Oh, man, I can tell they used nine pounds per square inch of experimental hop #29, and they added the last dose four minutes too soon. Hey, we've all been there. I respect what they were going after; let's give this one four stars for effort."
Knowledge is power for sure, but I don't know that I need access to every last inside detail. An NFL referee doesn't need to know what it feels like have a 330-pound human ram his metal hat into her stomach; she just needs to see if the guy with the ball lands in-bounds. This is why I didn't watch Game of Thrones Sunday night in preparation to review Ommegang's new Three-Eyed Raven, the fifth collaboration between the Cooperstown, NY, brewery and HBO, the upscale cable channel that airs America's favorite boobs-blood-and-dragons revue.
I've never seen Game of Thrones. It sounds pretty awesome, but in a way that might not appeal to my squeamish side. I don't consciously avoid the show—I have no philosophical problem with it, but I've never really been into fantasy stuff or gory stuff, and I suck at remembering what time TV shows are on. But I briefly considered watching the most recent season premier, so I could base this post on hacky observations about which character is most like the hops and which is most like the barley, because that seems to be the primary way that people derive joy from Game of Thrones , from comparing its characters to every facet of real life: "That falafel I had for lunch was a real fuckin' Lannister, I tell you!"
But instead, I opted to just treat this beer as a beer.
Three-Eyed Raven is a 7.2-percent alcohol-by-volume beer that Ommegang bills as a "dark saison ale," although on the website they basically admit that doesn't mean much. Or rather, that it's a "hybrid style open to the brewer's imagination." There's also some stuff about "deceptive" and "ominous," which are not words commonly used to urge people to spend $10 on a 25.4-ounce bottle of beer that carries with it a pretty strong stench of "marketing gimmick," but what the hell, I'm a professional, I gave it a shot.
It's good beer. Three-Eyed Raven pours deep brown, with a giant light-tan head that takes up half the glass no matter how gently you pour. The aroma's first impression is of spicy root beer, and there ain't nothing wrong with that. Then you get traditional clove, banana, and bubblegum smells from the Belgian yeast, along with a light bit of black pepper and some sweet dried fruit. The added sugar seems well incorporated—this is a sweet beer, but the sweetness seems to originate from (or at least accentuate) the fruity malt, whereas sometimes Belgian candi sugar can just kinda float there like a molasses slick.
There is very little of the roasted flavor one expects from a beer this dark, nor is there anything particular saison-like about it, but neither effect detracted from my enjoyment. Despite the steep price, this is a pretty good deal even if you've never played the game.
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Image by Jim Cooke.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.