Brewery / Beer Tasting Date

—Sunday, January 8, 2012—

It was my brother’s birthday, but I wasn’t home in Massachusetts for it. Rather, I was embarking upon my first date of 2012, heading to Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg with a woman from the internet. She found me on OkCupid, was enthused about the project, and suggested the brewery since it was to be hosting Brooklyn Flea’s winter Smorgasburg, which promised to be a delicious time.

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Meeting up at the Broadway stop on the N train, April and I hugged and jumped back on train. I loved this tactic of meeting up with people who live in Astoria, but at a different subway stop. “I’m going to be in the front most car. I’ll hop out, say hi, and we can jump back on!” I had texted to April before getting on my train. It worked like a charm.

Our initial conversation surrounded our days thus far (It was only noon) and our jobs. April worked as an assistant media planner for a car company and though she wasn’t paid very much, the perks made it worthwhile. As if it needs to be repeated, I was working at a software company at the time.

Whether because of habit, or the distraction created by talking to each other, April and I missed our transfer at Queensboro Plaza. Going through Manhattan to Williamsburg would only add an extra five or ten minutes to the journey, but I felt silly for messing up so early. Luckily for me, she didn’t notice until I told her.

April mentioned that she’d been to Brooklyn Brewery a couple times prior, so I thought maybe she used to live in Brooklyn, but I was wrong about that. She was actually living at home on Long Island at the time, after graduating from school up in gorgeous Ithaca, New York. 

We traded opinions on hanging out in Brooklyn, which usually meant Williamsburg for those of us in Queens (And every other borough), and we also each described where exactly we were each living in Astoria. As we transferred to the L train at Union Square, I mentioned that I was in Williamsburg the night for a show. When she asked me what kind of show, I said improv.

We waited for the L and she asked me what I liked about improv. It was one of those loaded questions that could launch me into a lecture if I wasn’t careful. Since we weren’t very far into our date, I attempted to hold back a bit. Even then, my answer was long enough to last us until we exited the train at Bedford Avenue on the other side of the East River.

As we walked up Bedford, toward the brewery, we talked about how improv helped with social interactions and, as far as I’d experienced, dating. Also, we touched on how most comedians had some kind of fucked up past and April said that she loved dark humor, so the more fucked up, the better. She also said she’d love to try stand up because she’d always been “the funny friend,” but her stage fright would be too much to overcome. She would freeze up, she clarified. It had happened to her in school band performances during solos and at other inopportune times. Though I was not immune to nervousness, I was typically comfortable in most performance situations, so I didn’t have much advice for her other than, “You just have to get used to it, I guess.”

I think she was right though — she didn’t strike me as someone who would be comfortable up on a stage, exposing themselves to a crowd of people ready to tear her apart. I probably didn’t know her well enough to say this, but I felt like I knew a performer when I saw one, and admitting that she froze up on stage was a big red flag. That said, there was nothing wrong with not being a performer — that described most people in the world.

It was then that we hit our second delay of the day — I failed to stop at an ATM until we were on the block of the brewery. I had only $15 in cash and the chances that the pop-up food vendors were taking plastic were slim. We continued to chat as I withdrew money from a shady ATM outside of a bar. I did not appreciate the $2.75 fee, but I had my cash and we moved on, covering the final block to the Brooklyn Brewery.

As soon as we were inside and identified as being of age, I looked down and saw a cat sitting beneath the welcome sign. Aw, cute cat. A little kitty in the brewery to eat up all the mice. April commented that the cat was always there. She remembered it from her previous trips — his name was Monster. He seemed like a pretty cool cat, just hanging around the brewery all day, looking for mice. 

We took a spin of the tasting room to check out the four food vendors set up there: Commerce Bakery, Porchetta, Lush Candy and Rachel’s Pies. Having not had much of anything for breakfast, everything looked lovely, but it was now 12:50 p.m. and the first tour was starting at 1 p.m. With only ten minutes to spare, we grabbed beers and sat in the front area, where the tour would commence. They had a needlessly complicated system where we had to purchase drink tokens and then give those tokens to the bartender. I suppose it made things faster at the bar, but I found it odd, especially since each token was worth two drinks. Clearly, there was something I didn’t understand about the business of beer.

At the bar, April went with a weissbier and I ordered the brown ale in cask. Having never tried a cask ale, April gave mine a taste, but I don’t she liked it much. It was served a bit warmer that what most people were used to and had a different level of carbonation than traditional drafts. Plus, she ordered a wheat beer, so I didn’t really expect her to enjoy a cask brown ale.

Seated in the waiting area, April wanted to know how the project was going. I nondescriptly told her, “It’s good.” At the time, I was right on track, having completed my 50th date right at the six month mark the previous weekend. 

Had I learned anything? She asked me this and I stammered while searching for a proper answer. Yeah, I mean, I guess so, but honestly, this question had often left me feeling like a bit of a failure — not only when she asked me this, but many times since then. It was hard to realize growth or lessons learned when I was so close to the matter at hand. It was even harder to admit, at any given point, that maybe I hadn’t learned anything yet.

While I didn’t have any life-changing epiphanies at the time, I had definitely learned how to be a good date, and that for the most part, everyone was so different, that you couldn’t apply the same methods or approach to any given scenario. In general though, communication and honesty nearly always helped.

I had also learned that I was not creepy, which was significant because of the impact it had on how I, or anyone else, maneuvered through the dating world. I’m probably using “creepy” a little too casually when what I really mean is that women generally didn’t find me threatening. That went a long way when I needed to be asking women out on dates. Since, on the whole, men were fairly terrible, it was easy to think that perhaps we were all monsters and women should instinctually feel threatened. The long history and current state of nearly constant rape and murder did not help us. But it was important to know that we were not all like that and that we didn’t all come off that way. I think my threat level was somewhere between lab mouse and man walking down the street.

We also talked about the project more generally — the direction it was going and perhaps, where it should have been going — but we didn’t get into much before the tour began. We joined the small group, met our guide and left Monster to his prowling.

Within about a minute or two of entering the warehouse and brewery area, it was apparent, as our tour guide took a seat on a stack of pallets, that the “tour” would more closely resemble a history lesson. We learned from our double fisting beer professor that founders Steve Hindy and Tom Potter met in Brooklyn years earlier and started the brewery from nothing more than home brew recipes. It was also very interesting to hear that the famous NYC graphic designer Milton Glaser designed the logo. A few people in the crowd were aware of that last tidbit, but I had no clue.

He also told us that most of the beer was, and long had been, produced upstate at F.X. Matt in Utica. Only certain brews, mostly kegs and bottle-conditioned beers, were actually produced in Brooklyn. Some of those beers were brewed in house and released for “testing” around Brooklyn, which was a cool local aspect to their business along the same lines as their Radius brew, which was only available in the borough of Brooklyn. It was uplifting to hear that the company makes efforts to stay local despite having grown into a widely distributed brand.

At the end, there was a question and answer segment. I asked something about their upstate production, but it wasn’t particularly captivating. I was only trying to show that I’d been paying attention.

And that was it. Our guide climbed down off of his pallet throne and we went back into the tasting room for beer and food. Inspired by the tour, I ordered a Radius while April opted for another weissbier. We also picked up a couple porchetta sandwiches, which April assured me would be amazing. She’d had them before. I thought that a brewery in winter would be fairly off-beat date, but apparently April was a step ahead of me all along and had already done most cool things.

We grabbed a couple seats at a big round table as another pair vacated their spots. She was right, by the way, the porchetta sandwich was fantastic. The Radius was good too. I was not super hard for saisons, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.

For certain, one of the more intriguing aspects of going to a brewery was being able to try different beers, especially rare ones, and (hopefully) to be surprised. I was not as much of a beer snob as some of my friends, but I certainly found value in variety and thought that taking a risk on a new beer was nearly always a worthwhile venture. April probably didn’t share that sentiment. Her first two beers were weissbiers and in the world of craft beer, those are like safety nets, there for untrained beer explorer.

Originally, the date was going to have to end at 5 p.m. but April let me know over sandwiches that she was no longer going to the “skate shop party” she had intended to check out. I asked about how she knew the skate shop folks well enough to be invited to their party and she said that they were from her area of Long Island, so she had grown up around them.

April was not difficult to talk to and our senses of humor seemed to line up well. I didn’t feel the need to watch my words around her too much. There was also something about being asked out by her, via OkCupid, that generally took the pressure off. When I asked someone out, even a stranger on the internet, I would feel more pressure to make it worth their time and impress them, but when someone asked me out, it gave me more leeway to let them share in that responsibility. We talked about a normal melange of life stuff and, of course, more about improv.

A group of younger women asked to sit down at the table with us and we obliged. They all looked like they were in college — must have been home on winter break. It seemed like a Sunday Funday kind of outing and they soon provided mild, secondary entertainment.

I went to use the bathroom and on my way back to the table, stopped and bought a couple of slices of pie that we had been eyeing earlier. April was pleasantly surprised when I returned with our dessert and told me that I had read her mind. The pie was tasty, and a nice way to break up the steady flow of beer. Plus, those little cutesy date moves were always fun to do.

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As we talked more, April eventually asked about the dates again. She seemed very interested in the whole dating thing and how I was handling it. She asked me if it got old, going out with all the different people all the time, having similar conversations and going through the same motions.

More directly, she asked how I managed to make all of the dates “real.” Well that was not too hard, I told her — it was usually just a matter of waiting for something significant to happen. Typically, there would be a moment where we stumbled onto something meaty and, all of a sudden, it was a “real” date. 

Like what? She wanted to know.

I laughed to myself because I recognized, from experience, that this was that moment. She had jump started the serious conversation simply by asking for an example. She would be the catalyst. Talking about how to get there was how we got there. I had noticed throughout this project that many great date moments stemmed from talking about dating — a nice little self-fulfilling prophecy that I enjoyed seeing played out.

Since she asked, I gave her an example and told her a bit about my mom’s death. Something heavy and serious was usually the culprit of a breakthrough moment. Something like a dead mom. Anything life changing worked great. After a brief exploration of being a man without a mother, I said something like, “See? It’s not that hard. We did it.”

I noticed April’s guard coming down. She understood me a bit more. She became sympathetic and I think it clicked, that this was how dates became real. Then, I waited to see if she would open up to me.

Upon recognizing that she was in a safe space, and that she could confide in me without being judged, April let me into her world. She related to me her long-term battle with depression and how dark it had gotten at times. She didn’t have to say very much for her struggle to sink in and for me to see the gravity of her situation. 

If anyone in the blogosphere is keeping score, you can mark us down for another “real” date.

April and I continued to chat as our beers fell lower and lower. The girls at the table with us began to set up for a drinking game of some kind and, being good neighbors, invited us to join in. I didn’t think either of us were planning on staying much later, but we figured, yeah, why the heck not? Neither of us needed to be anywhere that night, so we agreed to party.

The sorority girls dealt us into the game, which needed significant explanation. I will not do it justice here, but it somehow revolved around the number 21. As the turn passed around the table, each player counted up one number, but 7 had to say 14 and 14 had to say 7. As we kept going, people got to make new rules dependent on some kind of “King”-like status. It was very fun very quickly and soon, April and I both needed fresh beers.

I purchased one more token and exchanged it for another round of beers. Back at the table, they had paused the game and we picked right back up where we’d left off. By the time April and I finished that round, we were both a little tipsy and had to say goodbye to our young college friends from Long Island. They reminded me of Fairfield girls. They were a fun, outgoing bunch and definitely injected a different kind of energy into our date without taking it over. What a pleasant surprise it was to have that happen.

Those girls were a great example of power in numbers when it comes to dating. Much like booze can be an excellent form of social lubricant, so can additional persons. Often, strangers are more willing to ask random questions of you and your date, not to mention, the variety of topics that come up from having more people around. Of course, you want to make sure that you’re not relying on those people to drive the date, nor do you want your interaction with them to override your focus on the person by your side. If balanced well, having some more bodies around can really take a date to the next level.

Thankfully, we didn’t miss any transfers on our ride back to Astoria and before we knew it, we were approaching April’s stop. I gave her a hug goodbye, she stepped off, and I was left to carry on.

It wasn’t until a bit later that I received a text from Cecilia, my Winery / Wine Tasting Date (fitting), inviting me to the wrap party for Improv Everywhere’s No Pants Subway Ride 2012. I had already been drinking, and I had work in the morning, but an invitation to a no pants party was a surefire way to guarantee that my day wasn’t going to end just yet.

It was one of those nights where I really wondered how much I’d learned from OHD. The project was supposed to make me more judicious in how I spent time with women, but maybe I hadn’t learned much of anything yet.