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Making new beer friends
Grab a beer and make a new friend. Photo by Eric Ward
Cheers! North County Columns Food & Wine

Tis’ the season for new beer friends and Omicron?

I was going to write a heartwarming holiday column about sharing a beer with a stranger in the desert.

“Sharing this beer with others actually brings me joy,” I wrote in my notes.

One of my scribbles refers to the dropping temperatures and rising moon. Another explains how this burgeoning friendship started when I heard the crack of a can indicating our campsite neighbors were enjoying a beer of their own which led to a hearty, “Whattaya drinkin’?” After that, we were off to the races.

I was going to write about how a beer can bridge divides. Outside of the choice to camp for a single night at Joshua Tree in temps that bordered freezing, my wife and I had very little in common with our neighbors. They were single-minded climbers pursuing boulders.

We were just looking for a chance to take a hike and maybe read a book near a campfire. They were in their 20s, and we are…not. We made a full camp meal on our stove with a spot of whiskey and a beer. They ate what appeared to be ramen out of a pot.

Then we shared a beer and none of those differences mattered. We learned about them. They learned about us. We laughed. We all shivered when the temps dropped below 40 but they shared some hardwood with us for the fire.

We talked about camping and our shared love for nature and their passion for climbing. All this communing with strangers because I heard the crack of a beer can being opened. What I was going to write about this week was how beer can create friendships where none had existed before.

Then I came back into civilization and I thought, “Ugh. Not again.” Coronavirus is rearing its ugly head again. Omicron is quickly becoming a dominant force. Misinformation is spreading.

The mask mandates are back in effect but it was noticeable that almost no one besides the staff was wearing one at the local coffee shops and breweries I stopped into this week. I hope that was an aberration and not the rule because in a sign that I had entered the “Upside Down” (Stranger Things reference), almost everyone at Walmart this morning was wearing one.

Making new beer friends
Whattaya drinkin’? Photo by Wil Stewart

Back in civilization, I kept my head down while picking up holiday gifts of beer and whiskey and coffee. Back in civilization, I returned to cross the street when I saw someone else walking my way. Back in civilization, there is anger about politics, distress about climate change, fighting over vaccine mandates, and on, and on. It’s enough to make me want to drink my beers alone.

I’m going to write something that feels familiar. It feels a little repetitive, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant. The mask mandates are back, back again (Backstreet Boys reference) and the new-old coronavirus is still spreading.

Please, please, be cool to your servers, bartenders, baristas, and hospitality workers. They (along with our medical staff and essential workers) have been carrying the weight of coronavirus more than the rest of us. They have to be there. It is their job. The least we can do is wear a mask for the few minutes it takes to get a pint, crowler or latte.

I’m going to remind you that if you’re giving gifts, look first to the local brewery, bar, cafe, or restaurant that makes your community feel at home and share what they do with those you love.

Swap out the major brand holiday gift packs — you know, the ones that come with a pair of shot glasses that will never get used and too much packaging — for something local. Individually wrap cans from a variety of North County breweries and play “mystery” beer with the family.

Fill those gift boxes with Hoppy Beer gear or freshly-roasted coffee beans from your favorite local coffee roaster. Avoid a day in the kitchen and order your holiday meal from the neighborhood spot. Ship a bottle from one of San Diego’s craft distilleries to that favorite friend from college.

I’m going to remind you that we are all going through something. I may not feel like we’re all on the same team all the time, but we are muddling through. It isn’t the heartwarming message I was hoping to leave you with but feels a little more appropriate to the mixed bag that has been 2021.

Finally, when the opportunity arises to share a beer with a stranger in a way that feels covid-safe, I say jump at it. It will probably come with a story or a laugh and you may just walk away with a new beer friend.

Stream the newest episodes of the Roast! West Coast coffee podcast on the Coast News Podcast page, and be sure to follow Cheers! North County on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Got an interesting story about your drinking adventures? Reach out! I want to hear it.

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