Smoke & booze: Sweet stinky memories

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COUNT ME among the happy guzzlers who, in the wake of the great American smokeout, breathe easier and stink less after throwing back pints at the corner bar. As countless cities and towns have outlawed smoking in even the diviest dives, the air has cleared and you can actually crawl out of bed the next morning without sucking on an oxygen mask.

I still think antismoking laws are obnoxious and an infringement on the holy sanctuary of the taproom.

A bar, at its best, is a communal place of individual expression. You go there to meet different people, and you accept their differences because that’s why you’re there. A bar is a melting pot, a clash of cultures, a meeting hall, a petri dish, a common space that works precisely because its inhabitants are uncommon.

Proscribing behavior is antithetical to the very being of a bar.

I’m not looking to fight this battle all over again, OK? The anti-smokers won, and, in 10 years, we’ll all look back and marvel that we were ever allowed to light up in public.

But before we reach that day, I’d like to lament the death of one of life’s simple pleasures: smoke and booze.

It’s a bit of nostalgia that poked me in the nose the other day when I visited Cigar City Brewing, in Tampa, Fla. Tucked into a row of industrial buildings behind a Home Depot, the small brewery includes a comfortable tasting room where a visitor can enjoy its Humidor Series of ales. These are beers that are aged in cedar, the same wood used for cigar boxes, an ideal glass to savor while sitting beneath a Costa Rican cumulus.

You know where this is headed: Smoking is prohibited at Cigar City.

When I asked about the ban, Joey Redner, the owner, seemed hip to the irony. Because the tasting room doesn’t serve food, he might have applied for an exception to the smoking prohibition. But he didn’t bother because most people who visit are there to sample and explore his thoroughly wonderful brews.

“Look, I’m a cigar smoker,” said Redner. “I understand. I have sympathy. But the beer comes first. People in here sipping a big, full-flavored imperial stout – they don’t want to do that in a cloud of smoke. “

Who can blame them?

Smoke certainly pinches the nose and dulls the taste buds. You breathe in a whiff of Macanudo, you’ll probably miss the fresh citrus aroma of Cascades hops in a pale ale, the wafer-thin wisp of brownies in a dark lager, the chewy caramel in a double bock.

“I definitely don’t smoke if I’m trying a new beer,” said Redner, who also writes about beer for the St. Petersburg, Fla., newspaper. “If I’m unfamiliar with the flavor, I don’t want the smoke getting in the way. It wrecks the palate, and I’ll never get a feel for the beer. “

But taste is only one of the pleasures of beer.

Actually drinking it – and drinking it under the most indulgent circumstances – is another.

Just as eating a hot dog is somehow more enjoyable at a ballpark than in your ratty kitchen, for many, drinking beer is enhanced with the curling column of smoke at hand.

“It can be a ritual,” Redner said. “If I’ve got a 12-hour day working in the brewery, a cigar and a beer at the end of the day may be the most relaxing thing. “

What beer would Redner pair with a cigar?

Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, the dense, black-as-ink ale aged in bourbon barrels. “The big vanilla notes,” he said, “just go perfectly with the smoke. “

A sip, a drag, a hoarse laugh . . . in 10 years, it’ll be just a memory.

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