I'm a sucker for foodie-ish specialty brewing joints, so The Trappist can do no wrong. I can make fun of wine snobs all day, but somehow the blue-collar pomposity of the craft beer aficionado gets a pass. I'm not sure why. Even The Trappist boasts that it uses the "right glass" and serves a beer at the "right temperature," blah blah blah, and it notes that none of its brews are corporate. The simple fact is that I love beer and I don't care for wine. So when people get all uppity about their amber ales I let it roll off me, like a beloved great aunt who just happens to decry race-mixing. You learn to overlook things and focus on the positive when love is involved.
A bar is only as good as its patrons, and The Trappist can be jam-packed with douchebags at the drop of a hat; mostly under-40 yuppies (is that still a word?) who drive in from Berkeley and bitch about how it used to be so easy to park in Oakland. But if you show up alone with a book on a weekday, early evening, you just might be able to pretend you are in Belgium. And so I did.
Lest ye think I am being facetious when I say that beer can be pompous, check out the names of some of those they have on tap: Dieu Du Ciel! Routes Des Epices (which translates to, "Oh my god! Spice route"), Pretty Things Fluffy White Rabbits, Omnipollo Nebuchandnezzar, and Bocker Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge. Anyone who can order these without hiding behind dark shades wins the big balls award.
Truth be told, I ordered a ginger beer to keep my edge. The front bar is small, but a larger space has recently opened in the back. To that I say, "Bah!" because one of the charms of The Trappist was the fact that you were cheek to jowl with other people, your back pressed up against the cold bricks. And, during less busy times, it can be like your own private beer cellar. So for the sake of aesthetics let's pretend that the back doesn't exist at all.
I sat at a table that could easily serve four people but that just gave me more room to spread out. There were a few other loners there, men saddled up to the bar and talking to the bartender like they knew him.
I thought about joining them. My book on giant squids was starting to lag a bit. There's only so much invertebrate stimulation I can take. So I did what we all do, which is took out my phone and decided to check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest, MySpace, Friendster, Classmates.com, Flickr, deviantart.com, Google+, ChristianMingle.com, and WhitePower.org. Nothing. So then I went to my default site, Wikipedia, and decided to figure out just what the hell a Trappist was.
Wow, Trappists are pretty cool. A monk sect of the Catholics, Trappists are followers of something called the Rule of St. Benedict, the "leading guide" for monastic living after that one that Lonely Planet wrote. The Rule includes prayer, sleep, reading, and manual labor, which includes beer-making. Trappists speak only when necessary, so needless to say there ain't no small talk. They have developed their own sign language to get around this. Speech that "leads to unkind amusement or laughter" is banned, which definitely runs counter to beer-drinking; yet they are not barred from imbibing. Actually, when you think about it, the entire network seems to be created to exalt beer.
Richard Dawkins wrote an amazing book called The Selfish Gene, which is all about how living organisms are just DNA's bitch; we all exist to host the DNA molecule and spread its empire. Couldn't the same be said for Trappists and beer? Beer has devised a wonderful way to up its quality and demand: Trap a bunch of celibate people in barren dormitories, forbid them from talking or having independent thoughts, but then give them the creative outlet of brewing new and interesting beer varieties, and Jesus Christ, let them drink the shit too. Hot damn! Those monks must cling to that stein like Moses to the Ten Commandments tablets.
From there, the Trappists' beer gets disseminated elsewhere, and more hapless hosts take it in and want more. Barrels are shipped. Beer triumphs.
I watched the bartender fill another glass for one of the regulars and that proved my theory. There is no god, only beer, and this fizzy mix of hops and water has been slowly spreading its gospel since the fifth millennium BC. It is truly one of the oldest beverages on earth, having started its insidious infestation as soon as people started to grow grain. You know what this means, right? Monday Night Football, frat parties, Kentucky fishing trips ... all part of beer's big plan. The guys who opened The Trappist think they are being maverick by bringing artisan brews to upper-middle class East Bay residents, but they are merely ale zombies baptized by a pilsner Crusade. It's sad really.
I finished my ginger "beer" and felt superior for not falling into the Darwinian brewski trap. Five people came in and were milling about looking for a seat, and I was hogging a whole table, so I decided to let them have it. Go ahead, suck at the fermented teat. They graciously threw their jackets over the chairs and then went up to tithe and worship.
Somewhere, in a wheat field in Poland, a grain endosperm rubs its molecules together menacingly.