Judging someone by the beer they drink is a lot like astrology: utterly irrational, yet strangely compelling.
Given about 30 California beers on tap, Erin went for the stout with the highest ABV. I went for the Belgian-style ale closest to the way monks would have made it. At Hopwater Distribution, those beers are Raputin's Imperial Stout and Monks Blood, both excellent. It's obvious what having such great beer says about the bar, but what do these choices say about us?
"I think I'm pretty misunderstood," Erin told me.
We were sitting on the balcony, overlooking the spacious brick-and-wood interior. We'd be up there for hours, and the crowd below would change rapidly through the night, cycling from young twentysomethings to old men in suits.
Our friendship grew tight a few years ago, when Erin asked me to publicly declare her my Best Friend Forever.
"BFF?" I asked. "Why would I do that?"
"To fuck with people's heads," she said. "We'll wear little BFF charms and talk about all the stuff we did last weekend, and it'll confuse the hell out of everyone. And isn't that what having a BFF is all about?"
"My God ... you've weaponized friendship!" I said yes.
Erin is a misanthrope — someone who as a rule hates people — and to have the friendship and respect of a misanthrope is one of the great compliments in this world.
We were going to end up spending most of the night talking about me, but first Erin was concerned that people don't understand her, that they consider her quiet and dismissive instead of shy and aloof. It's a subtle difference, but crucial.
"Well," I said, and then saw she was holding her phone up. "Wait, what are you doing?"
She took a picture.
"You're not ..."
"Sorry, I had to Instagram this."
Instagram me? My own BFF? I couldn't believe the betrayal.
"How can someone who hates people as much as you do want to Instagram? Or do social media at all?"
"Because everybody's far away," she said. "I'm sharing with them, but they're all standing over there. It's got all the advantages of communicating with people without having to talk or hang out. It's great."
Take it from a misanthrope: The "sharing economy" isn't bringing anybody closer, it's using our pictures, data, and such to build better walls.
Over superb gastropub fare I told Erin that introverts are usually misunderstood in our culture. Quiet people are generally assumed to be shy. People who keep their heads down are often assumed to be nice ... until our culture flips on them, thinking that only serial killers would ever want to keep to themselves.
"You actually like people, don't you?" Erin said. "I've seen you at parties."
I shook my head. "I need certain kinds of social interactions the way I need blood. Without them, I get cold and die. But once I get enough for a while, I'm done, it's over, leave me alone. So I cycle back and forth. If there's a happy medium, I haven't found it yet."
"Yeah, I get that." She looked around. "I kind of like relaxing here. It sneaks up on you."
I agreed. With multiple kinds of space — the bar area, the balcony area, and a "banquet seating" area — it's a good setup. The beer is nicely curated. Really I liked everything about Hopwater Distribution except the steady, almost drone-like drum music coming through the sound system.
When did every upscale bar need to sound like they know a DJ who just got back from Burning Man? Whom do I blame for this?
"I think the reason you're not on social media is that you actually like people," Erin said. "If you thought there were actual people on the other side of Facebook, you'd be on it all the time. But instead you figured out it's just posing and bullshit. So you don't do it, and people accuse you of being antisocial because you'd rather get a beer with them."
"Although it's a beer brewed by monks," I said, which seemed somehow important. Monks belong to an order but can also be solitary and silent.
"Do you think you're misunderstood, too?" she asked.
I laughed. "Like Oscar Wilde, I live in constant fear of not being misunderstood."
But there are some people in this world who know what I drink. I won't hide that.