How many years

by Heather Vandenengel

I had a moment this Tuesday when I was at Mule Bar in Winooski, Vermont. It was shortly after they opened and I’m the first person there besides the distributor rep whose conversation with the bartender I’m eavesdropping on and I’m pretty sure I recognize the bartender from somewhere, probably just from the last time I was here when I think we both thought we looked familiar, but couldn’t place it then either, so I don’t say anything. I’m sitting at the bar, drinking a Hill Farmstead Conduct of Life and flipping through BeerAdvocate’s 100th issue and looking at the tap and bottle list and thinking about how many years it’s actually been since I got into this whole thing, beer, and writing about it.

I fell into writing about beer because I recognize a good opportunity when I see it and it was fun and all happening right then. It’s always been funny to me, coming to beer in this way, when I have spent so many hours interviewing people who have fought against so much in order to get to beer, to open a brewery, find a job, risk it all. Where others have leapt, I seem to have stumbled on it, and it’s honestly led to years of insecurity of not deserving all that I’ve worked for.

And yet, here I am sitting at a bar reading the 100th issue of a magazine where I have met and drank with half the contributors and have a piece published in it and whose former editor assigned me the first story I ever wrote about beer. There’s a brewery on the board that I visited shortly after the owners had their first child; now they have two, a new facility, gold medals. Another one I visited on the other side of the country, on the Oregon coast on a gray and dreary day like today, where I sat alone at the bar and talked to the bartender and the locals who were there on some other weekday afternoon. I thought about all the days diverted to visit a brewery or bar, the afternoons and evenings spent in them, talking to bartenders, searching tap lists, trying out some new beer.

I had another moment yesterday, standing in the doorway of my balcony in the early evening, watching cyclists and pedestrians pass by and thinking about this month last year, one of my favorite out of the twelve. I was going to leave Montreal by the end of May but decided to stay for the summer, ended up living in a shitty apartment I should have never moved into, and then moved out two weeks later. But it was summer, finally, and I rode a bike for the first time through the city and danced in Dieu du Ciel until 2 a.m., moved all my things in a van taxi for the second time in two weeks and made a new place my home, again.

I think the scariest thing that could come from looking back is realizing how much hasn’t changed, and I’m grateful that I feel, and am, different from former selves 12 months or five years ago. But more than that, I’ve found that I love everything about that person, how she spent her days, the choices and mistakes she made, how she thought about the world and what she wanted from it. I’m not always right, and never perfect, but it’s at least been interesting.