Last night I went to a pub I found recommended online called “The Turf Tavern.” The Google map said I walked by it every day, which was odd, because I had never seen it before. But the online reviews were current, so I knew it existed. With my beer money jangling cheerfully in my pocket, I made my way down to the far end of New College, where the pub was supposed to be located. Sure enough, I saw something I had never seen before: there was a small alley between New College and the building beside it, just big enough for one person to walk through comfortably. I went through the alley, which opened into a raised beer garden. Raucous Brits were putting back golden pints and steak and ale pie, their cheeks ruddy from the cold. Taking off my scarf, I made my way towards the hobbit hole of a bar towards the back of the garden. This wasn’t too hard: I wasn’t drunk yet, so the metal kegs that littered the path were fairly easy to avoid.
I had to duck as I entered the cozy and quintessential little pub, my head almost brushing the exposed wooden beams. I’m not tall, either: 5’7 on a good day. But the bar was low enough, and showcased a wide variety of regional specials. To avoid sounding like a snob, I won’t tell you that I brew my own beer, or that I run Duke’s underground Beer of the Week club; I’ll also leave out the fact that the best beer I had last year was Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, a tar black, creamy, well-roasted beer with a great flavor that hits after the swallow and the worst beer I had was a Robust Porter by the Smuttynose Brewing Company in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, that tasted like cold, dark coffee. Instead, I’ll just tell you that I know a thing or two about beers. So when the bartender told me that she had just opened a keg of beer with hints of both chocolate and vanilla, I was naturally skeptical.
“Impossible,” I said, and she raised her eyebrows, and I realized that there were about seven people behind me so I handed her three pounds and she gave me the beer. I walked through another series of small alleyways out back, where there was another beer garden, so I could examine my prize.
It was dark, that much was obvious, and smelled of caramel. A small rub between the fingers revealed a low viscosity; disappointing, as I like my dark beers to be a little bit thicker, but not unredeemable. Another sniff- caramel on the nose, but wait, there’s the vanilla this time, faint but present. Perhaps…? No, it was too much. No one has ever successfully pulled off the chocolate/vanilla combination.
Sadly, this beer didn’t either. It was good, certainly, but below expectation. Although the scent held promise, the taste didn’t live up to the hype: the chocolatey head quickly gave way to a cold, limp, watery tang. I felt like crying. I didn’t, of course, because you’re not supposed to do that when you’re sitting by yourself in public, but I felt like it. And then, as if to apologize for its mediocrity, the beer told me to look up. Not literally, I don’t think, but the message was as clear as if it had been. I was pretty sure I wasn’t drunk after only a few sips, but there is no other explanation for it other than divine intervention, and that’s just ridiculous.
“Look up,” said the beer, and I did. Above me was a poster, with a picture of… Bill Clinton? I read the caption: “according to local legend, this is where a young Rhodes scholar by the name of Bill Clinton had supposedly ‘not inhaled.'” And that’s where I was sitting. Right there where Bill Clinton had his first puff. I felt… powerful. I felt like ordering another beer.