The Swill Sessions: Rye versus Lyle’s
I have a friend who eschews the craft beer movement. Lucky for him the hipsters drink PBR so there’s always something for him to drink if we end up in an urban eatery. In any case his beer always comes from the bottom of the cooler. Often it’s a Bud. Beer snobs have a word for the pilsners and lagers that you can drink more than a few of: “session” beer. I always called it “swill.” Discuss.
I know nothing about beer and don’t pretend to know more. Recently I’ve been travelling to rural places and think it useful to school myself in more pedestrian beers. For example, when ordering a beer at the American Legion in Sebeka, do I chose MGD or Mich Golden Light? What’s the difference? It can be confusing for one who came of age with Summit EPA.
At an impromptu meeting with my friend at Rye recently, I told the bartender I was researching swill- or session beers, whatever you call the non-over-hopped non dark stuff. He first asked my name and indulged me in an easy and humorous repartee about swill versus session. He poured me a taste of Steel Toe Provider. It was a great pairing the beet salad I’d ordered, cutting the vinagery edge. My friend ordered a Bud which paired way better with the onion bagel with a schmear of cream cheese than the Steeltoe.
Because my friend works construction and needed more than a beet salad and a bagel for dinner, we wandered across the street to Lyle’s to continue the study in session vs. swill. Both of us ordered a bottle of Miller High Life to start. The bottle is iconic, sleek and sexy. It’s a decent beer. The bar stools we chose were right in front of the mixing station for the bartender. She was old school and had a way of ignoring us while paying attention and vice versa. Our beers had been empty for awhile even after my friends burger arrived. Burgers at Lyle’s are also iconic and beg a beer to wash down. But when we asked for another beer she mentioned she was busy- then proceeded to stand in front of us looking blankly at other patrons and eventually washed a shot glass.
The tap at the end of the row facing me was for “Schell’s Deer Brand Beer.” My friend mentioned that he and his beer snob friends could agree on drinking one beer: Schell’s Dark. I had high expectations when I ordered the Deer Brand beer. Would it be the perfect balance between swill and session? Nope. It was stinky- and not in the Heineken way but in the gut rot way. As in, I am pretty sure I was going to get sick if I drank it. I sheepishly told the bartender that I really didn’t like it and could I maybe have something else instead. She hammered me. Rarely have I felt so small. Shame on me for asking. She spoke in such a gracious yet harshly condescending sly smiling way, there’s no way to hold a grudge. It was a far more sophisticated and cutting retort than I could ever aspire to utter.
I don’t expect great service at Lyle’s. I don’t even expect to be treated kindly. My expectation is that I’ll be treated with indifference. I paid for the bill at Rye, where I ate the most, and my friend paid for Lyle’s where he ate the most. And the total bills were about exactly equal for about the same amount of food and beer. Let me tell you, it is hard to under tip someone. Especially when that person is working hard and putting up with crap I could never dream up. We hemmed and hawed for awhile. In the end, the 2 or 3 dollar difference in tip won’t make or break her evening. Then again, dumping the Schell’s down the drain and pouring me a Miller High Life wouldn’t have either.