In the earliest bit of 2014, after subsequent stints bombing multiple facets of the CPA, numerous times, I decided to pitifully accept my fate, retool, and high-beam focus my remaining energy on sticking within my current career field of analyzing rocks. My main, mere and modest goal had meekly become to “not have to play with rocks any more”. One way to possibly move upward to the realm of “merely using information from rocks that other people play with” was to pass a particular exam. I’ll call it Exam X.
I inquired with my then-boss as to whether my then-company would consider paying for the Exam X study course, halfway thinking that I should just shell the cash out on my own and take the course secretly. The assumption would be that I’d be looking for Rock Information work somewhere else after I passed. I had already “threatened” the VP at my then-company, ridiculously enough, by the idea that I finished business school, and on top of everything I knew it would be humiliating if I failed Exam X. Regardless, I asked about the course and it turned out that the Vice President of the company had signed up for the same, upcoming class himself but had just backed out of taking it. So the slot was available for me…and I felt it was too late to turn back.
The Vice President was Michael Scott. The most maladjusted and least secure person I’ve met, maybe ever. Anyone, after meeting this cat, would by default begin wondering how in this god forsaken world he had managed to fall ass-backward into that job title. To this day I’m convinced the only reason he held that position as VP was because he somehow had pictures of the company owner having sex with someone other than his wife. Perhaps a donkey. Something horrible like that. Blackmail so abhorrent that this frumpy, fumbling man was handed the position of VP, along with his own office in a completely different building.
For me to bomb this exam was now going to be embarrassing on multiple levels due to this dude’s irreconcilably immature, unstable disposition. I had made a mistake.
Going in to the three day class on the edge of a fever, I at least had some expectations of what would be covered. I was wrong. I was not familiar with even 5% of the material presented. It was all new to me, and to make it worse, I was the only person in that class who was clueless; every one there had been using the material for work in their daily lives, when all of my experience was in playing with rocks. I still think I would have been able to pass if I hadn’t been sick. And even then, just to cap it with a worst case scenario, I got a flat tire on my work vehicle during my lunchbreak RIGHT before the exam.
It was the dead of below-zero-ass winter in Schaumburg and I’m trying to change this tire while my giant F-150 is parked on a slope, all the while I was stressing about getting back in time for the test. I didn’t think to stomp the emergency break, so every time I jacked up the truck it would fall forward due to the pitch in the road. The fact that I allowed this to happen more than once, let alone three or four times, proves that I don’t understand gravity. My lack of regard for physics during this episode cannot be overlooked. All that swearing and physical exertion violently pushed my borderline fever far past the threshold into full-on fire mode.
I didn’t call my then-boss after I failed the exam. In fact, even before I got the actual results I was online looking into taking the X retest. I quickly shelled out the money for the next slot which was two weeks later in Edwardsville, IDOT district nine, roughly four hours south of where I lived. I emailed the professor and asked some in depth questions and I vigorously studied with a spec book the size of the Bible, meticulously figuring out my past transgressions.
Flawless plan A: Leave my place at 5 am the day of the retest. Make the exam on time. Eat some horrible fast food and drive back home.
Twilight before the morning of the retest it began to snow giant marshmallows. I peered out the window in hopeless panic. All things reasonable were telling fellow people with reason to not leave the house for the next forty-eight hours. Road conditions across the damn state were completely dire. It was a snow storm that involved lightening.
The rational part of me considered calling my trip and accepting utter failure as factual. Sadly there were no more retest dates and I would not see return on my $250 fee in any capacity. I was snapped back into stubborn surrealism the second I thought about that sweaty, pandering Michael Scott drenched in passive-aggression, making snide remarks to me and also behind my back about the idea I had flunked. Apparently the math yielding death by icy highway was less motivating than the math yielding annoyance from an ill-equipped, tasteless manager inquiring as to whether or not I’m a bit dim, because I packed a bag and left that very night.
All-in-all my travel down there was an eight hour nightmare – swerving, skidding and staying in an Amish motel roughly mid-way. I made the X retest on time, and finished it somewhat confidently. I spoke with the professor and asked if she could email me with my results ASAP. I checked in to a hotel because I was not trying to do a possible sixteen hour road trip within twenty-four hours. I decided to go scope out St. Louis, where everything seemed to close at 8:00 pm.
I knew Perennial Artisan Ales solely because of Abraxas. By January 2014 I had a pretty good knowledge of craft beer but I had access mainly only to local breweries, besides random craziness from across the US that strangers would pour into my glass at Dark Lord Day, and a lot of those I was too hammered to even taste. But I knew Perennial’s taproom was the main spot I needed to hit in St. Louis.
When I arrived in the darkness of 4:30 pm the unplowed parking lot didn’t even faze me since I had just plowed through a blizzard of winter hell in my hatchback. I parked my shit and went inside to find a really cool, beautifully rustic, tiny taproom. I was the only one there. After walking around and looking at the artwork, I sat at the bar and looked over the tap list. There was no Abraxas but I mostly expected this to be the case. My palate, then, had only begun to adjust for Belgian yeast strains and brettanomyces. I wasn’t yet specifically interested in this sort of thing, but it was on my radar for sure. Side Project would not even open until way later in 2014. Later, the hype around Side Project alone would get me interested in wild yeast (“I mean, the guy uses a branding iron to mark his barrels and his tap handles?!”). At this point in my life I was mainly trying to get my grubby mits on the most potent bourbon barrel aged barleywines and Russian imperial stouts one could conceive of.
Most of the beers I tried at Perennial weren’t listed on the Untappd app, so that was the week I stopped using the Untappd app. I ordered a full snifter of La Boehme, a Belgian style sour Flanders old bruin. It was pitch black in color. I assumed it might be dark, but did not expect in to reveal Hell’s utter blackness like that. I inhaled the essence but I didn’t pick up any esters that would resemble anything sour, and, um, also I did not know what esters were. When I took my first sip I fully expected the liquid to infiltrate and stimulate my sour receptors and also probably give me a bit of a jolt. I was waiting. But it didn’t. Instead, after a few seconds of registration in my brain and a reconfiguration of what was going on, the rearrangement of feedback on my tongue and palette was that of chocolate, sweetness, heat, bourbon and coffee.
A few other people had stumbled in from the cold at this point, and before the bartender turned his attention to them I quickly inquired as to just what the hell was going on with this sour Flanders that tasted like chocolate cake.
After a double-take and an, “oh shit!” we established that the wrong keg had been hooked up to the tap. Instead of the sour Flanders he had tapped a keg of 2014 barrel-aged Sump, a Russian imperial coffee stout aged for over a year in Heaven Hill rye whisky barrels with Sump Coffee Colombia Nariño Los Rosales coffee beans. I learned that this keg was not to be tapped until the following night for a special release. It would not even be revealed to the general public in bottles until the following month.
I watched as the bartender clumsily ran over, ignoring the new patrons. He untapped the keg spraying syrupy goodness all over, clearing out the line into a pitcher. It was not unlike watching the VP of my then-company scrabble around, trying to correct a goofy social mishap he had created at the holiday party. But anyway, a pitcher of gorgeous, black Sump remained. It was all for the other two customers/friends-by-default, the guy tending bar, and myself. Just then, I got an email notification from the professor of X retest. I had passed. In that tiny window of just a few short moments I had been elevated to new sky-heights via my triple-score: I no longer had the grating stress of having to hear the VP of my firm crack wise about me bombing Exam X, I had a solid portion of a delicious pitcher of Russian imperial stout to drink with three complete strangers in a glorious foreign land, AND I had achieved the golden award for accidentally being the first member of the beer-drinking general populous to ever taste the first iteration of barrel-aged Sump.