The first moment between a drinker and a bartender plays out like so many middle school dances across the city. Some will need to be coaxed off the wall, enticed into an embrace, while others are simply ready to dive in, excited to be of an age where they can freely bop to the music.
Jonathon Bush – or ‘Tex’ as he is better known behind the bar at The Bristol and Manifesto – is no wallflower. He’s a serious spirits slinger and drinker – his home bar is catalogued by type and borders on 300 bottles. The bartender, who briefly worked at Gordon Biersch, has an appreciation for beer, but hasn’t found a bottle he’s ready to settle down with just yet.
So, on a recent Sunday at Bier Station (120 E Gregory), Bush arrives ready to dance. We decided to help him ‘Find His Beer.’ As he sat at the bar, snacking on asiago and rosemary flatbread, Bush and Bier Station’s KC Dwyer talked about what’s it like to attempt to get in the head of whoever is across the bar.
“We’re trying to figure out what people want. Is it smoky? Or spicy? Sour? Salty?” Bush says.
“We do the same thing, but I think people are better with beer than describing spirits,” Dwyer says. “If someone says mild, I’m like, ‘it’s not salsa, give me a flavor.’”
“That’s like when people tell me vodka when I ask for a flavor,” Bush says. “That’s not a flavor. It’s meant to be flavorless or colorless.”
When Dwyer asks what’s usually in Bush’s cocktail glass, he answers readily. It’s mescal, bourbon and Campari.
“When you say spicier and full-bodied, that makes my job so much easier,” says KC Dwyer.
The first brew is the Mikeller Show Me Cuvee (8.5% ABV) – an aptly named sour out of Denmark because it’s new to the Show Me State.
“It’s a blend of their quad and lambic. It’s really rich and I thought it might go with your love of Campari,” Dwyer says.
Bush takes a sip.
“I like it. It’s kind of tart,” Bush says.
His answer is polite but genuine. Dwyer senses that she can push his palate and opts for a California brewery that isn’t afraid of packing a bottle with hops. She moves from funk to hoppy with Stone Brewing Company’s Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale (7.2%) – an American Strong Ale meant to draw some vanilla notes from the oak barrels in which the brew is aged, a la bourbon.
“It’s not too forward. I’d drink it, but I probably wouldn’t drink more than two,” Bush says.
That’s bartender-ese for this is not my forever beer. Above the bar, Sporting KC is on one television and the Kansas City Royals are on the other. Dwyer looks up as Sporting’s Dom Dwyer (no relation) makes a run up the right side of the field.
“When we get married, I’ll hyphenate my name to Dwyer-Dwyer because I’m an independent woman,” Dwyer deadpans.
“Does Hosmer know about that?” asks fellow bartender Dylan Broll.
As Dwyer attempts to ignore Broll and sets up the brews, Bush talks about the drink he’s toying with for next month’s Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival.
“I’m working on an experiment right now. It’s a take on the classic White Russian,” Bush says. “I’m using vodka, tobacco-smoked tea, Shatto cream and peach. The tea will take the place of the White Russian.”
The drink is just one in a series of rabbit holes being explored with Bush, who is intrigued by the versatility and complexity of sherry and chartreuse. As if on cue, Dwyer explains that “things are going to get a little more extreme in flavor from here.”
The third brew is Gratzer – a collaboration brew from 3 Floyds and New Belgium. The traditional Polish brew has oak smoked wheat and a 4.5% ABV meaning it’s lighter than its jet black pour might suggest. Bush appreciates the roasted character but the beer doesn’t grab him.
Dwyer uses the Boulevard Brewing Company’s Ginger-Lemon Radler as a palate cleanser, conscious that a parade of bigger beers can fatigue even a trained palate. The lemon juice and ginger help reset Bush for the Aecht Schlenkerla (5.4% ABV) – a smoked lager that is like a piece of meat that has spent its share of time in the pit.
“It’s an oak-smoked doppelbock. We call it a house divided beer because people either light up or are immediately like, ‘no.’” Dwyer says.
“It’s really good,” Bush says, after his first sip of the German brew. “It’s not really sweet. It’s heavy, but light. That’s weird, but I like it though.”
Bush’s appreciation of the oak notes, more than the coffee in the Gratzer or the hops from the Oaked Arrogant Bastard, lead Dwyer to pull out a bottle of Shmaltz Brewing’s He’Brew R.I.P.A. on Rye (10% ABV). It’s a rye double india pale ale aged in rye whiskey barrels – the beer equivalent of a flashing neon sign that says, ‘stop here, spirit lovers.’
“Wow, that’s damn good,” Bush says, unintentionally slowing for effect on the ‘damn.’ “It’s almost like a shot of whiskey, but super tame.”
“And it’s kosher,” Broll adds.
“Thank god,” Bush says laughing. Then he returns his nose to the beer. “I think it’s perfect.”
“If you hold it for a while by the neck, the flavor warms up just like whiskey or brandy,” Dwyer says.
“It reminds me of cocktails,” Bush says.
“Then I’ve done my job,” Dwyer replies.
Find Your Beer is a monthly series on The Recommended Daily that is sponsored by Bier Station. A reader, who may normally be a spirits or wine drinker, visits the tasting bar and bottle shop for a one-on-one session with a Bier Station bartender. And together, they’ll sit at the bar as long as it takes, to find their beer. In our previous edition, we helped a wine drinker find her beer and a barbecue guy find the perfect accompaniment to what’s in his smoker.