Where Mood and Music Meet Malts and Hops

Victory Dirt Wolf Double IPA

Sometimes we forget the value of a toast. We raise our glasses almost robotically for almost any reason. There’s really nothing wrong with that--Anything that brings folks closer together or that highlights what would ordinarily be a mundane moment is something we should appreciate. But when you make a toast on a truly memorable or important occasion, you should do so with a special and deserving beer, one that measures up to the gravity of the moment. Victory Dirt Wolf Double IPA is just that sort of beer. And this week as my family lay to rest my Great-Uncle Andy, there was no better beer to serve as a sendoff for the old coalminer from Pennsylvania.

I got the news of his passing while I was at work. On the drive home, I thought a lot about this solid citizen-- the shy, unassuming coalminer who always took care of others and always did the right thing. The charming old guy who listened to Polka music, George Jones and Conway Twitty. I smiled at the thought of him shuffling around his kitchen, always in work pants and a white t-shirt, with a day’s worth of gray whiskers and a mussed up head of what little hair he had, and always ready to make a quip. Andy was a second generation American on my Mom’s side—the youngest boy in a family of 10 kids born to Ukrainian/Polish parents. He was a coalminer all his working life except for the only time he spent out of his small Pennsylvania hometown—In Europe during World War 2.

When I pulled in I went straight to the fridge in the garage. Perhaps it was fate that, sitting alone on the middle shelf, was a Victory Dirt Wolf Double IPA, a personal favorite and--more than that--a Pennsylvania beer from one of my favorite craft brewers. I poured into my favorite snifter, sat on the hood of my car and raised my glass to the old guy. Andy would never have understood the whole craft beer movement, but he would gladly have shared this righteous elixir with me on the front stoop of the proud little rowhouse he was raised in. I can imagine me trying to explain the glory of the aroma and the piney and citrusy wonder of this magnificent double. “See the lacing on the glass, Uncle Andy? Look at the color—isn’t it fantastic?” I can see him struggling to hear me but he would simply say in his earthy manner “ I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about but that sure does hit the spot!”

That particular bottle of Dirt Wolf was the last of a 24-pack that I got at the local bottle shop. Was it meant to sit in the fridge until it was needed? Did it wait for its special purpose? I toasted him with the traditional Polish toast that he himself taught me: “Na Zdrowie!” Almost immediately I realized that toasting “to your health” to a man who has passed is not particularly good form but I knew that Andy would get a chuckle from the indiscretion.

He was a quiet inspiration to those who knew him. He led a hard life but smiled through it all. He enlisted during World War 2, deploying with the 45th Infantry Division, landing in North Africa, invading Sicily, crossing the Rhine and liberating Dachau and Munich, only to return to a life in the mines. As I thought about his fight through Europe, I realized how neatly the Victory logo dovetailed with my moment of reflection. I have always admired the red, white, and blue “V” for Victory—not only for its graphic simplicity but for its retro aesthetic that seems so firmly rooted in the patriotic propaganda and recruiting posters of the World War 2 era.

That very aesthetic is what I think craft beer is all about—it’s the drink of the people. It’s open and democratic and uninhibited. It unites and divides opinion, but all in the spirit of sharing and exploration. It carries conversations and introduces us to new friends. While craft beer is as simple as it can be complex, it is the quiet companion to some of life’s more pedestrian moments, as well as to many of the more important ones. And this is why we raise our glasses when we gather.

I will always remember Uncle Andy…and my solitary toast to him. I will treasure the irony and the serendipity of the moment: A Pennsylvania beer. A toast to a Pennsylvania veteran. All tied up in the memory of a simple man of the people who quietly lived an unselfish life. The next time someone raises a glass, I will think of Andy, of Victory, and of the need to appreciate the simpler moments a little more deeply.

Na Zdrowie!

The Playlist

  1. 0
    Every veteran's funeral should feature a bugler playing taps. I don't think there is a more powerful farewell.
  2. 0
    Everyone knows Wierd Al Yankovic, but how many know of his dad, Frankie, one of the biggest names in Polka. I'm sure my Uncle Andy turned a few pieces of Yankovic vinyl at house parties back in the day....
  3. 0
    Uncle Andy didn't listen to Wierd Al, but I thought I would incorporate Artists with Pennsylvania roots into the playlist. I chose this song for the double whammy of mentioning Amish country. I remember visiting Andy and getting stuck behind an Amish horse and buggy on some old country road...
  4. 0
    I was visiting Andy the day Conway Twitty died. I found out when Andy shuffled into the kitchen announcing "we lost Conway today". He said it in the matter of fact way that the elderly often have when discussing death but it was as though Conway were a neighbor or a co-worker. Its funny how music and artists often have such an impact on our day to day lives. This is my favorite Conway tune.
  5. 0
    Another artist included for their Pennsylvania roots. Funkalicious song about my favorite day/time of the week.
  6. 0
    Here's a Pennsylvania girl who knew how to rock it out. She certainly left a mark on the 80's though its sad to realize that the era now features regularly on "oldies" stations.
  7. 0
    George Jones was another favorite of Uncle Andy. I chose White Lightning--not only because its a classic--but because of the North Carolina shout-out in the opening of the song. This is a beer site, but its interesting to see craft and micro-distilleries taking off lately.
  8. 0
    Doo Wop is what I think of when I think of "oldies". Nothing like a quartet of Philly boys to make some music.
  9. 0
    ...and speaking of quartets from Philly...these guys might be more known for their smooth romantic tunes, but I always have to hit repeat when I hear this New Jack classic...
  10. 0
    Patsy is an artist Andy and I shared a love for. There are so many songs of hers I could have picked but this is one for which I have always had a particular affection.
  11. 0
    Coulda gone with the more obvious "Black and Yellow" song choice, but I couldn't remember if Andy was a Steeler fan or whether he pulled for the Eagles. Props to Wiz Khalifa for wearing his home state on his sleeve.
  12. 0
    One of the many "Sound of Philadelphia" artists whose sound I dig so much. These guys are actually from Philly so I included them in this playlist with no disrespect to the many artists that are also from PA.
  13. 0
    Taylor Swift may have gone to high school in Tennessee but she is originally from Reading, PA. "Our Song" is a fantastic piece of bubblegum, but the lyrics are really a quite sophisticated piece of writing. I loved this song when it first came out and still do today.
  14. 0
    Speaking of bubblegum and "oldies' from the 80's, this song certainly meets the criteria for my standard practice of ending a playlist on an up beat. Toni Basil is a Philly girl whose one hit wonder tune usually gets people dancing and singing out loud.