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"Feels like home to me."

The town smells of roasted barley malt this morning. Home to Coors brewery for nearly a century and a half, Golden, CO often carries the signature aroma of brewing, proudly off-gassed directly into the neighborhood. Tourists travel from all over to visit the plant, a dystopian hulk of glowering towers and steaming chimneys straddling Clear Creek and stretching downstream for miles of barren warehouses and railroad-sided grain silos. I've never taken the tour myself, having a local address and all. I frequent the less known but perhaps more noteworthy Second Largest Brewery in Golden, housed in a neighborhood alley pole building and ancient milk house behind a small brick Victorian home just three blocks off the main drag. There, they pass pints and pitchers through a window in the milk house and patrons imbibe in a year-around, dog-friendly open air beer garden while seated at communal picnic tables. I'm likely to meet somebody I never met before while drinking there. The beer's also clearly distinguishable from Clear Creek's water, too, unlike the stuff Coors produces.

I'm not very attracted to the biggest and self-proclaimed best of anything, but much more to the second best, or third, or fourth, or even lower on the pecking order. The best seems a notorious self-designation, unseemly in its self regard.
I don't personally consider myself to be the best of anything and stopped aspiring to such a label decades ago. I'm fine with 'just fine', thanks. Adequate suits me. 'Cheap but good' might qualify as my highest grade rating. I liberally employ this sort of judgement to everything from wine to the weather report. I think premium prices exist to satisfy suckers and their vampire suppliers; excellence on the label seems a pernicious designation of mediocrity employed by those with quaking egos and questionable self-esteem.

America sometimes seems obsessed with the biggest and best, while bigger only rarely connotes better, and, at best, seems damned difficult to determine. I might claim 'best I've found so far for me,' but that declaration hardly serves anyone else, and shouldn't. When a well-meaning teacher exhorted me to 'do my best,' I would find myself swirling into a trans-derivational search, seeking some meaningful comparator against which to judge my immediate performance. Since each particular performance amounted to a semi-spontaneous improvisation, no matter how I'd prepared beforehand, my teacher's encouragement usually left me feeling disheartened. The judgement to determine my best would necessarily have to come well after the performance, a reckoning rendered through a rear-view mirror, useless or worse in any contributing moment.

The tourist guide insists that this place or that certainly is the best. How could forty or a hundred crowd-sourced reviews possibly be wrong? Head off to that little dive you read about on the web and find that it's become noteworthy now, notorious for lack of parking and gruesomely extended wait lines. Oh, and the food's gone to crap, too. There's a neighboring cafe, though, that has yet to suffer the externalities of scale where five bucks will still get you a decent tuna on rye, immediate seating at a counter sticky with family tradition. The Roadfood folks somehow missed the authentic joint when beatifying its neighbor into popular oblivion as The Best.

Screw The Best and the advertising blitz it promotes itself upon. The Second Largest Brewery in Golden isn't even competing with the universally known one. It inhabits its eccentric little niche, a delightful surprise for those who happen upon it and a trusted preserve for the locals who've never taken the free tour of the belching behemoth on the edge of town. I almost immediately imprinted on the 'second place' place, recognizing in its inherent eccentricity something deeply familiar. It seemed like a place I'd seek out to avoid the traffic jam circling around The Best's visitors' parking lot. I'm unlikely to see any industrial scale craft brewing happening in the back of the milk house, just a couple of guys doing what they love. Feels like home to me.


©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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