I love a good beer!  And, I must admit, I’m a beer snob.

My first experience of beer came after high school, visiting relatives in the German neighborhood of Cincinnati.  That robust flavor has defined my preference in beer ever since.  

In my early 20’s I lived in Brampton, England, a rural village about an hour north of London, where television service was limited, few villagers had phones, and it was tradition to gather at the local pub every night after dinner to socialize, throw darts, and of course … drink beer.

At the Black Bull Pub, where ice had not yet been invented in the mid-70’s, I learned to drink beer at room temperature.  I know that’s a disgusting thought for all you Coors and Bud fans, but really, beer has more flavor at room temp.  And if you don’t mind it warm, it lasts longer at a baseball game.

Today, one of my favorite watering holes is Eskes Brew Pub in Taos, New Mexico.  Their seasonal micro-brewed beers go great with their traditional pub fare … my favorite being the buffalo burger.

So, imagine how thrilled I was to discover that beer is the traditional drink at Zulu funerals.  I had already swallowed enough orange pop to coat my teeth for years, and looked forward to toasting Granny with a good beer.

The first setback was learning that ceremonial beer is only consumed by men.  Thulani and Siphelele – the two teenage boys designated to prepare the beer – were willing to make an exception for me though, as long as I tasted it in secret, without any of the elders knowing.

I watched as the boys stirred the grainy beer powder into a five-gallon bucket of warm water.  As a layer of vomit-colored froth formed at the surface, I realized the women weren’t missing a thing.  I tried to back out of my taste testing adventure, claiming that I was eager to follow tradition … but Thulani and Siphelele wouldn’t hear of it.

Eight hours later the beer was declared “ready” and I dipped my mug under the layer of froth into the oatmeal-colored liquid.  “Hmmm,” I said, “it’s like nothing I’ve ever tasted before.”

“I knew you would like it!” Thulani said, proud of his concoction. “If there is any left after the men finish at Granny’s funeral, I will save it for you.”

Granny’s funeral day was exceptionally hot.  The grave diggers worked hard, taking frequent breaks to quench their thirst in the shade of the hydrangeas.  Thankfully, they drained the entire bucket of beer while I, for the first time ever, felt fortunate to be drinking orange pop.