Raising a mug to new idea: Guys gather to swap beer


TRADITION IS important at this time of year, and Rick Vohrer has decided to start a new one. He is organizing a holiday beer exchange with his buddies. Called something like Rick's 1st Annual Beer and Stogie Exchange, it will, he thinks, become the male equivalent of a ladies' holiday cookie exchange.

Rick knows about such Christmas cookie exchange parties. For years his wife, Sue, has held one in the couple's Cockeysville home for her female friends. Rick usually made a brief appearance.

"I would hang around the edges, grazing on cookies, but it wasn't really my thing," Rick said. "I kept telling my wife I want equal time."

And so this year, he sent out invitations to his pals to bring a case of their favorite beer and perhaps some cigars to his home one night next week.

Guys will shoot pool, watch televised sports, sample and exchange beers and cigars with their fellow participants. Those who want to nod off can sleep on his floor if they bring their own bedroll, Rick said.

In addition to the equal-time notion, he said there was another motivating factor behind this get-together: the dilemma of having so little time and having so many holiday beers that need sampling.

Every December, Rick, 51, said he is overwhelmed by the choices of winter beers that brewers roll out for the holiday season. He read reviews of this year's crop, but wanted to taste them for himself.

Figuring that a lot of guys struggle with this too-many-beers, too-little-time predicament, he came up with a plan to help. Or as he put it, "The cookie exchange was always on the calendar. Now a beer exchange is on the calendar."

He started sending out invitations for the beer exchange to his male friends. The list grew and grew. It includes guys he hasn't seen for years, guys who used to help him when his two sons, Chris, 23, and Hank, 21, were in Boy Scouts. It included his sons, their friends and some neighbors.

The response to his invitation has been overwhelmingly positive. Last week, Rick said, he was figuring the crowd would reach about 75. "So far, the only guys who have said, 'No' [to the invitation] are the ones who live four states away, or who asked their wives if they could come," Rick said. His wife, he said, keeps asking him questions about the logistics of the event.

"She asks me, 'What kind of food are you going to serve?' I told her maybe some venison. I shot seven deer this year. Or maybe some alligator gumbo."

While acknowledging that tons of forethought might not have gone into this occasion, he was confident things would run smoothly. Some preparations have been made, such as cleaning the basement and setting up the smoking tents.

The responsibility for keeping the beer cold in the garage has been delegated. Labels for some home-brewed beers are being printed at an area sign shop, Signs by Tomorrow, that he co-owns.

"This is a guys' event, not a girls' event," Rick said repeating what he had told his wife. "And for the most part, guys don't sweat the small stuff.

"Guys have told me that they wouldn't miss it for the world," Rick said. His wife, however, plans to skip it, and to take refuge in Annapolis with a friend whose husband will be attending the beer exchange.

Rick said it could be possible that this holiday beer exchange could be a trend-setting event, something guys all around the country could re-create in their homes, in the name of male bonding and good suds.

But when I spoke with him, Rick did not seem to be worried about whether his holiday party might thrust him into the forefront of the male bonding movement. Rather, he was more concerned about locating a case of his favorite beer, Moosehead, in time to bring to his own party.

Lately the beer, which is brewed in Canada, has been hard to find in the Baltimore area, he said.

I told him that one of the 75 or so Santa helpers that will soon be milling around in his back yard might be able to help him.

Familiar eggnog

Speaking of tradition, this is the time of year that I customarily print my eggnog recipe, along with a list of disclaimers.

The disclaimers are that it contains only sinful ingredients -- bourbon, sugar, cream and raw egg yolks. It contains shockingly high amounts of calories, carbs and hooch. Rather than being an elixir for people who are on the move, this is a nog for people who are going nowhere. It simply tastes wonderful and yule after yule, lives up to its title of the world's greatest.

World's Greatest Eggnog

Makes 8 to 10 cups

2 cups bourbon

1 1/8 cups sugar

6 egg yolks, beaten

4 cups whipping cream

Blend bourbon and sugar in mixing bowl. Let sit overnight. Beat egg yolks until they approach viscous yellow bliss. Add to bourbon mixture. Mix well.

Cover and let sit in refrigerator at least 2 hours. Whip cream and add to bourbon mixture. Nog starts off very creamy and becomes soupy the longer it survives.

Per serving: 523 calories; 4 grams protein; 38 grams fat; 23 grams saturated fat; 26 grams carbohydrate; 0 grams fiber; 253 milligrams cholesterol; 41 milligrams sodium

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