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Earlier this month I got a reminder of just how thoroughly the human brain conditions its sensory input. At an Andersonville restaurant, a friend was served the wrong beer, and it took me three samples at the bar to figure out what was actually in her glass—even though she'd been poured the same thing I'd been drinking not ten minutes before. Because I expected it to be something else, my brain stubbornly insisted that it was.
With that in mind, I figure Sunday's event at the Map Room will provide a serious challenge—even to nerds like me. Called "Beers in the Dark," it asks the bar's patrons to guess what it has on tap.
When I saw the name, I imagined that the Map Room would be plunged into darkness, with even its windows blacked out—like at that restaurant chain, Dans le Noir, that hires blind servers. But owner Laura Blasingame tells me the bar will simply cover its 26 tap handles with brown paper bags. (That's probably for the best. Otherwise the floor would end up ankle-deep in broken glassware.) Optional menus will list beers by number, providing only style, alcohol content, and price—no brewery names and of course no beer names.
Thus the Map Room has made a sort of game out of ordering and drinking beer—a game I'd be tempted to describe as silly, except for, you know, beer. You can play at any of three difficulty levels. On "easy," you order a style of beer from the menu (American pale ale, Belgian dubbel, et cetera) and attempt to name the brewery. On "medium" you skip the menu, take whatever the bartender happens to give you, and then guess both the style and brewery. "Hard" is just like "medium," with one important difference: you'll be blindfolded.
Beers from the menu will be priced as usual, and half pours will be available at half price. For $15, you can buy a flight of seven four-ounce beers, which comes with a work sheet where you can try to sort out the style and brewery of all seven (this is a "medium" or "hard" option only). Doors open at 11 AM, and blindfolded tastings begin at 1 PM. The identities of the beers will be revealed as their kegs kick; anything still pouring when the event ends at 4 PM will be unmasked then.
Prizes for the best guessers at each skill level include gift certificates (from the Map Room and other bars and restaurants) and fancy bottles from the Map Room's cellars. You don't have to be present to win.
I'll sign off with "Blackout," from Swans' inimitable 1983 LP Filth. I saw the band at Thalia Hall last weekend, for maybe the fifth time since their 2010 reunion, and as always I was struck by the distance they've traveled over the decades. Today front man Michael Gira seems like the John Cage of noise-rock: wry, cryptic, unconcerned with orthodoxy, and possessed of an almost shamanistic charisma. But Filth is probably the purest musical expression of contempt for human nature that I've ever heard.