This was the year I was supposed to go home for Christmas.
To be clear, I am home. Sioux Falls is home, as it always has been, even when I was away at college. Sioux Falls has been home for as long as I’ve been around, and that may never change.
But there’s another home. The one my ancestors cultivated and settled, where my grandparents were born and where my heart has always considered a kind of second home: Southeastern Idaho and Northwestern Wyoming - the Teton Valley on either side of the pass.
We had plans to spend Christmas in the wintered mountains, sledding down gravel roads and playing cards until our cheeks were too red to keep a secret. But plans change. This year they did - for good reason. Yet my mind still wanders.
My grandmother, ancestor of a Pony Express rider and 73-year Teton native, lives in Victor, Idaho, just a mile or so from the headquarters of Grand Teton Brewing. I say “headquarters” as if there was some major conglomerate running the show. There’s not. The small brewery - which has received high praise over the past several years - sits under the mountain in the middle of a field. There’s no fanfare. There’s no long line for tours. There’s just a few hard workers and barrels of some of the most delicious beer in the world.
Walking into the bar at Grand Teton is a lot like walking into someone else’s home. It’s comforting and welcoming. The samples are free if you’re there at the right time, and the owners are always a few minutes away, ready to talk shop or talk region or talk about whatever you’re willing to talk about.
The combination of location, friendliness and overall great taste has made Grand Teton a nostalgic choice for me and Kerrie. Grand Teton Brewing doesn’t just make award-winning craft beer - they exemplify the culture and nature of the area, from the labels to the names, from the water to the hops. Everything is local, everything is fresh, everything is what it should be.
Over the past several months I’ve travelled around the country and beyond. I spent five days in New Orleans, and nearly as much time travelling to South Africa as I was actually in the country. I’ve been to Minneapolis for conferences and beer festivals and just to relive the old days. I’ve been to small towns I’ve never heard of and big cities I never dreamed I’d land in.
I’ve put on more miles this year than I’ve ever imagined. Yet, this is the first year for a long time I didn’t make it back to the Teton Valley.
So, instead, I’ll appreciate the emotional weight that taste gives us. There’s a touch of history in every bite, in every sip. With every Grand Teton beer, brewed with the same water my great grandmother drank from, rolling over the same stones I picked up and carried home in the summers, grasping to what’s left to old western culture as it’s threatened by tourism and gentrification, there’s a taste of home.
So this year, we’ll be cracking open a bottle of Grand Teton’s barleywine, Coming Home 2012. It’s warm without being too cloying; heavy without being too weighty. It’s boozy - perfect for a cold day or a Christmas dinner or an afternoon watching the Celtics lose another game.
I might not get to spend Christmas with my grandmother, at a home that I consider just as important as the one here in Sioux Falls. But at least a little bit of that home will be around during the holidays, connecting our distance and warming the night.
This was the year I was supposed to go home for Christmas. I’m just as happy to be staying home instead.