Squinting toward a row of eight tap handles, the guys have no idea that they're in the middle of a bar fight.
The fight card is listed on the taps in front of them: Skinny Dip, Blue Moon, Peroni, Stella Artois, Guinness and three beers from hometown favorite Boulevard Brewing Company: Wheat, Pale Ale and Lunar. The tap handle that brings in the least amount of money over the next few months will get bounced from the bar in favor of a new beer.
The crowd favorite tonight is Boulevard Wheat. Lindsey Vannoi, a curvy, blond bartender with purple nail polish, has poured more than 17 glasses of it over the past hour. Some have been accented with orange or lemon slices. Others she has topped off with vodka and lemonade, a mixture that has become the Cashew's bankable signature drink, "Summertime Beer."
The hands-down loser in tonight's royal rumble of booze consumption also belongs to Boulevard. It's Lunar, the company's latest release. Lunar debuted in April as the first new beer offered year-round by Boulevard since the company concocted its Dry Stout in 1996. For more than an hour, not one person has ordered the brown ale.
The jovial men lean forward, eyeballing their options for another round. The tap handles in front of them are topped with attractive images: a pair of sandals for Skinny Dip, a night forest scene for Blue Moon, a bucolic rolling farm for Wheat. They've been drinking mostly light beer tonight, but Vannoi pours three samples of the Lunar into chilled whiskey glasses and slides them across the bar. The swill coats the glasses like chocolate milk.
She offers it with a warning: "I get strong feelings on Lunar. People either love it or they hate it."
Rice sips the dark brew and makes a sour face at the lingering syrupy flavor. "It tastes like pop," he says.
Dan Pavlich sips and pauses. "I don't like it," he declares.
Jim Pavlich raises his glass and takes it in one shot, like cough medicine. His ruddy face grows redder. "It's got an aftertaste to where you can't drink and hit on women!" he shouts. He exhales, as though spraying dragon fire.
Lunar has provoked similar reactions across the metro. And Boulevard owner John McDonald knows it.
But McDonald believes that quaffers are divided into two constituencies. One is worth courting; the other isn't. To McDonald, Rice and his pals represent "social drinkers." Beer, he says, is just a "social lubricant" to the majority of drinkers. "It's ubiquitous in American life," McDonald says.
McDonald is more interested in what he calls "real beer drinkers." Like members of a poor man's wine club, these drinkers sip for taste. They distinguish subtle aromas and flavors in a beer like Lunar.
At the Cashew, the only "real beer drinkers" appear to be a crew in their early 30s huddled around a high-top table on the other side of the bar. Dressed in business casual, Doug Adams, Mike Major and Jason Koch, old friends from Baker University, have tasted all over the beer spectrum tonight — gold-tinted Boulevard Wheat, sunburned Fat Tire, mud-puddle-colored Guinness.