I don’t know if you’ve noticed but we’re currently experiencing something of a beer renaissance here in the US. We’re no longer the country mocked for making weak beer and masculinity is no longer defined by a can of Budweiser. Microbreweries, craft beer, and tasting festivals seem to be popping up everywhere and the criteria for a good bar is quickly becoming the number of beers on tap.
Before we go any further I want to say that I enjoy “good” beer. This surprises nobody more than me, because I’ve always been a very basic beer guy.
Keystone Light was my first love. Unlike a lot of people who kicked this to the curb after college, I still enjoy downing a few of these blue and silver cans. Maybe it has something to do with nostalgic keg party-soaked memories, maybe it’s because I have a very basic palate, or maybe it’s a result of growing up in the no-frills, pseudo-third world country that is Northeastern PA (and I say this with love). I’ve since graduated to its slightly classier cousin Coors Light. I’m a tried and true classic American beer guy. I thought fancy beers were pretentious and never thought they’d be something I regularly drank.
But, as we adults are apt to do, I grew up, I adapted, and I started trying new things. I relocated to Lancaster, PA, which is home to no less than 16 craft breweries. It seemed like a waste to not sample them. I started purchasing Guinness just as often as Coors. I’ve come to the point where I can tell you the difference between a pils, lager, hefe, and IPA — even though I dislike the latter and still own three different growlers I can fill up whenever I get the whim.
I straddle both worlds. I actively like “bad” beer. I also like this beer renaissance, however I don’t like that it’s created a new breed of drinker, one who can only enjoy themselves while sipping a Troegenator or Magic Hat Number 9 or Sweet Baby Jesus and who complains about having to drink swill whenever faced with the triumvirate of classic American brews: Coors, Miller, and Bud.
Maybe it’s easier for me to admit since I frequent both drinking spheres, but shitty beer is a definitive and important part of our drinking culture. At a base level, these beers are economical. You’re just never going to find dollar drafts of Victory Fiestbier or 30-packs of your favorite kolsch for fewer than 20 bucks. Light beers are also beneficial if you’re watching your calories or, say, pairing drinking with something active like softball or volleyball. It’s great for hot weather because, let’s face it, on a 90 degree day a Budlight Lime is a million times more refreshing than any stout and it’s perfect for concerts and weddings and races and music festivals and holidays where you’re drinking for long periods of time and wishing to maintain that buzz versus an epic crash after a few hours. Sometimes it’s just the smarter choice.
There’s also much to be said about both accessibility and graciousness, words that don’t always come to mind when we’re having discussions about boozing. There are a lot of situations where shitty beer is all you can drink. Most concerts or sporting events have a very basic beer selection, as do reunions, weddings, or anywhere you’re dealing with an open bar. Smaller neighborhood bars will often offer only the bottom shelf. Think about the majority of parties you’ve attended: If it’s not BYOB, most hosts are going to purchase one or two or three beers they know everyone will drink. You should be able to suck it up, because not only are these people inviting you into their homes, but sometimes we tend to forget that alcohol is expensive and for a lot of people, throwing down for a keg or couple of cases is not necessarily in the normal budget. It’s rude to belittle any beer selection you’re not paying for (unless it’s Natty, because that stuff is foul).
And remember why you drink — you don’t want to be that guy who can’t have a good time because you can’t drink a dopplebock at a concert or because there’s no imports at the dive bar you and your buddies ended up at.
Don’t lie and say it’s because you like the taste of beer. That might be part of it, but let’s be honest. We drink because we like the way it makes us feel. We drink to feel buzzed, to loosen up, or to loosen inhibitions. I’m not judging you on this. It’s the reason I drink. If I was drinking solely on taste, I’d get chocolate milk every time. The problem is that chocolate milk doesn’t make me funnier or more charming. In some cases beer certainly does. But getting drunk is only a piece of the puzzle.
A large majority of the time we drink for social reasons. That should be reason enough to not get too worked up about “good” or “bad” beer in the first place. We drink for reunions. We drink to catch up with old friends. We drink to celebrate a new job or significant other or for the loss of a job or significant other. We drink to mourn. We drink to vent. We drink to meet new people and to listen to music and to have the confidence to approach someone we think is cute or dance like no one’s watching in front of a room full of people. We drink to make new memories and forget about the ones we want to forget about. Sometimes we drink just because we want an excuse to hang out with our friends on a Saturday afternoon and not think about work or bills or the other sobering trappings of adult life.
When you’re celebrating and mourning and convening with friends, should what you’re drinking be the definitive factor of what kind of time you’re having? If it’s the right company, it shouldn’t — and if it’s the wrong company, be thankful the alcohol is making them tolerable. Sometimes it’s more about living than drinking, and you don’t want the fact that you’re drinking “this barely alcoholic cow’s piss that is Miller Light” to get in the way of your good time, because it’s not about that.
You can’t always be drinking the good stuff. You could always be enjoying yourself.