Remember when there were only five kinds of beer and they all tasted the same?
It’s time to admit it. You hate the beer you drink today. You know you do. It looks and tastes like a loaf of pumpernickel and has as many calories.
Magic such-and-such. Brewed in Brooklyn. Raspberry notes.
How’s this for raspberries? Yellow, fizzy and brewed in Milwaukee. I want a beer in a can so cold I have to guzzle it just to get the feeling back in my hand.
There was Budweiser and there was Miller. The King and the High Life. If you lived in the west, there was Coors, which easterners thought was for weirdos. And there were second-tier suds like Pabst and Schaefer and Old Milwaukee, followed by whatever cheap-ass swill they brewed in your town. That’s what you’d drink if you were having a party and needed nine cases for under sixty bucks.
“Bartender, what’s on tap?”
“Bud. Bud Light.”
“I’ll have the latter, kind sir. And draw one for yourself, barkeep.”
“Thanks, mac! That’ll be two bucks.”
See? Civilized and economical. But today, in the age of pricey, twee beers, here’s what we’re reduced to:
“Bartender, what’s on tap?”
“There’s the list, next to you.”
“No, that’s the phone book. The big one there, next to it.”
“Ah. Yes. Hmm… I’ll have … uh … ”
“Hey, pal. You gonna order a beer or you gonna read?”
“Uh … sure! I’ll have … um … what’s this? I’ll have an Atomic Wedgie.”
“IPA or Blueberry?”
“Blueberry Atomic Wedgie, please.”
“Sure. That’ll be nine bucks.”
Today, you can buy high-end beers that have, like, six or seven percent alcohol and taste like turpentine. That used to be called Schlitz Malt Liquor. But at least The Bull was cold. At my neighborhood’s liquor store, strolling past row after row of lukewarm emetics with cutie-pie labels, it dawned on me: I love beer but I hate these beers.
And so do you. You can deny it all you want, but I’ll never believe you wouldn’t rather shoot pool with a couple of Pabst Blue Ribbons than with a cedar-spiced holiday ale.
My friends think I’m the one who’s nuts. They’ll drink an India pale ale from Portland, then a weissen with notes of clove, followed by … on and on. I’m missing out, they’ll tell me. They call me a beer square.
Guilty as charged, your honor. If I’m going to get a carbon dioxide headache, let me get it drinking something that doesn’t require an advanced degree to appreciate. I’ve heard the complaints about beer with no taste. Listen, I’m all for taste. I just don’t want beer that tastes like a filthy sock.
My taste in beer was formed by commercials in the 70s and 80s. Billy Dee Williams, those Clydesdales at Christmastime, “tastes great, less filling.” I was too young to drink it – let me rephrase that; I was too young to buy it – but I was already an informed beer consumer.
Beer commercials promised that you’d be a cool guy if you drank Miller. If you had the time, they had the beer. Or that when you said Budweiser, you’d said it all. And they didn’t kid themselves about how we drink beer. “The one beer to have when you’re having more than one.” And “One beer stands clear – beer after beer.” To me, that says styrofoam cooler, two bags of ice and a case of Wiedemann. These commercials were for working men. Guys in hard hats, climbing towers in the broiling sun “with enough juice at your fingertips to light up the county. But now it’s Miller Time.” You worked your ass off, pal. Crack open a beer.
Then, at some point, there started to be commercials for weird beers that didn’t come in cans. No cans? How’m I s’posed to sneak THAT into the upper deck? And who’s that guy on that commercial? He’s got a beard! And a turtleneck! What’s he drinkin’? Low-en-what? Getthefuggouttahere with your Loewenbrau.
That was where it began. Beers that had European roots and that smelled like B.O. found their way to America and began the infiltration. You wouldn’t find them at the American Legion Hall or anything, but they became more and more common, paving the way for the tidal wave of endless skunky, musky brews we see today.
Look, I’ve lived the lie, too. I told myself I liked warm pumpkin ale. I’ve drunk flat, black beer and beer with fruit in it. Like you, I was afraid to admit I hated it. Standing at a party, a Black Chocolate Stout in hand, I longed for refreshment, for a crisp, cold gulp of Budweiser. Please! Someone please bring me a beer!
Psssshhhht! Ahhh. The sweet, foamy sound of CO2 escaping from aluminum. The rhythmic ulk, ulk, ulk of emptying half the 12-ounce can down your gullet. The burn in your nose, the huge, immediate burp. Like I said, ahh. Repeat.