If you happened to see the recent DeadSpin.com piece that rated the best and worst 30-something “cheap” American beers, then you may be reeling as I am. The credibility of my taste buds has been undermined! I’m drinking shitty beer!
The beer I buy most often, my have-some-in-the-refrigerator beer, Yuengling, sits near the bottom of the pack along with some dismissive remarks about how its appeal is inexplicable. Ok, but when did we start rating beer instead of drinking it? God only knows where they would rank Yuengling Light, my preferred choice.
It doesn’t matter–the premise is that none of these beers are any good and that they range from really, really bad to not quite as bad. We have long lived in a world of “What beer are you drinking?” I’m comfortable with that. Now, though, we have progressed to a world of what beer we should be drinking.
If I go out with a group of friends and don’t order the hoppiest IPA I pretend to like even though it fries my tastebuds and makes my stomach burn now and my head hurt in the morning, I will see a head shake, hear a snigger. If you prefer lagers to ales, like I do, the bartender may snort, since he’s into the snobbery, too, and many places don’t even bother having a lager on draft.
I was a Coors Light man for years, until Coors was dismissed as being too Republican. I drank Iron City and Rolling Rock before that. Too provincial. I like a Dixie with my muffuletta when I’m in New Orleans, without apology. But now I’m expected to chase beers whose names I don’t know, use my Untappd app to “see what beers are trending,” and pretend that high-gravity beer tastes good.
Most times, my friends and I end up somewhere that has a variety of specialty beers that we can get for $5/pint, if we’re lucky, in this city. In a larger city, we’d probably pay $8 or more for a pint. Admittedly, we are paying for special beer made by special people who really know what they are doing, meisters of one type or another and marketeers who come up with clever beer names and esoteric labels. But often the beer selection determines the destination, even if the place serving the beer has no ambience, no vibe, no history. Just craft beer.
But didn’t beer used to be the means instead of the end? Didn’t bar conversation used not be about the merits of the beer list? Why are we trying to outbeer each other?
There is hope. We were at a local restaurant that serves Natural Light as its house beer as an inside joke, even tapes a sign over the draft pull and calls it by the restaurant’s name, “_______’s Draft.” A bunch of us were there. The ones who arrived early were drinking their usual craft microbrew-type beers, and when we latecomers arrived, we ordered the Natty Lite, taking advantage of its cheap price. When the aficionados realized how much less we were paying for beers to wash down a plate of fried chicken, they threw aesthetics out the window and switched.
Yes, there is hope. Bar Louie, a chain’s whose local outpost a comrade and I have been known to frequent on Wednesdays, offers on “Hump Day” 5-beer buckets for $5 for the cheap stuff like Coors Light, and $10 buckets for the “good stuff” like Corona. There is no talk of microbrews or sour beer or hefeweizens or any of that stuff. We just order the bucket.
Maybe this beer revolution is creating jobs and boosting the economy and helping us to lead better lives. Certainly, I enjoy a good craft beer. But I do miss the days when beer was just beer, when friends came back from the West with a case of Olympia for me because I couldn’t get it here, when Corona was a splurge and guests were appreciative for it, when Heineken was special to more than just the stupid proletariat, when a particular brand of beer was a blessing, not a concession, when if it was ice cold, that was good enough.
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