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The Need for Cheap Beer

I use this column to attempt to educate and enrich my readers’ beer drinking habits. My hope is to make each of you a better drinker by enhancing your taste, better informing your opinions, and making suggestions so that your next beer will be better than the last. Usually this leads to snobbery, as the fancy imports and craft brewed micros get top billing while the mainstream American beers are denigrated to urinal jokes. While I stand by my generalization of mass-produced swill passing for quality beer, I feel that there are times for exceptions to be made.

Last week I found myself in an argument over canned beer. Someone was seeking suggestions on good beers in cans to bring to a festival where bottles weren’t allowed. The initial reaction from some was to get those draught cans of Guinness, Belhaven etc. because they’re higher quality than conventional canned beers. Others (myself included) advocated bringing in some cheap beers since in that situation one can’t expect to have the ideal conditions for a good beer, so why bother? It basically came down to the fact that some people just can’t lower themselves to drink bad beer no matter where they are and what they’re doing. I feel sorry for them. While the dominance of crappy lagers in the American market is unfortunate, this type of beer does have its place and that situation is a perfect example. Other situations may include camping trips or picnics where you need to travel light. Finding yourself in a scenario where properly chilling and serving beer is impossible, you might as well lower the bar completely and stick with a beer that you won’t fuss over.

Bud, Miller and Coors are obvious choices when slumming it, but there are more creative solutions. In the U.S., there are scores of minor brand cheap beers out there for you to choose from. Beers like Schaeffer, Schlitz, Stroh’s and Hamm’s may sound familiar from your father’s stories of his good ole days but they do still exist. I guarantee your beer store has some dusty 16-ounce cans of these beauties in the back of the cooler. While overlooked cheap brands may not taste any better than the mainstream beers, you can’t beat their charm. The award winning Pabst Blue Ribbon is a personal favorite.

When traveling, keep an eye out for local cheap beers as a unique way to experience local culture. When in upstate New York, try a ‘Utica Club’. In the Pacific Northwest? Look for a ‘Mt. Rainier’. Deep in the South? Down some ‘Dixie’. Locally, look for ‘Brubaker,’ which comes in a wide-mouth bottle for minimum drinking effort. You really feel connected to a place once you’ve tried its local crappy beer-it’s a lot like a cheap souvenir, except you may get drunk.

Cheap beers are the hot dogs of the beverage world. They are considered low-brow and pedestrian by the beer drinking elite but at times are impossible to resist. While I hope you strive to drink good beer whenever possible, remember that beer is supposed to be enjoyable. There’s nothing worse than letting snootiness get in the way of a good time. As a beer snob, I am proud to say that sometimes a cheap lager is the perfect beer for an occasion.

April 1, 2002
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