Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 5:08 pm

I was prompted to write this by an exchange I had with my friend Mike on these very pages a couple of weeks ago, in which I lambasted his taste in beer. Mike is a highly intelligent man with a great creative spark; a spark which at one point got him into the craft of brewing his own beer. From what I am able to glean he hasn’t done it in a while, and in the interim has taken to pursuing libations of a more, shall we say, domestic variety. This fills me with endless wonder as well as sick dread. Or perhaps it’s sick wonder and endless dread. As far as I was concerned, when you’re talking about Miller Lite, neither sickness nor dread can be far behind.

I should start this off by saying that I am not a big drinker. I despise the psychoactive effects of alcohol under practically any and all conditions. And even in my my turbulent salad days, when there was basically no drug whose psychoactive or physiological drawbacks were too great to ever warrant abstaining from same, beer was not really my thing. I drank to get drunk, and that meant imbibing preparations that delivered as much alcohol in as little time as possible….or, barring that, beverages that were both sufficiently tasty and cost-effective to be downed quickly and in large quantities. Boone’s Farm wines; Peppermint Schnapps; that sort of thing. Beer hardly ever entered into the picture.

Now, in what must finally be acknowledged to be middle age, I have rediscovered beer as a thing to be savored and enjoyed. I find the complex flavors of a good beer to be entertaining to my palate, so we always have a few bottles of something interesting on hand.

Right now I am kind of stuck on a dark ale from Black Toad Brewing Company that I found at Trader Joe’s. In a couple of weeks it’ll be something else. I’m not married to any one brand, and because of this—coupled with the fact that I’m not drinking the stuff to catch a buzz and therefore almost never drink more than one beer at a sitting—I don’t keep a lot of suds around the house at any given time.

Despite my aversion to both ethanol intoxication and the flavor of bargain-basement brews, I don’t have any particular policy against other people joyously pursuing either of these things. A person of (or near) legal age, drinking one—or many—of our nation’s fine domestic, NASCAR-ready beverages, can be a expression of good-natured sybaritic pleasure as forthright and genuine as any other. There is certainly no inherent moral hierarchy that can be assigned to various alcoholic beverages….or, for that matter, to any recreational mind-altering substance. There are gradations of common sense that can be gleaned from one’s actions, for sure, and fractally interconnected filaments of responsibility and causality that arise and depend from the substances one decides to put in one’s body. But these vast webs are so dense as to make only the most obvious and blatant cases of poor judgment easy to quantify and condemn. Compared to that, a half-rack of Budweiser—much like a few joints, a vial of coke or a pack of Camels—holds no inherent symbolic moral value whatsoever.

So this isn’t about the perceived social or aesthetic value of one drink over another. But I have great trouble understanding the rationale behind the fact that many members of my family, and a few in my circle of friends, gleefully tuck into beers Margaret and I use solely for trapping slugs.

I first really noticed this last Christmas, when as many of my family who could manage to make it converged on the Hawaiian Haole Hale Homestead for the holiday. As was to be expected, there was nary a decent beer in the house. Margaret and I grabbed some personal stock during a trip out for groceries—as I recall, it was a six-pack of Kona Brewing Company’s Pipeline Porter. Turned out that a sixer worked just fine; no one else wanted to touch the stuff. Not even my sisters were up for it, and when Mike dropped by to offer up his Christmas well wishes, he eschewed our nice micro-brew as well and instead selected a Miller Lite. Frankly I was a little dumbfounded.

One theory I have entertained is that indulgence in cheap beer represents a kind of anti-elitist backlash, a way to separate oneself from the effete snobs with their organic soy milk, composed microgreen salads and handcrafted microbrews. This theory holds some attraction for me, but I have yet to be able to really lock it down, using the majority of my see-through-brew-drinking family and friends as a representative sample (well, most of them, anyway). Of course there are cliques of all sorts—even cliques for the slavishly nonconformist—but I think that someone who refuses to do something pleasurable because people they don’t like also do it is not necessarily making a statement about beer so much as a statement about their own inability to mature past the emotional age of thirteen. Saying that the market for low-cost brewskis exists primarily for the delectation of the emotionally crippled is farther than even a snotty wiseass like me is willing to go.

A related theory spun off from the aforementioned is the idea that at least some blue-collar beers have a sort of bohemian, pseudo-hipster appeal to them. This theory grew a few more legs when I discovered that portions of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition were underwritten by (drumroll please) Pabst Blue Ribbon. If there were ever two corporeal aggregations in the space-time continuum that would seem to be in all things diametrically opposed to each other, it would be those two. With the runner-up award going to Morning Edition and one of their other sponsors, no shit, the Department of Homeland Security.

The term I heard thrown around a lot that day was “drinkability”; according to their fans around the table, the big-box beers were just more drinkable. We didn’t get into the real nuts and bolts of the definition at the time, but I think I would not be distorting their intent too grossly to describe it as follows. Drinkability is a quality that allows one to drink at one’s own pace, little sips or lusty chugs, without straining the senses with a lot of extra, fussy side-notes and aftertastes; a clean and consistent character that imbues the imbiber with a sensation of refreshment.

I don’t think that’s putting a sarcastic or acerbic spin on it. Maybe a serious liberal-arts-major writes-copy-for-a-living floweriness, but I think most of the folks involved would agree that this is a decent definition of what they look for in a beer. And like I said, that’s just fine. Arguing with people about their choice of beer is exactly as productive as arguing with them about their choice of religion. But just as with religion, that still doesn’t mean I understand it. At all.

As near as I can divine, the concept of “drinkability” I have described above might well be more succinctly described as, “water content”. It would seem that what is being sought is a situation in which the bare minimum of ingredients is added to mollify and modify the presence of the primary constituents, water and ethanol. This would also lend some credence to the idea of beer as “refreshment”. Ethanol does not “refresh”; it is a diuretic, causing increased urination and potential for dehydration. Chugging a beer or two after strenuous activity is exactly as “refreshing” as quaffing a couple of Mountain Dews, with 46 grams of sugar and 54 grams of caffeine per can….which is to say, not at all. But all other things being equal, the more watery the beer, the closer to “refreshment” one might expect to get—while never actually hitting the target.

I don’t drink beer for “refreshment”, so I don’t appreciate a brew that is chiefly noted for its water content. I don’t drink beer to catch a buzz, so I don’t pursue products that offer an optimal price-to-brain-cell kill ratio. I drink beer for the taste, which for me means something with complexity, body and character. Be it the crisp, almost fruity taste of a Widmer Hefeweizen, the snap of an Alaskan Amber, the dark broody depths of a Black Butte Porter or the silky indulgence of a Young’s Double Chocolate Stout.

But in the spirit (heh heh….”spirit”) of fairness that plagues all good liberals, I wanted to challenge my own assumptions. After all, it has been a good while since I put a mass-produced industrial-grade can of domestic suds to my lips. Perhaps I’m remembering it poorly. So I went out and procured several samples of products that could be considered standards of the industry and sat down with my wife to conduct a non-scientific comparison. The results can be viewed below. Requires QuickTime and some patience to view; it’s about 15 minutes long, and 22 megabytes fat. 😉

10 Responses to “Bocklash”

  1. joe Says:

    Fun video, I was surprised you did not have the cheep beer of our friend Don, Michelob Ultra. Tricia and I have kept a couple of bottles of it around for when he comes over and I have learned two things about the stuff. First, much like you described, it has very little taste, like flat club soda spiked with ethanol. I have found it to have no hop bite, no yeasty flavor – either bready or floral, and no malt richness. Second, it has an infinite shelf life. It pains me to admit this but I have served Don one that was tucked into the bottom of our fridge for close to a year and he found nothing wrong with it. By contrast any beer with flavor would have gone skunky after a year of similar neglect.

  2. Uncle Andrew Says:

    Yeah, I would have to say that “infinite shelf life” is yet another indicator of a fine malt beverage I’d rather not be putting to my lips. 😛

  3. Dalek Says:

    Loved the video. I wish I could say something intelligent about the beer comparisons, but I have never liked *any* beer. Apparently there’s something about the taste of hops that equates to “hey, that’s rotten, don’t consume that!” within my brain.

  4. Uncle Andrew Says:

    I’m glad that folks seem to like the video; I may do more vlogging in the future if it seems the thing to do and I can get my shit together…

    I find your comment about the taste of hops very ironic, as I feel pretty much the same way about the smell and taste of Scotch, one of your few vices. To me, Scotch tastes like nothing a vertebrate should put in its mouth. I always loved David Rakoff’s description of a single-malt he had in Drumnadrochit: “A tongue-numbing combination of wood, leather, smoke and age….like drinking the Board of Directors of Standard Oil.” Only he meant it in a good way. 😮

  5. Kaato Says:

    While thoroughly entertaining I think you should have chosen a different micro-brew for the comparison. You effectively compared a red wine to three white wines. And where was the Chelada Lite! The hint of clam can’t be wrong.


  6. Uncle Andrew Says:

    You effectively compared a red wine to three white wines.

    As far as I’m concerned, what we did was tantamount to comparing a red wine to three watery urine samples. :mrgreen:

    Seriously, though: the very presence of a beer like Black Toad makes the mini- and microbrew industries different. Whether light or dark, the difference would seem to be one of flavor; as in, microbrews have one. They have character and finish that the Big Boys do not. I could have put a Fat Tire in place of the Black Toad and have come to exactly the same conclusions.

    And while “clam” is indeed a flavor, I’d sooner drink—well, hell, Scotch—before I’d put another one of those gawdawful things to my lips. 😯

  7. YakBoy Says:

    Not wishing to nit-pick but it really is the sugar/high fructose corn syrup and the sodium in Mountain Dew (and most other sodas) that gets you in trouble with dehydration. Caffeine does have a diuretic effect but in most standard beverages (soda, tea, coffee, etc) there isn’t enough of it to cause you to lose more fluid volume than you take in from the beverage. You can theoretically rehydrate with unsweetened but caffeinated coffee or tea, you just have to drink MORE of it to get the same fluid balance that you would get from just water. Sort of a two steps forward one step back situation. Now that I think about it though Mountain Dew may be right on the edge in terms of the caffeine to fluid volume ratio…
    Anyway this is only tangentially related to your post so let me bring it back on topic by saying that I like beer.

  8. Uncle Andrew Says:

    If you don’t stop picking those nits, Matt, they’ll never heal. 😛

  9. Aaron Lord of Gothdar Says:

    Have thoroughly enjoyed the communiques. Suggest Bridgeport IPA (Portland, OR) if you would like a good, frequently embibed winter beer.

  10. Uncle Andrew Says:

    I’ll have to give that a try, thanks! My relationship to IPAs has been mixed, though in theory I approve of them wholeheartedly. Gonna have to check the Bridgeport out.

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