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Saturday, February 11, 2017

I’ll Never Sneer at Budweiser Again

Beer snobbery might be based on self-imposed myth.

Navigating our chaotic world, we look for fixed principles to embed in our minds, lines we won’t cross that help give us self-definition and project onto others the right social messages. The practice makes life easier, less unmoored from meaning. We construct these markers in our minds in an effort to restrict possibilities within the infinite range of choice we face minute by minute.

One thing I thought I knew for sure: I didn’t drink cheap domestics.But there is a danger: what if we make a mistake and adhere to the wrong principles? It happens. When the mistake becomes obvious, it can rattle our whole sense of who we are and what world we really inhabit.

So it has been for me with beer. One thing I thought I knew for sure: I didn’t drink cheap domestics. A Coors, Miller, Budweiser, to say nothing of PBR or Milwaukee’s Best, were out of the question. I could never understand the people who did drink them. Why would they degrade themselves this way? Why do these products have a market at all?

For me, my choice began with Samuel Adams in the old days. But as craft beers became more elaborate, I move onward to Sierra Nevada, and Blue Moon, and various imported things like Corona, Tecate, and Newcastle. These were all safe choices. Then local craft beers came along and, next thing you know, I’m drinking Flying Red Lizard, Green Hash, Grumpy Turtle by Red Barron, Ted’s Raspberry Stout, and so on.

They were all yummy.

It’s Not that Hard

Things have become crazy in recent years because the multiplicity of options has become overwhelming and wonderful. You saddle up to the bar and say you want a beer, but not a cheap domestic. The waiter asks if you like IPA, Belgian White, Amber, or Pilsner. At first, my response was “heck if I know,” but later I developed enough working knowledge to pretend like I had fixed views on these things, and I could order with confidence.

That’s where things stood until I came across a craft beer that I dearly loved. It was perfect in every way. I drank this beer with impunity but one day wondered why it was so good. I used my iPhone to look up the calorie count. To my shock, every beer was said to have 240 calories! Amazement! Then horror. This is not where I want to be. I might as well be drinking a milkshake.

Beer and Snobbery Don’t Mix

I lifted it to my lips and drank. Wow. It was cold and refreshing. Then I realized something: it was actually delicious.I trace my transition to rationality from that moment. Serendipitously, a friend showed up the next night with a beer for me. It was a Budweiser. I quickly explained my principle on that matter and rejected it. But he was persistent.

“Give it a try. It only has 140 calories, it is low in alcohol so it doesn’t drag you down, and it has a pretty good flavor.” 

Here was the classic “green eggs and ham” moment: a credible source telling me that something is true that I thought I knew was false. 

I’m nice and didn’t want to hurt his feelings. So I cracked it open and poured it into a glass (of course). It had a pretty look and a nice head. I lifted it to my lips and drank. Wow. It was cold and refreshing. Then I realized something: it was actually delicious.

It took me a few minutes to adapt. I could feel what was happening. My whole sense of how the world works was falling apart. I had been wrong – desperately wrong, fundamentally wrong – for as long as I can remember.

A lifetime of turning up my nose while walking past the mainstream beer section at the convenience store was now in question. Then I realized my mistake. Beer shouldn’t be a rarified and hard thing. It shouldn’t have class implications. It need not be treated as some exclusionist prop to shore up some fanciful social hierarchy. It is a drink for everyone, every day. It is part of life, not some exceptionalized experience.

Down with Snobbery

Why does this keep happening to me? I keep having to learn that the market is wise. There is a reason for the place of this beer in our culture. I used to be a snob about pop music. I was wrong. I was a snob about thrift stores. I was wrong. I was a snob about wine. I was wrong. As it turns out, I was wrong about beer too. Another principle bites the dust.

I would not be embarrassed, I would not hide, I would not apologize.So the next day, I went to the liquor store. A lifetime of habitual bypassing a certain section I had to overcome. I went straight to the section with Budweiser, grabbed a six pack, and walked proudly to the counter. Other customers looked on. I would not be embarrassed, I would not hide, I would not apologize. I would buy my “tacky” beer with confidence – knowing what people like the yesterday-me would think but knowing that the today-me is a better and less superficial person.

I can say now: I’m a Budweiser guy. No shame.

As for those fixed principles, sometimes we are wrong. Then we adjust, and find new ones. Meanwhile, I can still revel in my craft beers whenever I want, and the moment when I do so becomes all the more special. I can partake in my own form of patriotism: buying from the local brewery that hosts me and my friends for fun tastings and tours (in my case, this is the mighty and earnest Sweetwater Brewery.) 

Finally, look at this ad. If this doesn’t move you to reconsider your beer snobbery, nothing will.