Is it ever OK to drink cheap beer?

June 29, 2007

Beer MugAh yes, beer. What a wonderful drink. It can range from a simple thirst quencher to a complex taste explosion. It can be dark, clear, sweet, bitter, and most everything in between.

Within the world of beer, there are generally two classes: beer that is lovingly crafted using only the finest ingredients where flavor is every bit as important as profits, and beer that is lovingly crafted in order to maximize profits with little or no regard to taste.

In the latter category, there are the big three of American beer: Miller, Budweiser, and Coors. These three sell more beer to Americans than all other beer produced in America combined. By a lot. In 2001, those three accounted for 88% of the beer sold in America.

The low price attracts consumers interested in having a swill of beer.

Meanwhile, the 12% of non-Big Three brewers continue to battle by using such arcane concepts as flavor and positive aftertaste.

Seeing as life is short and beer can be oh so good, is there ever a reason when one should drink cheap beer?

FlavaDave Says: There’s an old joke that goes something like this:

“Lawyers are the opposite of sex. Even when they are good, they’re lousy.”

Well, I submit that beer is analogous to sex. Obviously there are many differences, but they share one quality: Even when it isn’t that great, hey, its beer!

Did I come to this party to taste a liquid sensation? Did I come to this venue to stare at an overly elaborate bottle label? Did I come to this club to look refined holding an import?

No! I came to this party to hang out with my friends, I went to this venue to hear some rock’n’roll, and I came to this club to do some shitty dancing to some shitty music.

Now, will I order some quality beer in these circumstances? Hell yeah, if I can get away with it. But you can’t sometimes. I can’t control what beer is at a party. Yeah, I can bring some. But what if I kill my sixer at one party before walking to another? What if some a-hole steals my supply when I am away from the fridge? What am I gonna do, leave?

No, I’m not. But I believe that you would.

A little full disclosure: This blog post started because Flinch wouldn’t go to a party because there would be a Miller Lite keg. His rationale was this:

“Life is too short to drink cheap beer.”

An admirable position, I must say. But it misses the point. You missed a great party. We swapped some stories, got hassled by cops, pitched hypothetical movie scripts to each other……… was a quality time. And you missed it.

So Flinch, I submit this to you:

“Life is too short to be a beer snob.”

Hey, I love good beer. In my fridge right now, you will find some Stella Artois and a case of Newcastle. If I go to Old Pro’s Table or the Wellington, I’ll drink nothing but Guinness. But you know what? I also have half a sixer of PBR tallboys. Why? Because my roommate’s Dad came over and he is an import-phobe. So we shared a PBR with him as we grilled some burgers.

What am I gonna do, leave him stranded and feeling weird as we fawn over some random German thing as he sits to the side with Milwaukee’s finest (Not Milwaukee’s Best, mind you)? No. We joined him in the spirit of brotherhood and cracked our tallboys in unison.

19 out of 20 times, I do everything I can to secure a tasty beer for myself. And it is worth it every time. If the option is there, you gotta go for it. But what if you don’t have a choice? Its rare, but its there. And if it comes down to a choice between having fun with cheap beer and being lame with nothing…………

I’m sorry man. I pick fun.

Flinchbot Says: So your argument boils down to “I must drink to have fun”? Well, I have a very simple counter: Drinking bad beer ruins any fun I could possibly have. That stuff is horrible. Always has been, always will. Nothing ruins a party for me more than being told “dude it’s totally gonna kick ass, it’ll be the best party ever!” and I show up and there’s a keg of Natural Light. There had best be some gin or Jaegermeister in the cupboard otherwise it’s soda night for me.

I pretty much went sober through college because I couldn’t afford the beer I wanted and refused to drink the beer that was available to me. I still think I had a blast at college and went to bars and parties all the time.

Now that I can afford real beer I have absolutely no reason to ever drink crap beer again. I mean really – I don’t need alcohol to survive. I’m no alcoholic. I’ll choose not to drink well before I’ll choose to force down junk beer.

Spaten OptimatorFor example – two years ago we had a company outing to the Indianapolis Indians baseball game. All expense paid, including beer. Knowing that we were going to post-party, I decided in the 6th inning to get off my high horse and have a macro-brew. I opted for a Miller Genuine Draft. I had to throw half of it away. After three swigs of that garbage I couldn’t bring myself to drink any more of it. We ended up at the Rathskellar that night and I got my jiggy on with Spaten Optimator. Now there’s a freaking beer!

The last time I had junk beer was on Halloween. After I disposed of whatever it was I was drinking that night I began the cool down section of the evening, knowing I was going to be driving shortly. At some point, I got coerced to play beer pong and we were playing with junk beer. Like a trooper, I drank my Dixie cup of junk when it was my turn. However, St. Arnold was smiling on me that night. My partner was very much blitzed and was doing a horrible job of playing beer pong so we hit on a strategy: I play the ball, he drinks the beer. Brilliant! I got to stop drinking that horrid beverage and our team rallied back and almost won. We still lost but what do I care. I got out of drinking junk and had a bit of fun in the process.

YakI hold my beer in high regard. To me there are two clear classes of beer. In class 1 is beer the way God and St. Arnold intended: Caringly crafted by fresh ingredients meant to satisfy the palate. In class 2 is beer created by factories whose sole focus is to drive up profits and minimize expense regardless of the products quality. I refuse to drink beer in class 2 not because I abhore the free market and profit motives (on the contrary – I’m an avid free market advocate). I refuse to drink that beer because their end product tastes like what I imagine the sweat of Yak balls must taste like, only less salty.

Pilsner UrquellAnd not every beer in Class 1 is a testament to brewing genius (Hello Heineken, Fischer la Belle, and Red Stripe). But beers made with even a token concern for flavor are in almost all cases drinkable and even the poorest can be vaguely enjoyable. I can categorically deny any enjoyment of Class 2 beers. There isn’t even one of their neo-microbrew spawns that I find enjoyable (e.g. JW Dundee, Michelob). The major American macro brews do distribute the occasional good beer (Miller imports Pilsner Urquell) but they sure as hell didn’t come up with that recipe on their own.

I’m starting to ramble here. The main point is that beer does not make an event fun. Good beer makes a party fun. Offer me a bad beer at a party and….Hey got any gin?

So no, there is never a time to drink cheap beer.

Even if you’re stuck in the desert and that’s all you’ve got.

FlavaDave Says: How do you feel specifically about PBR, Flinch?  I’ve always been of the mind that PBR doesn’t count as a cheap beer.  Too awesome.

Also, what if someone bought you a cheap beer without asking your preference?  Would you risk offending them and turn it down?

Meister BrauFlinchbot Says: I don’t think I’ve ever had a PBR for the same reason that I’ve never had a Meisterbrau: You just know the beer is going to suck. I have heard from numerous people that “really…PBR aint’ bad at all”. I have all the confidence that it is not bad at all, but I have more confidence in the converse argument that “PBR isn’t that good at all.” Next time we’re at the Melody Inn, buy a PBR and I’ll try it. all open minded-like. I remember as a kid that my mom bought the hell out of PBR.  So I always thought it must be a good beer because a German woman wouldn’t buy bad beer.

Now that I’m older I’ve realized that we were poor and it was about all we could afford.

And if someone takes it out of the good grace of their heart to buy me a Coors Light or an Old Milwaukee, I would politely decline. And this has happened though it is rare. People find out rather quickly that I appreciate good beer and it is rarely an issue. Actually, I’ve had more people say “hey, I was gonna get you a crap beer but figured you wouldn’t want it” than the converse. And they were always correct – I wouldn’t have wanted that beer.

Storytime:About 5 years ago I took my Aunt and Uncle from Germany to Bardstown Kentucky to visit this rustic little town, home to Whiskey and other Kentucky history. Towards the end of the day we were all tired and we made our way to some bar in the town.They took a seat in the empty pub while I walked up to the bar. I looked at their very meager beer selection and said to the bartender “Three Beck’s please”.

BecksMy Aunt and Uncle heard that I was ordering a German beer and called out “No, no Beck’s. We’re in America, we want American beer”.

I looked at them somewhat dumbfounded and then told the bartender “Three Beck’s please”.

My Aunt and Uncle became much more demonstrative and insisted they didn’t want a Becks.

“Are you sure” I asked them in German.

“Positive” they replied.

So I asked the bartender for three MGD’s. (My only other choice was Miller Lite. Really, the beer selection was extremely meager).

I brought the MGD’s to our table. My Aunt immediately became suspicious of the beer. She laughed at how transparent it was and how you could almost see through it. She sniffed the beer and smelled that classic spoiled smell of a macro brew. She didn’t look pleased.

So I confidently lift my glass, tap glasses with my Aunt and Uncle and take a nice big gulp of yuck.

Both my Aunt and Uncle, unprepared for this particular culinary….”delight” both put their glasses down and made the classic yuck face.

“I warned you” I told them. “You should have let me order the Becks”.

Sam Adams BucketThey apologized and said that yes, from now on they will fully trust my beer judgement. Later that evening I ordered a round of Sam Adams and they both thought it was a fine beer. From that point on, whenever they had to order they would just say “Adams” and they knew they would be given something very drinkable.

The last time I saw them in Germany 2 years ago, they still remembered to never, ever order a Miller in America.