Monday, June 29, 2009

Drinking Films

Posting on "Beerlympics" made me think of "soon to be a classic" film that came out a few years back called "Beerfest", in which a group of rapscallions represent the USA in a beer-game tournament in Germany, both for pride and to win an old family brewery. It's one of the films that features beer drinking so prominently, you really have no choice but to crack one open while you're watching. It got me to thinking what other good drinking movies are out there?

1) "Lost Weekend" with Ray Milland, from the 1940s--he's a recovering alcoholic in that one and you can really sympathize with the demons he's fighting with in his attempt to go sober.

2) "Animal House"--this one's an obvious one, as the scene-stealer--Bluto Blutarsky--was drinking heavily throughout the film, which also featured keg parties and assorted hijinks at bars that had many "negroes" who wanted to "dance with their dates".

3) "The Big Lebowski"--this film featured a great deal of sipping of White Russians (or "Caucasians" as the Dude called them).

4) "Road House." Taking place in a blues bar, this film didn't actually show much drinking--just the results of too much drinking!

5) "The Notebook". I can't watch this film without being completely plastered.

In the comments, please leave your nominees for other great drinking films.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Rest in Peace Michael Jackson, no not that one...

Yesterday saw the passing of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. The beer world lost it's Michael Jackson back on August 30, 2007. Now, while they share the same name, that is where the similarities end. Author Michael Jackson wrote many influential books about both beer and whiskey with such titles as "Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch" and "Michael Jackson's Great Beer Guide". I own, and have read a few of his books, and he is great about teaching you about the many different beers of the world, describing taste, giving comparisons to more commonly known beers and just doing an overall great job giving you an idea what each beer is all about. If you ever get the chance to check one of his books out, I would highly recommend it.

Beerlympics Post, Part I

Many young men and women have set out to prove their dominance in the playing fields of dorm rooms and garages alike, facing off against one another in what is best known as "Beer Sports". These events include typically the following:

1) Beer Pong--it's ping pong, but with one or two cups of beer on the table as obstacles. The object is to win at a traditional game of pong, but each time you hit the ball against an opponent's cup the opponent must take a sip, and if you get the ball into the cup itself they have to drink the whole thing. If you knock over your own cup then you're an idiot.

2) Beirut. This involves the triangle of beer-filled cups, and teams of two trying to toss ping pong balls into the opponents' cups at which point they must drink the beer in the cup and the object is to finish all the opponents' cups before they finish yours.

3) Flip cup. This involves each team having to relay, one at a time drinking their cup then setting it on the edge of the table, and tapping the bottom of the cup in such a way as to cause it to flip over and land on its lip. The first team to each finish (not starting until the player next to you has done) wins.

4) Quarters. Bounce a quarter into the glass.

5) Drunken horseshoes. Try not to kill someone with the horseshoes.

6) Drive to store and back with more ice. This is highly dangerous.

7) Polish Horseshoes. Two stakes twenty feet apart, each with a beer bottle balanced on it. Each team has to knock the bottle off with a frisbee.

Of course, these rules can always be modified and new games can be invented, but in every Beerlympics it's a good idea to have some prizes and a general understanding of the rules so that douchebags don't get into a screaming match with each other over such misunderstandings. Also a good idea is to have "surrogate beers"--not drink out of the cups used in the competition (as these cups will have fingers and ping pong balls in them) but drink out of beers set to the side.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Summer Quaffs

Every now and again, some beer-lover will put in a list of top beers you must try--here is someone suggesting 10 "summer" beers. I can't say I agree with this list--they included PBR, which I find to be rather headache inducing--but what I do like about lists like this is they invariable include a beer or two I haven't tried and will make me notice them when I see them in the store or in a bar.

Good summer beers tend to be lighter and smoother (or even fruitier) than cold-weather quaffs, which is why hefe-weissens are popular at this time. Think of a hot day on a patio or in a park, with burgers or sandwiches and cracking open a cold refreshing brew--that's a summer beer! Of course it's also acceptable to go low-rent with something like a Miller Lite (or PBR, if that's your bag, baby) at times like this. My own suggestions:

1) Corona. Corona is just so associated with warm weather--part of it's their marketing, part of it the fact that it's a Mexican beer, and tends to be light and goes well with a slice of lime.

2) Red Stripe. This Jamaican beer always goes well with vacation.

3) The light stuff. Coors Light is one of the wateriest beers out there, and the silver bullet can (ha, yes, can! We're talking low rent here, friends) even reflects sunlight so can stay colder longer. After mowing a lawn on a hot day, this goes well when on a hammock.

4) Light ales and summer wheat beers. Breweries like Sam Adams, Saranac, Dominion and Sierra Nevada (not to mention smaller breweries around the country) will often produce seasonal beers worth trying, and the summer beers will go great here.

5) Belgian fruity ales. Many of these tend to be a bit sweet, and might be an acquired taste for someone who is used to the more bitter taste of beer, but can be worth a try.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Speaking of tastings...

Maine Governor, John Baldacci, signed legislation on Monday which allows agency liquor stores to have up to 12 pre-planned tastings a year. This allows consumers the chance to sample different liquors before purchasing. Maine is, not surprisingly, the final New England state to pass such a law. It is limited to 1.5 ounces per person, but can be a great selling tool. Once, while lost in upstate New York or our way to a brewery tour, we turned around at a liquor store because it had a sign up that encouraged people to come in and try a variety of new flavored vodkas they were selling inside. Worked for us! We actually bought a bottle for that evening!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Billy Beer

Older readers--and I suppose so far we don't have older readers!--might remember the flop "Billy Beer" which was introduced in the late '70s by the Falls City Brewing Company and endorsed by then-President Jimmy Carter's no goodnik brother, Billy Carter. Billy was an alcoholic, and was rather popular in the late-'70s (keep in mind, this era was culturally a wasteland, probably caused by that "malaise" that Jimmy Carter was fretting about--it was a horrible time to be alive, and I'm just glad I was a toddler then!). His popularity was due to his humorous homespun sayings and "aw shucks" persona, so the beermaker figured his endorsement would be a great promotion for a new beer.

The whole thing turned into a disaster for a few reasons. First, the beer itself was low quality even by the standards of the time where Coors was considered top notch in the American market. The brewing company cut costs by using lesser ingredients and shorter brewing times, leading to a type of swill that even the least discriminating beer drinkers didn't like. Also, they paid Billy Carter very little to promote the beer, so he of course did a lousy job, skipping appearances and at several points admitting that he himself didn't like the beer much! The fad wore off quickly, sales plummeted, and Billy Beer went bust. Apparently, a gimmick will get you publicity, but you have to have some sort of staying power.

Postscript--in a great Simpsons episode, Homer was cleaning out his attic and found a long forgotten can of Billy Beer. After taking a sip, he proudly exclaims "we elected the wrong Carter!"

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Party Etiquette, Part 2

Proper party etiquette is mostly a matter of common sense, though you often see violations at every party. For those that need a refresher course, here are some:

1) If you bring beer/food, it's in bad taste to take any remaining beer/food with you when you leave--what you brought needs to stay at the party. If you brought way more than you thought you or others would eat/drink, then just plan better next time--it's just not right to walk out with it and looks petty. The exception to this is if the host insists, by saying "please, take some, I'm going to have way too many leftovers".

2) If you bring beer/food, don't freak out if other guests have some of yours. The idea of a party is to share, and of course you should feel free to sample some of what they brought (of course if they show up empty handed, then that's lousy--but not worth fighting over). The exception is if you only drink Zima because you're a tool and so you really can't have anything else and if others take it you'll be stuck drinking tap water.

3) If you're waiting to use the bathroom, don't bang on the door--it'll only make whoever's in there take longer. In turn, if you're the one in there, try and be quick. DON'T bring your friends in there to chat/have sex with. Others may need to pee! Go have sex or talk in your car. No one will be trying to get in there, believe me.

4) Don't fuck around with the host's electronic equipment or appliances without asking first.

5) If the host says "come at 8" then feel free to show up any time after that (though make sure if it's going to be after midnight that's fine with the host). You can show up earlier if you're close buddies and are helping set up. The exception is for dinner parties or other things where showing up late will disrupt--then show up on time or let the host know. You know what sucks more than waiting for someone who didn't let you know they'd be late? Being hungry while waiting.

6) Campground rule--don't break anything or leave trash around.

7) NEVER have the TV on at a party, that's total lameass loser behavior. There are of course two exceptions to this--(a) if the party is related to something TV, such as Superbowl, or last episode of Seinfeld, or karaoke; and (b) if the TV is used solely for background effect (like playing colors). When you get to a standard party and some dorks are sitting around a TV it is at about the same level as getting to a party and they're doing crossword puzzles.

8) Be nice and friendly to everyone there, no exceptions. If you're not feeling friendly feel free to stay home.

Beer = Wealth?

As a student of history, I can't help but notice the great role that beer has played in the development of civilization. After all, the most advanced civilizations have been beerdrinking civilizations, as it comes to light that the ancient Egyptians, Assyrians and Romans--each respectively the leading culture of their respective times--discovering beermaking and leading the way in brewing compared to their surrounding barbarian neighbors. (No wonder the barbarians wanted in!) Of course, one could say the same about wine, which was popular in all the Mediterranean cultures and in large part still is--grapes can grow quite well in the temperate climates of southern Europe and North Africa.

Every few years we hear a new story that archaeologists have found an ancient beer recipe, and some brewer decides to try and replicate it. We hear little followup as to whether the recipe was any good though, and I'd be curious if any of our readers have had the opportunity to sample such beverages.

Why would a richer civilization require the production of alcoholic beverages? The best theory is that industrious minds need their leisure, and an intoxicant will do the trick. A poorer society cannot devote precious grain or fruits to making alcoholic beverages instead of food--this was the original reason why Mohammed banned alcohol in the sparse desert communities where Islam took hold, and also why you might have a hard time finding a terrific African beer. Alcohol is a luxury, to be sure, and we can probably measure the wealth of a society based on its consumption of such beverages.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why the German Domination?

Many have wondered why for so many years the U.S. has had so many "tasteless" mass brewed beers while imports--particularly German imports--were of such high quality and in so many varieities. After all, Germany is a far more homogenous country than the U.S. (true, Bavarians who hate Prussians might quibble with that, but they have far more in common with one another than say Minnesotans of Scandanavian ancestry versus New Yorkers of Jamaican extraction), and the U.S. is a much larger country with far more beer drinkers (if arguably these beer drinkers consume less per person than the Germans). One would think that Americans would have far greater variety of beer, and the increased competition would favor much higher quality beers, than the Germans enjoy. (Plus, German-Americans are the largest single ethnic group in the U.S., so it's not as though these immigrants would have no idea that good beer exists).

One possible reason for this is articulated in Tim Harford's book "The Undercover Economist" where he discusses scarcity value and explains that German law not only upholds strict, ancient beer-purity standards, but also prevents combination of the breweries located in each of the small regions of Germany, giving each local brewery a lot of monopoly power in its domain. The result is many small breweries that have to compete with one another in the national marketplace, and an inability to create a larger monopoly that could wipe out small upstarts going against the big guys. No single German brewer has the power of say Budweiser (the larger German breweries like Becks have a much smaller percentage of the overall German market compared to Bud or Miller here), and so between that and the purity laws, the quality has to be maintained over a long time.

Contrast that with the U.S. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, large breweries like Miller, Pabst, and Budweiser had been able to monopolize and crowd out the smaller ones, and the mass-brewing process meant that the lighter pilsener-style lagers that the Northern and Eastern European immigrants often prefered could be sold in mass quantities at a good profit. Then, with Prohibition, the less profitable breweries--which didn't have the means to shift to non-alcoholic beverages like Bud did for a while--had to go under, and with its repeal, the big guys got rolling again. At this point, there were still regional monopolies--like for instance Yeungling in PA, Coors in the West and Genessee in upstate NY--but after WWII Budweiser used mass marketing and near dominance of the South (being a St. Louis brewer, the Bud folks realized that the South didn't have major breweries, as many counties down there were still "dry", which meant that they were really the nearest brewer and could control the distribution networks there) to their advantage. GI's who were stationed in southern bases away from home found they could not get their beers from home, but that Bud was available, and so they developed a loyalty to the "King of Beers" which they maintained after the war. Also, Bud marketed in a big way at sporting events, and as televised sports took off, this cemented their market share. The remaining regional breweries became second bit players, and American beer drinkers had mostly a taste for the big mass brews--all as a result of what was available for decades. Imports didn't really take off here, because beer drinking was seen as more of a working class thing at that time, and the types of people who would pay more to drink a quality alcoholic drink were more likely to have wine or whisky.

So essentially, different laws and economic developments explain the main difference between German and American breweries. But things have been changing--in the late '70s, the laws in the U.S. changed to allow limited home brewing, which enabled a lot of Americans to try ales and quality lagers that they or their friends would make, and before long new upstarts would create microbreweries to capitalize on these new tastes. Today a lot of smaller American breweries can compete with the quality imports, and the wider availability of good beers at bars and supermarkets have enabled even old Bud drinkers to try the new stuff--and even Bud is coming out with "premium" beers (haven't tried them yet) which are meant to appeal to the more discriminating crowd. All of this is a welcome development--whether you like the lighter, mass brewed stuff or the craft brewed finery, the extra choices can only be a good thing--and hold true to the American ideals.

Homebrewing and booze making

I have been homebrewing for quite some time now. I brewed my first batch, which went through the coffee pot and fermented in an emptied out water jug, back in college. It tasted worse than dog shit (never actually tried dog shit, just assuming), but it hooked me on the concept right away. Since then, I feel as though I have gotten better with each brew. I have done about 15 batches since, brewing everything from a Red Ale (my first real batch) to a Pale Ale (my most recent) and nearly everything in between. I have used pumpkins, blueberries and blackberry extract, as well as an array of different hops and both malt extract as well as all grain. I even attempted a hard cider, which came out more like a champagne, and I still have a case of 8 oz bottles if anyone wants to kick back some one night.

In the past few years I have had a number of friends start homebrewing as well, and from what I have tasted, I'm very glad they did! Homebrewing is a great way to spend an rainy afternoon with friends. Fire up the brew kettle, crack open a few beers, and enjoy yourself. I have been wanting, for years now, to get a setup in my basement, outfitted with a racking system, stove top, sink and shelving enough to have a couple of different brews going at all times. I'm still determined to get there, just haven't taken the time to make it happen yet.

Another fun thing to do is create your own booze. While I don't have a still (yet), I am able to make my own coffee liquer, as well as fruit flavored cordials. Both of these require large amounts of vodka. The coffee liquer is fairly basic, using vodka, coffee and sugar (with a few other ingredients, but I don't want to give away my recipe!). The cordials are even more basic, consisting of just vodka, sugar and the fruit of your choice. Now, there is a process to each of these, but the end results are mighty tasty!

My next venture will be at making wine. I hope to get going with that this fall. If anyone has any experience with that, or is currently making wine, please let me know, I would love to pick your brain or look over your shoulder next time you are in the process.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Are You a Bad Drunk?

Are you a bad drunk? Most of us think we're not--after all, nothing wrong with getting a bit silly from time to time. And "bad" drunks often think they're the life of the party--hey, look how funny I am, sorry about your rug! But there's a clear line between someone who gets a bit silly, singing drinking songs, doing a shot of tabasco sauce or eating a hot dog with a doughnut for a bun, or dancing out of step at a lawn party, versus someone who gets into fights, tries to drive while inebriated, breaks stuff or barfs onto someone's laptop. This line separates the awesome party dude with the total dickweed.

Here's how you find out if you're a bad drunk. Ask yourself if you've ever had to hear your friends say this:

1) You owe me five hundred dollars for bail.

2) How's your knuckles? I figured punching that cement wall did a number on them.

3) I'm going to show you on the doll what you did to Jeff's dog last night.

4) You'd better go pay that waitress something extra for what you did in there.

5) Mister President, are you sure you want to invade Iraq?

The fact is, some of us have the evolutionary benefit of being able to drink immense amounts and remain harmless to themselves and others (not including their kidneys or heads the next morning), doing nothing more than amusing others with their antics. But then some of us go into a dark place, where they become belligerent, sloppy to the point of needing to be cared for, or otherwise destructive to material objects or anyone's ability to have a good time. If you have the sense that you're the latter, then you should either get the therapy you sorely need or you should simply go sober.

Expanding the palate, one beer at a time

Novare Res Bier Cafe, located in Portland's Old Port District is home of the famed "Uprising". What is the Uprising you ask. Well, hold on a second, I'm trying to tell you, just be patient! Anyways, the Uprising is Novare's attempt to get individuals to expand their palate by forcing them to drink 230 different beers (only 200 for those that were smart enough to start shortly after they opened). They have an extensive list of beers from all over the world, with styles such as lambics (a fruity, almost champagne like beverage) and rauchbiers (an almost meaty aroma and taste, think liquefied bratwurst). The idea is to get you to experience more than your usual bar offers. Many people are creatures of habit, almost getting Bud Heavy when they go out. Novare Res wants you to try new flavors and varieties, because you may find your new favorite beer in the process, something you would have never considered trying otherwise.

Well, I'm up to 21 completed at this point. I had a strong start, consuming 10 my first night. Admittedly I was a little drunky that night, and proceeded to take the next several months off from visiting the place. I have been going fairly regularly now for the past couple of weeks, and am starting to slowly make some progress. By the time I finish, I will have single handedly paid rent and all of their utilities for one month, spending something like $2,000 on beer, but if I don't spend it there it will be spent somewhere else, and it is well worth it in my opinion. You meet fun and interesting people each time you go, brethren that are on the same quest as you. It gives you a chance to compare notes, discuss what you do and don't like, and also gives you the opportunity to share some of the larger bottles, which helps cut down the cost a bit. Plus, the prize for finishing is your very own chalice, engraved with your name and the date you finished, along with a key to the room it is locked in.

Even if you decide you aren't man, or woman enough to take on this challenge, I still suggest you check the place out. You won't find a cooler spot in town.

Bar Loyalty

One of the things that makes the bar business so cutthroat is the need to get high volume and keep it. Bar customers are notoriously fickle--after all, the slightest incentive can get most bargoers to try a new place, whether it's the prospect of fine females, cheap drinks, or fancy appetizers. This is all the more reason that a smart-run bar will reward its loyal customers to keep them coming (and this also means that those customers' friends will show, too).

Case in point--most bars tend to have "buybacks" where after you've ordered say five beers at the bar the bartender will comp your sixth beer. Not that the customer will specifically stay for those extra beers in the hopes of getting a free one--after all, if it was really about economics you'd be doing shots at home and picking up women at the drugstore instead!--but it is one of those little things that makes the customer realize that they're noticed and appreciated. This provides a warm association with the bar.

Of course, one of our haunts back in Portland was a popular bar--good location, lots of space, good decor, often live music and friendly staff--but the official policy was "no buybacks". Bartenders would give out free beers to regular customers--mind you, these are customers who would routinely spend over a hundred dollars a week at the bar and would bring their friends often--but this was done at risk of getting fired. What sort of business sense was it to penalize your staff for doing the very sort of customer relations efforts that they should be encouraged to do?

Needless to say, as many of the abused staff of that bar started switching to working at other local drinking holes, their friends--us, the customers--tended to leave with them, visiting the old bar less frequently. Whether this hurt business in any way is doubtful--it's still a good location, and crowds beget crowds--but I can't help but think that once the center of popularity moves elsewhere in town the bar owner might regret not taking care of his original core of loyal customers.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Caloric Intake

Once you hit age 30 you start to notice that calories don't burn off as quickly as they used to, and so maintaining a steady partying habit without becoming obese is a bit of a challenge! One way to do that is by checking the caloric intake of our beers. They generally don't put this information on the bottles, which might be some FDA glitch. (And of course when you order draft beer the bartender isn't going to read off the caloric intakes, and you certainly don't want to be that tool who asks such details and thus slowing up the beer-slinging). Checking online ahead of time can give you an idea of which beers are healthier than others.

Generally, a beer enthusiast can use this perspective to make the tradeoff between the beer they enjoy the taste of and the beer that will be healthier for them--is an extra forty calories per drink worth the taste? Is it worth drinking something less enjoyable simply because you'll save twenty calories? At what point are you going to just say screw it and drink Bacardi and Diet Coke instead?

But as they say in the Old Testament, Knowing is Half the Battle, so best to do your homework! Just think how well you'll dominate your next bar outing by being able to say "stick with Guinness, it's only 145 calories". Then when they beat you up you'll at least know you made the effort to keep them healthy!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Party Etiquette, Issue One

As my friend Nick is hosting a BBQ tomorrow (yes, I know that a Texan would say that a BBQ requieres an open pit, so this is technically a grilling/cookout, but I don't think any Texans are reading this), some guests have asked the common question--"Can I bring anything?" This raises the question--what is proper party etiquette in terms of what guests should bring, if anything?

I've seen it done many ways--the invite might state "BYOB" or "BYOBB" (the extra "B" meaning bring extra booze!), or there might be a suggestion to kick in a few dollars to defray the cost of the keg, or it might say nothing about it. Generally when hosting, I fall in the latter category--if I'm going to host, I'll make sure there's enough food and drink so that if anyone shows up empty handed I don't have to hand them a bottle of cooking sherry and tell them next time to bring drinks. My thinking is, better to have extra on hand--and it's not a huge deal if people do show up empty handed.

However, guests should know it's understood that you should bring something, as it's only polite to make even some token contribution when a person is opening up their home to your revelry. Unless specifically requested to bring a specific item (such as if it's a pot luck, and you're given spinach dip detail), it's your best bet to bring something standard that will get eaten or drank for certain--a bottle of wine, or some bottled beer, even a bag of chips. This not only defrays some of the cost of hosting, but allows for more variety of food and beverage. Some guests even go above and beyond, by bringing sangria or chilli, and that enhances the fun even more.

Is it always wrong to show up empty handed? No, there are cases where someone is coming straight from something else, for instance, or has no opportunity to swing by a store (perhaps they got a ride with friends who weren't stopping, or took public transportation and can't carry anything on the bus/train). Or, sometimes a person is just dropping in quickly to say hello. In any case, it should be generally expected to bring something, but no big deal should be made of it when you don't. After all, it's a social occasion--shouldn't be a pressure situation for anyone!

As for the BBQ tomorrow, my response was--as it always is--"anything you bring would be awesome, but nothing requried." Hope that's not too vague!

Wine Tasting vs. Brewery Tours

I'm sure many of you have done either a wine tasting or a brewery tour, maybe even both. If you haven't, what the hell are you waiting for? These are an absolute blast. I personally have toured 4 wineries, from Maine to New York, and have been on more than a dozen brewery tours all over New England and into New York as well. These are a great way to familiarize yourself with the processes, local flavors and to be entertained. I, myself, am a beer man. Never been much of a wine drinker. However, after touring through wine country in the Finger Lake Region of Upstate New York, I have been converted into a wine drinker. The question all these tours has raised for me is this, which do I prefer?

Wine Tasting

Wine tasting is a more sophisticated crew. You have more of the older, shit don't stink kind of crowd. They are more concerned about attempting to find a new red that pairs well with their locally raised rib eye steak. I, on the other hand, am really just looking for something to get me drunk before I go to the next location. I kind of take the brewery tour approach. In the meantime, I was introduced to Riesling on a wine tasting, and fell in love with it. Such a good, crisp, summery wine. I have, since my first tasting, turned into a little more of a sophisticate, asking more questions, and trying to learn more about the process and what ingredients cause certain tastes and flavors.

Brewery Tours

Brewery tours are good old fashioned fun. 9 times out of 10 you will have a group of college kids, no matter what brewery you are at. Almost always the tour guide stops his presentation to ask someone to quiet down or stop playing with their phone. This all sounds annoying, but it isn't at all. It is the culture, simply the way things are on brewery tours. These are typically guided by an employee of the brewery, and she/he brings you around, shows you where things are done and explains the processes to you, with the last stop in the bar area for a chance to try a selection of their offerings. We have perfected the art of walking away with a buzz, regardless of how many beers they offer you. Red Hook, for example, gives each person a small glass and pours pitchers for the group. We always belly right up to the bar, so when everyone has filled their glass, the pitcher makes its way back to the front, where we refill until it is gone. Has not failed us yet! Brewery tours are less about trying new things, and more about getting silly, at least to me.

So the question again, is which do I prefer. I guess that would depend on the company I am keeping, and what the day has in store. Being a beer man, I would prefer a brewery tour if I had to choose one or the other. Either way, I would suggest to all to get out and support your local breweries and wineries, these people work hard to provide you with your favorite libation, and they do an amazing job!

PBR--The Beer For Hipsters

As everyone knows, certain beers have a way of "coming back" after some time in the wilderness. A good example of this is Pabst Blue Ribbon, which was created by the Pabst Brewing Company in the late 1800s, and won it's blue ribbon for best beer at the 1893 Colombian Exposition when it's closest runner-up was a jar of goat piss with sugar sprinkled on it. Pabst came of age at a time when mass breweries were the coming trend, and beer drinking Americans (mostly from Northern and Central Europe) wanted light pilseners. Over time, Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) became known as a working class beer, more likely to be seen in the hands of a trucker or construction worker than a paper pushing office jockey. In the film "Blue Velvet", Dennis Hopper's psychotic character (which I think was really just Dennis Hopper being himself!) demanded a PBR, and it was played for laughs.

Then in the past decade, PBR went through a resurgence. City-dwelling hipsters started drinking it, both because it was cheap and because it was "ironic". Hipsters love irony! Look how ironic they were, drinking the same beer that Lunchpail Joes were drinking down on the loading dock! Ha ha, do you like this wallet chain I have too? And suddenly, PBR was available everywhere--you could even see it at college parties, and bars catering to the white collar crowd.

But like all fads, PBR may be supplanted by another, since it'll no longer be "ironic" and "cool" to drink a beer that is so ubiquitous--after all, they didn't take up Budweiser or Coors because these beers were already widely available. PBR had "street cred" and that's what made it a staple for the hipster crowd. What's likely to be the next big thing? My prediction--Miller High Life. You heard it here first! Unless of course you heard it somewhere else first. But you still heard it here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Beer Snobs!

We've all encountered the species "Beerium Snobberius", the fellow who will snort and complain if the fanciest beer available in the bar is Sam Adams, and he (it's almost always a guy) will harrangue the bartender to find out if maybe just maybe they're hiding a keg of Rogue's Dead Guy Ale Special Reserve down in the basement, hopefully not even touching the other kegs of Bud and Miller. Beer snobs will bring their own beer to a party not just because it's proper etiquette (more on that later) but because if they are forced to ruin their palate with something lowbrow (like, say, Lowenbrau, which is German for "sell this to Americans, they'll buy anything that sounds German") then it could change life as we know it. Beer snobs will roll their eyes if you order a Molson. Beer snobs will talk way too long about the intricacies of what they're drinking.

Now, I appreciate the fine stuff as much as the next guy. Despite being raised in a household where there were no fine beers, my early beer drinking experiences were with a group of beer snobs and so all we stuck with were imports and microbrews, and Lord help you if you ordered a Bud with that group. (One guy showed up once with a 40oz. of Budweiser, and he was mercilessly taunted. Of course this could also be because his pants were soaked such that it appeared he'd lost control of his bladder. But the beverage was also part of the general mockery). As I got to college, other forces were involved--such as the fact that very few keg parties had Guinness on draft! And so I learned to slum it, drink what was there, and you know what? There's a time and place for it, and that time is "when Bud is on special" and that place is "wherever". Then of course it also makes sense on a hot day to go with something lighter and more refreshing, where a heavy rich ale will not do, and a Coors Light will hit the spot, and at those times I just try to use mind over matter and pretend I'm drinking a very light Czech pilsener (this doesn't work).

What is my advice to newbies, just getting started in the world of beer? (By this I mean people who are 21, of course! No one drinks until then I've been told) Be versatile--there are fine beverages out there that you'll want to try out and discover, and this can be fun and educational (okay, well at least fun). But don't become one of those insufferable types who can't drink anything that wasn't hand-brewed by Belgian monks. That's just weak.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Five Stages

I'm a beer man--sure, I'll engage in the occasional Thunderbird (two parts rum, two parts awesome, add ice) but a cold beer will go with anything, as far as I'm concerned. Mainly, you can control your intake better with beer (unless you get into that 9% Dogfish stuff, in which case you have to stick by the same cautious rules you have for hard liquor). When's the last time you said "whoa, the bartender sure pours a strong beer!"? That's right, never.

There are of course several levels of beer-fueled glory, easily recognizable during the various stages of drinkage:

1) Early Stage. You're still capable of driving safely, though it's still not recommended because the zero-tolerance laws that have turned our nation's highways into non-freedom zones mean that any random stop can result in you getting a DUI and pamphlets, pamphlets, pamphlets from MADD.

2) Medium Rare Stage. Here, you definitely can't drive safely--you're feeling fine and cherry wine, as the kids used to say, and everything you say sounds hilarious (to you anyway, as well as to anyone else in Medium Rare Stage), you're also extremely charming and hey, why aren't you always drinking this much? Rock on, dude!

3) Medium Stage. Here is where you often are when you're drinking to celebrate or to mourn. Okay, now you're starting to feel it, and damn if your friends don't also sound hilarious what with their recounting of that time they rode on the hood of a car because that's what they do in Bangor. Ha ha, that's so Bangor! Bangor Rock City, dudes! You also start to realize that despite taking on several quarts of liquid, you have not hit the bathroom yet so maybe now would be a good time to do that.

4) Alice Cooper Stage. Now you're really feeling it, and you can almost sense the booze floating through your blood vessels. Guess work isn't going to be much fun in the morning! Maybe some water would be a good idea now, but this idea never gets off the planning phase, it's the execution that would make the difference now. But there's still a bit more left in the pitcher, and what sort of Hitler would waste beer? You're not Hitler, man! Finish it! At this point you are also open to all sorts of suggestions.

5) The Even Alice Cooper Would Have Taken Your Keys Stage. Now you can barely stand up, trips to the bathroom are very frequent and it seems that even when you're coming out of the bathroom you feel like you will have to go again in about thirty seconds. This is not cool! It's also the time you think it would have been a good idea for the bar to have cots so you could just nap for a bit. And tomorrow will be the reckoning.

All told, you'll want to stay in the first or second stage--and the third stage only when you just got a promotion, or lost a job, and have an intention of getting "a bit silly". But even seasoned veterans of the W.O.S. (War On Sobriety) find themselves easily skipping into the higher stages. Why is this? If feeling fine and cherry wine, why would we want to put outselves into a situation where the head is spinning and the regrets will be deep? Simple--the lag time effect.

Lag Time Effect. Obviously, when you drink three beers, you don't feel the effects of the drinks immediately--it takes some time to feel it. When you're in Medium Rare Stage, you're feeling great and hey, why not have another so we can keep feeling great? After all, if we learned nothing else in health class (and the things you did in Cancun sort of prove that you learned nothing else in health class) it's that your body is fighting off the effects of the alcohol immediately so you'll need more beer to keep that feeling going. But, it's very easy to overshoot the mark--adding "x" more beers in the next hour will catch up quicker than your body can counteract it, and so there you are--slipping into the next stage and deciding to argue politics with the guy who has the swastika tattoo on his forehead. The best failsafe against this? The "party coach", which is the subject of a later post.

Our Blog's Mission Statement

I can say without any hyperbole ever that this blog is intended to change all of our lives irrevocably. In the great chapters of world history, there were certain key events that shaped everything that was to come. The fall of the Roman Empire. The invention of moveable type. The telephone. The first prank call. The miniskirt. And now this.

This blog is intended as a celebration of a way of life, a way of life that is distinctly American (or potentially, Irish or German) in that it's all about unlocking the creative energy and pure bluster and bravado that are fueled by certain beverages. Whether you're a bloviating popinjay at some cocktail party with your glass of port, or a rotund party animal in a Hawaiian shirt drenched in beer, this blog aims to answer all your questions, validate your lifestyle, mock your enemies and possibly cure you of that outbreak of herpes that resulted from the ill-advised trip to Haiti. (Disclaimer--this blog will not cure herpes.)

On a daily basis (by which we mean a daily basis for a while, then tapering off gradually, then maybe starting up again at some point, then stopping entirely, as is the life cycle for most blogs) we will feature tales of drunken woe, tales of drunken glory, commentary on issues of the day that affect the species Partyus Animalis, and general life tips that will enable the survival and prosperity of our kindred spirits. For this is not just a celebration of drunken lechery and beer-fueled bombast--this is a celebration of life itself.