Last weekend I had the pleasure to visit the New York Historical Society's exhibit on the history of brewing in the Big Apple. This visit coincided with my recent discovery of some local microbrews, all of which has my second favorite beverage (coffee is first only because I am a hopeless addict) on my mind these days. Here's a semi-organized list of beers that have a particular meaning for me.
Beer that reminds me of childhood: original Coors.
Because I grew up in Nebraska, Coors was the de facto local brew, and the one preferred by my father (who is only an occassional beer drinker.) Original Coors (or "banquet beer" as its new commercials stress) especially takes me back because Coors stopped promoting and selling it in large numbers by the time I became a teen, which meant that its distinctive gold can reminds me instantly of the early 1980s. (It doesn't hurt that in Smokey and the Bandit that Burt Reynolds is sherpharding a truckload of Coors to Georgia, which was illegal at the time.) For some reason Coors suppressed its relatively good tasting flagship brew (better than Bud or Miller at least) and replaced it with the fizzy, watery cans of piss otherwise known as "the Silver Bullet." It is a sign of sanity and progress in this nation that Coors has started promoting their "banquet beer" again, complete with the intonations of Sam Elliot.
Best beer for the money: Pabst Blue Ribbon.
As all seasoned beer drinkers know, there is cheap beer, and then there is bargain beer. Buying bargain beer is a dangerous game; even at a few bucks a case of Milwaukee's Best (what a fucking misnomer!) is a waste of money. For a long time I drank Miller High Life whenever I got short on dough, but in the last three years my bargain beer of choice has become PBR. The cans themselves are a work of art, and a reminder that Pabst beer cleaned up at the 1893 World's Fair (where it won its ribbon.) Although PBR, like all mass-produced American brews, is overly sweet, it still carries a lot more flavor and less of a metallic aftertaste than low priced swill like Old Milwaukee, Natural Light, Schlitz, and Old Style. I am aware that this beer's affiliation with the hipsters who consume it semi-ironically might have damaged its luster in the non-Portlandia crowd, but you can't argue with the goodness inside of those cans.
Beer that reminds me of drinking underage: Mickey's Malt Liquor.
Mickey's isn't technically beer under the law, but it counts for the purpose of this list. I didn't drink in high school, seeing myself as a rebel against a high school culture where drunkeness dominated. However, when I arrived in college after a summer trip to Germany (which involved the drinking of many tasty beers) I decided to let go of my straight-edge pretentions. Not being able to purchase alcohol legally, I relied on the occassional beneficance of a friend, who invariably bought me and my roommate 40s of Mickey's in order to give us the most bang for our buck. Once I turned 21 I pretty much stopped drinking it, but I do indulge myself in the occassional hand grenade (the little barrell bottles of Mickey's) and remember nights drunkenly spent playing football on SuperNintendo in the dorm. Good times.
Beer that reminds me most of Ireland: Murphy's Irish Stout.
During my one and only trip to Ireland I had gone to the Emerald Isle for a college debate tournament (dorky, I know.) We spent all our time in Cork, a city where Murphy's, not Guinness, flowed from the taps. I've rarely drank it since, and when I do each sip contains happy memories of stumbling down rain slicked streets or staying up late and playing cards in damp hotel rooms.
Beer that reminds me most of grad school: Leinenkugel.
While studying for my PhD I lived in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, an area blessed with cheap rents and even cheaper bars, a veritable paradise for someone making only $16,000 a year. Although I would often go to fancy bars like Crane Alley and the Blind Pig and drink a wide assortment of fine beers, the rest of the time I was content to get $1.75 pints of Leinie's at local joints like the Embassy, Esquire, and Iron Post. I also remember countless Sundays spent watching football with a brown bottle of Leinenkugel attached to my hand. In fact, after rent and food, beer was probably my third largest expense as a graduate student.
Best beer for baseball: Old Style.
I love drinking Old Style at Chicago baseball games, but in any other context I avoid it like the plague. For some reason it tastes like fermented goat piss out of a bottle, but like the nectar of the gods at Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park. It's either that the kegs in these ballparks have some kind of special magic, or that the heart-lifting experience of going to a ballgame makes me forget that I'm imbibing a beer that has all the appeal of a bucket of lukewarm moose drool.
The beer that can make me cry: Founder's.
I spent two years of my life in Grand Rapids, Michigan, working as a "visiting assistant professor" aka "academic pack mule." My job wasn't all that great, but I learned to love living in GR, where I made two of the best and truest friends that I could ever hope for. Michigan has a lot going for it, from the beauty of its landscape to low real estate prices to the unassuming fatalism of its inhabitants. One of its secret weapons, however, is fantastically tasty micro-brewed beer. I was lucky to live a short distance from the Founder's brewery, and have many fond memories of hoisting a pint, especially on Monday's two dollar pint night. The discounted price went into effect after 9, about the time me and a buddy rolled in after teaching our night classes. Those two hours each week we spent sipping delicious pints and gabbing about our jobs and life were perhaps the most cherished of the week. When me and my friends got together for a big game, we always made sure to fill up a couple of growlers of Founder's beer. Occasionally I can get ahold of it out here, but one taste can make my eyes well with tears thinking of the times I had and the people I miss.