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Location: Cantonment, Florida, United States

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Would you like another Pabst, sir?

Here's an article I wrote several months ago. I wrote it before I learned the custom of writing a query letter, then writing the article. Oh well, it was a bit of therapy for me anyway. Every time I go into a restaurant, I see people sucking down Coors Lights, Bud Lights, Miller Lites, and Michelob Lights, all of which have the rich bold taste of distilled sweat. Fabulous. At family functions, I will ask for a beer and am always greeted with choices that range from "flavorless" to "not quite so flavorless as the last choice, but still rather flavorless." Meanwhile, the wine fans are sipping on a bottle of Pinot Noir that would have sucked my bank account dry had I brushed past it in the liquor store. I don't want to get ahead of myself, so just read.

Recently, while watching television, I saw a commercial. A misleading commercial. A commercial filled with vicious lies. Lies that made me want to weep in front of even my most manly friends. It featured a man and his wife at a neighborhood barbecue. Let's call the man "Gary." Gary looked rather jolly, at least as jolly as anyone can be at your average barbecue. In the middle of a conversation with some friends, he glanced over to see a guy, let's call him "Steve," about to drink a NONDESCRIPT WATERY BEER. That's not actually what it said on the bottle, but work with me here. You get the idea.

Gary's face turned to a look of sheer horror (wouldn't yours?) and he began to sprint toward Steve, who was about to take a sip of some WATERY BEER. Our hero, Gary, got there just in time to stop his friend from sucking down an inferior generic beer. I was happy at this point. He did what any of us would have done; keep a horrible macro-brew from soiling a beloved compadre's gullet. I waited for Gary to hand Steve an Ommegang Three Philosophers, a North Coast Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, or perhaps a Stone Ruination Imperial Pale Ale. It was a moment of joy, perhaps some real breweries were beginning to advertise on TV! Then, a bottle of Miller Lite appeared. What? What was that doing there? I kept my fears at bay with the thought that there could be some sort of ironic twist. Maybe Steve would look really disappointed and slap the Miller Lite to the ground, pulling out a Three Floyds Behemoth Barleywine from some hidden pocket. But no, he looked thankful! Gary, the jerk, walked away satisfied with himself. A NONDESCRIPT WATERY BEER was replaced by a VERY SPECIFIC AND QUITE OVERHYPED WATERY BEER.

The problem is that most people think beer is supposed be thin, highly carbonated, and taste vaguely of gym socks. When wine enters a conversation, it is spoken of in glowing terms befitting saints and organ donors. Everyone understands that a great bottle of wine must be several years old, carry a high price tag, have a ridiculously long name, and originate from some manner of valley, preferably a "Napa." Someone mentions that he's spent $125 for a 2003 Robert Mondavi Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and no one bats an eye. I mention that I've spent $10 on an Alesmith Speedway Stout and the entire table looks at me as though small, screaming monkeys are trying to extricate themselves from my nostrils. "Couldn't you have gone to the corner store and spent the same amount of money on a case of Miller?" they'll say to me. For some reason, people know that there are vast, unending differences between various brands of things in every other aspect of life, such as cars and toothpaste. However, the same person that will, with his dying breath, swear Colgate is the Balm of Gilead, will also claim that all beer is identical, save the label.

I think most of the confusion about beer comes from the fact that people don't know what they're missing. Most corner stores only carry brands such as Budweiser, Miller, Yeungling, and Coors. Shoppers see these "beers," and think that's all that exists. Now, I'm not here to judge anyone, that is not my goal. I think Old Milwaukee tastes like weasel vomit, but if other people like it, great. The problem is, people buy Pabst, Michelob, Colt 45, and the like, and they compound several problems:

Liquor Stores think that since these beers are selling like crazy, that's all they need to order. Supply and Demand. As long as we demand skunky seltzer water, they'll supply skunky seltzer water.

Those who only drink macro-swill and never taste the real stuff do themselves a disservice by becoming trained to like low quality beer. Imagine a person who's only ever eaten McDonald's hamburgers but has never tasted a filet mignon and you'll get the idea.

The macro-breweries will continue to think that they can keep making yellow fizz water, label it beer, and rake in obscene profits. I like to call it "Aggressive Stagnation."

Thankfully, micro-breweries are slowly restoring the respect for American beer. While their outputs may be small, their impact has been huge. No longer do beer geeks turn their noses up at the thought of drinking a Stateside brew. Quite the contrary, the majority of the world's best beers are crafted in America. Unfortunately, finding them is rather tricky because quality beer has an uphill battle. First, it's always difficult to locate expensive luxuries, no matter what that luxury might be. Where's the nearest Ferrari dealer? I don't know, either. Where can I buy a Faberge Egg? Probably not within a hundred miles. Second, most people already think beer is fit for frat boys on benders, so why would a liquor store carry a beer that costs $8 per 11 ounce bottle? As far as they're concerned, that's like carrying $100 bratwurst.

We, as consumers, need to send a message to the macros by refusing to buy their products. Money talks, and when Anheuser-Busch realizes that ridiculous notions of alcoholic energy drinks simply aren't viable, they'll understand a change is in order. Yes, you read that right, in 2005 they introduced a caffeinated beer, Bud Extra, to a very confused public. So, it keeps people awake while they get drunk? The macros apparently have no idea what people want. If they realize they are losing business to the micros, they will begin to change their tune. Don't believe me? There was another much maligned market that decided enough was enough and opened their eyes to reality: Fast Food.

Mainstream hamburgers recently had a revolution, thanks in large part to Hardee's. They proved that corporate owned burger joints don't have to be plebian sanctities of cheapness. Why not have %100 Angus Beef hamburgers made to order? Just because people are in a hurry, don't have a lot of money, and need quantity over quality doesn't mean that fast food has to be garbage, right? Yeah, Taco Bell tacos will keep me alive, they're cheap, and I can pack 'em down my esophagus like nobody's business, but I'd much rather spend the extra dollar and get a Hardee's Six Dollar Burger. Why? Because I want the things in my life to be high quality. It's a mindset that is the antithesis of "buying in bulk." Ironically, it's also the mindset that will save macro-brewing.

As much as I criticize the corporate beers, I must admit they have the wherewithal to brew consistently, it's just that they brew consistent crap. If they turned their focus to improving the recipe of their generic pale lagers into something closer to what Sam Adams makes, they would not only stay viable in the face of increasing heat from micro breweries such as Dogfish Head, Southampton, Founders, and Three Floyds, they would flourish. The Hardee's model is the only way to longevity for the macro-breweries. If Miller could brew the beer equivalent to Arby's Market-Fresh sandwiches, and kept the price under $6 per six pack, I'd drink it. Flavor is king for me. I don't care if Miller can make beer that sells for $10 a case. If I don't enjoy drinking it, why bother?

So far, the macros haven't been challenged into caring. I often see people walking out of the liquor store carrying cases of Natural Ice to their cars, and I want to intervene. "For the love of all that is holy and good," I scream in my imagination, "what are you doing to yourselves? It's alcoholic corn water!" But I bite my tongue and let them get on with their lives. I drive home hoping they have friends in their lives that will share the truth. This scenario wouldn't even be an issue if corporate brewing would give a care about upping the character of the end product to something that we as a nation could be proud of.

What's the solution? Start spending your money on real beer. I know it will hurt at first, but you'll not only get used to stronger brews, you'll come to realize there's been a void in your life. Yes, I'm being dramatic, but it's to make a point. What we spend our hard earned money on should not be cheap, low quality garbage. I don't want to drive a 1973 Ford Pinto, I don't want to eat Ramen Noodles three times a day, I don't want grade F meat in my sandwiches, and I certainly don't want to drink beer that can only be described as "vague." Life is too short to waste on blandness. Send the macros a message, force them to improve. They will. Trust me, they'll have to.


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