One of my very oldest friends (as in longest tenured friendship, not his age) was in town this week from Kansas City. He had sent me a text a few days in advance suggesting we meet up for a beer while he was around, and I told him that Wednesday worked best.
I assume he expected me to suggest we meet at Rookies or Wild Wings or the Crow or one of my more typical hangouts, and that probably would’ve been my plan originally. But I found myself downtown on Wednesday at about 5 p.m., hungry for a burger and craving a dark beer.
That last part may come as a surprise to anyone who reads this blog with any regularity. Because if you do, you know that I have long been a Budweiser loyalist. I’ve never claimed that Budweiser is “the best” beer (it isn’t), but I’ve unapologetically sung its praises as my favorite. You’ve probably become sick of me talking about it at some point. And it is, for the record, my favorite beer.
I’ve also derided ‘beer snobs’ in this space before, because beer snobs are the worst people in the world.
The truth is, you can be a lover of craft beers without being a beer snob. And you can be perfectly content enjoying a six-pack of a “macro” or “adjunct” — or whatever other silly word beer nerds use to describe one of the major domestic varieties — without being a redneck simpleton with no taste. Much like the war over baseball analysis between scouting and sabermetrics, there’s room for both.
For a lot of people, beer is an acquired taste, something you force yourself to drink at a party in your youth for obvious reasons even though you’re not really enjoying it. You eventually get used to it, and you drink that same beer or some variation of it for the rest of your life. This perhaps partly explains why I suspect a large percentage of beer snobs spent their time at college parties sitting in a corner by themselves complaining that “I don’t like the taste” while everyone around them was busy having a good time. Let’s not kid ourselves. The purpose of a Busch Light — or a shot of tequila for that matter — isn’t to tickle your taste buds.
For me, though, I remember stealing sips of Coors Light at my dad’s softball games when I was a kid and liking it. A lot. No, this didn’t lead to an adolescence of inappropriate underage drinking, in fact, I largely avoided the drinking parties of high school. They seemed stupid to me, a sad ploy by confused teenagers to overcome their own insecurities (surely all of us have at least one story of the idiot who was given non-alcoholic drinks without knowing it and proceeded to ‘act wasted’ all night).
But I still always liked the taste of beer, or at least, the taste of Coors Light. Then one day when I was older, my dad brought a cooler full of beers that were leftover from some corporate party to our cabin. It was mostly just the usual domestic fare — Miller Lite, Coors, Bud and Bud Light, maybe a few Heinekens. I knew he wasn’t going to drink most of it, so I helped myself to a Budweiser. I had literally never had one. I don’t know if I’d say I loved the taste right away, but there at least was a taste. Much more so than a Bud Light or Coors Light. I had a couple more, and liked it more with each can. This was the dawn of a long and fruitful relationship.
For the next several years, this was pretty much the only beer I drank (while a college student in Minnesota, where people have a weird obsession with Michelob Golden, I frequently accused bar managers of being communists for not having Budweiser on tap, because, c’mon, really? You have Mich Golden on tap but not Budweiser? That’s probably why your football team has never won a Super Bowl). If Bud wasn’t available I’d settle for a Bud Light, or a Miller High Life if it was available. Coors was a last resort. If Miller Lite was my only option I’d fall back on the trusty South Dakota Candy, or offer to be the designated driver.
I never had any inclination to try anything else. Why would I? I liked Budweiser a lot, and the few times I did try something else it tasted too much to me like coffee or something (I was ruined in college by some God-awful stout that a friend choked down to try and impress us).
But it’s true what they say. Your taste buds do evolve. Things that seemed gross to you at one point suddenly don’t.
So I started branching out. I tried Budweiser American Ale (I felt less-snobby by at least remaining brand loyal), a since-discontinued attempt at a hoppy craft beer by Anheuser. I liked it. I tried Sam Adams and liked it even more. Around that time Fat Tire came to Sioux Falls, and while I thought it was kind of overrated, I liked that, too.
I liked Leinenkugel’s Honey Weiss and later, Summer Shandy (though at this point I can’t really stomach more than two of them unless it’s about a thousand degrees outside). Sam Adams Oktoberfest is terrific.
A bar-owner in Rapid City introduced me to Cider beers, and Angry Orchard became a favorite.
None of this will be remotely impressive to true beer snobs, as these are all still on the ‘mainstream’ side of the craft beer world, if they even count as ‘craft’ beers at all. Maybe Microbrew is a better word. I don’t know. Or care. I drink beer to enjoy it, I don’t really care what it’s called, where it comes from or who owns the brewery.
The cool thing, for me, is that I’m starting to realize that it’s a really awesome time to be a beer lover. Obviously the big three are never going away, and as much as some of the elitists out there wish they would, that’s a good thing. They serve their purpose and they do it well. If I’m sitting outside at a baseball game in the middle of August or just got done mowing the lawn, the last thing I want is some thick, brown beer with ‘mouthfeel’ that tastes like chocolate and raspberry. I want an ice cold Budweiser. Or six. It probably goes without saying that price is a factor, since I can get a six-pack of 16 oz. cans of Budweiser for $5.99 while a six-pack of 12 oz. Sam Adams bottles is $8.99.
But there are more and more options out there every day — though, sadly, many of the really great microbrews out there are unavailable in Sioux Falls and the surrounding area.
A couple years ago I was in Georgia for the NAIA National Football Championship with Jason Dannelly of Victory Sports, and we ended up at this dingy little cigar bar a few blocks from the stadium. After a couple Budweisers I caught a glimpse of a bottle of Arrogant Bastard Oaked Ale in a cooler behind the bar. Intrigued by the name alone (it seemed like something that would appeal to me), I ordered one — after all, Dannelly’s buddy was picking up the tab.
It’s been so long that I don’t really remember the taste that well anymore, but I remember thinking after about three sips that it was probably the best beer I’d ever had. I ordered several more (don’t worry, we walked back to our hotel).
I’ve never had one since, but I’ve tried several beers before and since and never had the same instant ‘Holy crap this is awesome’ reaction that I had with the A.B.
Maybe my memory is fuzzy, but most beer-nerd websites recognize A.B. as one of the better beers out there, for whatever that’s worth.
Whenever I’m in Rapid City I stop at the Firehouse Grill and go through their whole slate of home brews (it’s a block from the hotel, after all). And I still try to break up the Budweiser monotony every now and then here at home, though if we’re being honest, a big reason I go back to Bud as often as I do is price.
But anyway, back to Wednesday night, when I was downtown and thirsty for a dark beer. I told my buddy Zach to meet me at JL Beers. I was hungry for the Rajun Cajun burger, which might be the best burger ever. I figured I’d scan the beer menu and sample a few different ones before heading home.
My server informed me that they had a limited time beer from Surly Brewing Company in Minnesota called ‘Furious’. The look on my face must’ve suggested I wasn’t interested, because he got kinda serious and was like, ‘Hey, we’re not going to have this beer forever — it’s hard to get around here.’ It seemed more like a command than a suggestion, but it sold me.
'OK, bring me one,' I said, knowing full well it'd probably cost $7, which it did.
But it was worth it. It didn’t hit me quite the same way the Arrogant Bastard did, but this was a really, really good hoppy, flavorful beer, and I immediately became disappointed that I can’t buy it in stores here (if I’m wrong about that, someone please correct me). That said, my wallet will remain a little fatter by not being able to buy it.
I later tried a Shiner FM 966, which I didn’t dig so much, and one of their house beers that was just OK. I’ve been to JL a few other times, and while I’m terrible at remembering the names of the beers, I always like almost everything I try. I love asking the bartenders and servers for suggestions, and almost never do I outright hate whatever they recommend. It’s kind of too bad that so many of those beers have an alcohol content that rivals the high price, because I always leave wishing I’d had a chance to try a few more.
All that said, I’m still a Budwesier guy at heart. If that has beer nerds turning up their nose at me, well, I could not possibly care less.
I don’t care enough to memorize the names of all the unique beers I’ve tried over the last few years (though I wish I had). I don’t care if Miller and InBev are big, bad corporations, in fact, I visited the Miller brewery in Milwaukee and the Bud brewery in St. Louis and left feeling strangely proud of both in a patriotic sort of way, so there. I just love beer.
And I love trying new beers, which didn’t used to be the case, and I’ll happily listen to suggestions from the biggest of beer nerds — we in fact have a blog for that here if you didn’t know, and it’s worth reading, as Corey Vilhauer is good at being a beer
nerd lover without being a beer snob.
But when I’m done writing this, I’m going to go outside and clear the snow off my driveway, and when I’m done with that I’m going to be sweaty and tired and I’m gonna come back in the house, grab a Bud heavy out of the fridge and slam it down in a few quick gulps. And I’ll love it. Then sometime next month I’ll probably go back to JL Beers and find a new beer. And I’ll love that, too. Because I’m a beer lover. Beer is awesome.
Zim’s five rules for not being a beer snob:
1. Don’t judge a beer by how popular it is or isn’t. If you like it, it’s good, if you don’t, it’s not. Pretty simple, and applies to everything, really, not just beer.
2. Suggesting new beers to friends is great, telling them they are idiots because they enjoy a cold Bud Light is not. Would you get in your buddies face for what brand of potato chips he brought to the party? His choice of diet soda?
3. If you’re going to a party (Super Bowl, New Years Eve, etc.), and you don’t want to drink Coors Light from a keg all night, that’s fine. Bring your own and keep your snide remarks to yourself.
4. If you’re hosting a gathering, have some kind of normal domestic beer available (unless the gathering is specific to beer tasting, etc.). Don’t expect everyone else to drink your Moose Drool or Sierra Nevada Stout (that’d be too expensive anyway). The phrase ‘neighbor beer’ is a real thing that exists for a reason.
5. Don’t sniff your beer in public.