Beer

Daniel Davies stakes out a controversial position at Crooked Timber:

I tend to regard myself as Crooked Timber’s online myrmidon of a number of rather unpopular views; among other things, as regular readers will have seen, I believe that the incitement to religious hatred legislation was a good idea (perhaps badly executed), that John Searle has it more or less correct on the subject of artificial intelligence, that Jacques Derrida deserves his high reputation and that George Orwell was not even in the top three essayists of the twentieth century[1]. I’m a fan of Welsh nationalism. Oh yes, the Kosovo intervention was a crock too. At some subconscious level I am aware that my ideas about education are both idiotic and unspeakable. But I think that all of these causes are regarded as at least borderline sane by at least one fellow CT contributor. There is only one major issue on which I stand completely alone, reviled by all. And it’s this; Budweiser (by which I mean the real Budweiser, the beer which has been sold under that brand by Anheuser-Busch since 1876) is really quite a good beer.

He follows this up with a good deal of historical evidence, and a dizzying series of cascading footnotes, which makes for an entertaining read. As for his actual views about beer? Well, he’s probably right, to a point.

He’s right, in that Budweiser is a perfectly competently made American-style light lager. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, as that sort of beer goes.

I just don’t particularly care for that sort of beer in general. I’m not much of a fan of the German and Czech pilsners that Bud is held to be an inferior imitation of. Pilsner Urquell has a somewhat better flavor than Budweiser, to be sure, but is it really worth three times the price? I don’t think so. If I’m going to pay premium beer prices, I’m going to buy pale ale, which is just better beer.

Which is not to say that there isn’t a place for light lagers. There are a whole bunch of international beers in that basic style that go well with the foods of their respective countries– Kingfisher with Indian food, Tsin Tao with Chinese, Sapporo with Japanese. And if you’re planning to drink a whole lot of beer out in the sun, Bud’s as good a choice as any.

Hell, there’s even a time and a place for Coors Light, which is “On a golf course on a hot summer day, when the beer is just barely above freezing.” That’s because it’s a terrible idea to drink alcohol if you’re going to be out walking around in the hot sun, so you might as well get a beer that’s mostly water.

But, really, if I’m only going to have a couple of beers, there are much more interesting choices than Budweiser. My widely available default order in restaurants is Bass Pale Ale, but at home, my recent beer of choice has been Red Seal Ale from California’s North Coast Brewing, which has a good flavor without being too heavy. Lagunitas Red Ale, also from California, is another good choice, though it has a bit too much carbonation. My other recent purchase was a sixpack of O’Hara’s Irish Red, which is also quite good.

If you must have lighter beer, which sometimes you must, when the weather gets hot, I tend to buy either Flying Dog’s Tire Biter Golden Ale or Old Speckled Hen, from some British brewery I can’t be bothered to look up. They’re both on the lighter side, without being bland.

This reminds me, I really need to make a beer run today…

Comments

  1. #1 jeffk
    May 12, 2007

    Budweiser is high-brow compared to my college days. We drank Brew City Ice – dirt filtered!

    But saying Bud is a “good” beer is fairly pointless. It may meet certain requirements but life’s too short.

  2. #2 Stuart Coleman
    May 12, 2007

    I’m a big fan of Newcastle Brown Ale, it’s quite delicious and easy to drink. Not that I have too much beer experience, but it’s a good one to try.

  3. #3 Brad Holden
    May 12, 2007

    Mmmm, Lagunitas….

    Lagers are, I think, just inferior. Hot, I want a pale ale, cold, I want a dark ale. The important thing is ale, not lager. Ironically, I think that lagers are harder to make.

  4. #4 Arcane Gazebo
    May 12, 2007

    I completely agree. My default order is Sierra Nevada pale, but my favorite is Mirror Pond pale from Deschutes Brewery. Also, BridgePort Brewing Company makes a very good India pale ale.

  5. #5 adam
    May 12, 2007

    Real Ale might be the thing that I miss most from the UK. Apart from the Alchemist and Barrister, in Princeton, selling Fuller’s ESB, cask conditioned and at cellar temperature, for a while, I’ve not really found any solution to the lack of a good real ale. Bottled real ale is now pretty good, and you can have it at home, but in bars I find that even when they have, say, bottles of Old Speckled Hen (a perfectly tolerable beer, originally brewed by Morland and now, I believe, by Greene King), it’s too damn cold.

    The worst of it is that I can no longer buy Fuller’s ESB in bottles locally. For those that like real ales, ESB is well worth a taste.

    On the other hand, I don’t particularly mind Bud, particularly if circumstances dictate a lot of drinking is going to take place.

  6. #6 Craig
    May 12, 2007

    Based on your tastes, I’d also recommend Acme Pale Ale, from the same North Coast Brewery, and Sierra Nevada as another good restaurant default. The Samuel Smith varieties are also great if you go looking for darker ales.

    (After visiting Prague, I became a fan of the Czech Budweiser Davies mentions, which makes it to the states as Czechvar. I find it a step above Pilsner Urquell, but your mileage may vary.)

  7. #7 cisko
    May 12, 2007

    Fat Tire, but I’ve never seen it east of Colorado. (Hm, kind of like Coors used to be. Hard to remember when it seemed… exclusive.)

    Goose Island is very good. We had their Hex Nut Brown at our wedding, as well as the Upland Wheat from Bloomington (IN). Both quite tasty. Bell’s is also very good. Don’t know if you can find any of those beyond the midwest however.

    But really? Find your local brewpub and support it, as long as they’re not putting out complete dreck.

  8. #8 Mike Procario
    May 12, 2007

    I have seen the Davies post mentioned on three blogs now. I drink Yuengling as my default at home and frequently when dining out. I have not had a Budweiser in so long I am not able to make an intelligent comment about it.

  9. #9 Kurt Montandon
    May 12, 2007

    adamThe worst of it is that I can no longer buy Fuller’s ESB in bottles locally.

    Look around a bit more – I know I can get it in a couple of places in Central California.

    Me, on a hot day out in the sun I’ll take a cerveza of some kind, either Corona or Pacifica Clara. For darker drinking, Newcastle or Guiness Stout, or something from Deschutes (Cinder Cone Porter or some such); lighter maybe Anchor Steam, preferably not grilled (which is a joke Chad’s probably long since forgotten), or various Reds.

    One good thing about California, we’ve got a good selection of beers, most of them brewed on the West Coast. And wines, of course.

  10. #10 chezjake
    May 12, 2007

    On Budweiser: It has decent flavor for a light lager, as Chad says, but there are a fairly large percentage of people like myself who can’t drink it — less than half a glass and I’ll develop a horrendous headache. It’s not due to their rice mash, so I’m guessing it’s beechwood aging, which no one else does.

    I’m also an ale drinker by preference. Chad, for a summer refresher, you might want to try Ithaca Brewing Co.’s “Cascazilla” ale — it’s a nice pale ale, but with a walloping dose of Cascade finishing hops that’s delight to both nose and palate. I find it very refreshing on a hot day.

  11. #11 Markk
    May 12, 2007

    “And if you’re planning to drink a whole lot of beer out in the sun, Bud’s as good a choice as any.”

    This is the thing that all the beer tasting groups have wrong. You have to taste test beer right after you help some farmers kid run the potato hiller on a sunny day, and realize this little twerp is twice as strong and twice as tough as you are, or holding the bottle up to you head when you are sweating from planting a bunch of crappy flowers. You need ice cold beer, such that you can feel your body cool from the inside when you drink it. I would like to see what beer would win that taste test…

    Really being from the drunkest city in America according to Forbes, there are just way to many local small micro or mini (say Sprecher sized for those who know) breweries around all with some good lager beer – plus a zillion other local varieties. This is just like it was in my grandfather’s day around here with every town bigger than 500 people with their own brew. I still have a Schlessingerville Beer bottle opener somewhere…

  12. #12 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    May 12, 2007

    I’m not much of a fan of the German and Czech pilsners that Bud is held to be an inferior imitation of.

    Different beers have different uses, and since taste is the sense that varies most between individuals and (probably) over time in an individual, it is good to have that variety.

    Czech pilsners are usually dry and bitter, which makes it tasty as a single beer but especially to break off the taste from sweeter beers when drinking several.

    American Budweiser can’t do any of that because it isn’t bitter enough, so I can’t see that it is an imitation in any real sense.

  13. #13 transmuted.
    May 13, 2007

    Paulaner Hefeweisen is a nice, lighter warm-weather brew, though it doesn’t reach full complexity without a slice of citrus.

  14. #14 MikeB
    May 13, 2007

    This reminds me of Mooneygate – where Chris Mooney tried to order a Coors or something in a brewpub – I suspect he’s not drinking at all after the comments he got.

    I was on a dig in the UK years ago with a number of US students, a couple of which had dug the site before, and knew the local brews. There was one young guy who had never left the States before, and drank Bud and told everyone it was the best in the world. The other two Americans looked on in horror as he downed this stuff, and one night bought him a bottle of Budweiser Budvar (which is the real McCoy). He sampled both, and it was like he had an epiphany – they are that different. He carried on drinking the US stuff for a while, just for front, but I don’t think he told us how good Bud was again.

    The problem with Bud (or Coors, etc and especially the evil that is British lager like Carling) is they are supposed to be inoffensive – unfortunately that also means that they really don’t taste of anything. Thats not just me, read Bert Grants’s ‘The Ale Master’, which even harsher on the mega-brewers.

    Pilsner Urquell might cost three times more than Bud, but it isn’t made with rice, and is the original Pilsner. They are simply completely different products, but I know which one I prefer to drink. Life really is too short for bad beer.

    Adam – I found these three links for brewpubs in your area – good luck!

    http://www.princetonol.com/biz/njbrew.shtml

    http://www.beer100.com/brewpubs_l_to_n/newjersey.htm

    http://brewpubzone.com/States/NewJersey.html

  15. #15 Mary Kay
    May 13, 2007

    Last time I was in Ireland, I ate at some *very* nice restaurants. And just never got used to seeing bottles of Bud sitting around on tables everywhere. It was an upscale import, you see…

    MKK

  16. #16 RPM
    May 13, 2007

    Pilsner Urquell has a somewhat better flavor than Budweiser, to be sure, but is it really worth three times the price?

    Where are you shopping for beer? Imported Lagers are more expensive than Bud (which is near the top limit of domestic lagers), but not 3x more unless you’re talking about really cheap domestic beer (like cheaper than Busch, Beast, or Natty). And Stella is a superior lager to Pilsner Urquell. And Pale Ale is for people who can’t handle IPA. And these are facts, not opinions.

  17. #17 Enzo
    May 13, 2007

    Lagunitas is an excellent beer. As a resident of Sonoma county, our microbrews are usually eclipsed by the prestige of the wineries. Thanks for mentioning it.

  18. #18 Paul A
    May 14, 2007

    I’ll admit that Bud is drinkable in a pinch but I still despise them with good reason. During the World Cup in Germany last year Budweiser were the official sponsors and this meant that in all official venues, as well as many non-affiliated venues in surrounding areas, you were legally barred from serving anything other than Bud. In Germany! Home of actual honest-to-goodness real beer!!!

    For my money Belgium has the best on offer in terms of both quality and variety with the Czech Republic a close second but Germany is an easy third.

    Best beer ever though? A brew call An Teallach from the northwest of Scotland (my home, yes I’m biased) in the vicinity of Skye, impossible to find outside the immediate vicinity but well worth the journey…

  19. #19 Captain C
    May 14, 2007

    Let me second Craig at #6 on the Sierra Nevada; they make an excellent Pale Ale, and seem to be selling their IPA in stores now too, which is tasty and strong (8%-ish); they used to only sell it at their Chico brewery.

    If you ever happen to be in Arizona, however, go to Four Peaks Brewery and try their Kiltlifter (amber ale) or HopKnot (paler ale), or just about anything else. The food’s good too, and their waitstaff is very, very easy on the eyes (and that’s before you start drinking).

  20. #20 adam
    May 14, 2007

    Alas, I am no longer in Princeton, but somewhere rather more rural (although still in the North-East). When the local place stopped selling ESB (because of a change of distributers), I contacted the distributer for Fuller’s ESB in the US and they gave me a contact number for the local rep, but I couldn’t get through. I should probably try again, as Summer is soon to be upon us.

  21. #21 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    May 14, 2007

    For my money Belgium has the best on offer in terms of both quality and variety with the Czech Republic a close second but Germany is an easy third.

    I can second, third and fourth that.

    Micro-breweries all over the world can kick the major breweries ass, though. I wish there was a way to sample them all. :-)

  22. #22 MikeB
    May 15, 2007

    OK – according to this http://business.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,2065673,00.html, by drinking local beers, we can not only get better stuff than Budweiser, we can also save the planet. Whats not to like!