I understand that those of us who enjoy real beer can be insufferable. And I understand that those who think they enjoy real “beer” find us smug and condescending. However, our sense of superiority does not mean that we ain’t right. The flavorless swill most Americans have drunk for the last eighty years or so is barely worthy of the glorious name of beer. One thing that those who think that Budweiser, Miller, Coors, et al. are real “beer” have going for them is that comedian Jim Gaffigan agrees with them and is willing to go to bat in defense of their favorite barely “beer.”
In a segment recorded for CBS “Sunday Morning,” the comic bluntly stated, “I like beer.”
Well, maybe. The rest of his words cause me to wonder if Gaffigan even knows what beer is. I mean he does claim that “at family reunions, my brothers will always make fun of me for liking fancy beer. ‘Jimmy and his fancy beer.’ As far as I can tell, what makes my beer preference fancy to my brothers is that it requires a bottle opener.”
Okay. I can dig that. Barely “beer,” like Budweiser, Miller, Coors, etc. does not require a bottle opener. Or at least they didn’t in the late-nineties, the last time I was forcing myself to drink any of it.
But Gaffigan didn’t stop. If he had, I would’ve applauded his words and popped the cap off a bottle of Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA and slowly poured myself a glass in order to drink a toast to a fellow craft beer lover. Sadly, Gaffigan undermined his claim that he drinks “fancy beers” by adding:
Now it seems every city and town and hamlet I visit has its own beer made by locals. Specialty beers, micro beers, craft beers made by community artisans, and I can tell you without exception, they’re all bad. I’m not exaggerating. No, I don’t care how cute the beer name is that has to do with local folk lore. I don’t care how cute the hand drawn label is of a cactus wrestling a penguin. The main problem is they don’t taste like beer… I want a beer that tastes like, well, beer.
A couple of things. Some craft beer is bad, I’ll grant that. However, claiming that all macro-beer is bad may not necessarily be incorrect. And what Gaffigan describes — beer being brewed in “every city and town and hamlet” — is a wonderful reclaiming of the local aspect of brewing that was stomped out of existence by Prohibition.
Similar to things like pizza dough and Scotch whiskey, water plays a large role in the flavor of beer. This is one of the reasons why beer snobs value beer brewed in western North Carolina. The minerals in the spring water coming out of the Great Smoky Mountains imbue wonderful flavor profiles into the beer brewed in that region.
With that in mind, prior to Prohibition, brewing beer was mostly a local endeavor. This meant that beer took on a local flavor because the water in each area and region is different. Sadly, most Americans never got to sample the many, probably delicious local beers available around this country. Between limited traveling habits and a limited interstate commerce for that kind of thing, local beers stayed local. And Prohibition did its best to ensure that Americans would never get to enjoy the many delicious local beer offerings.
Even after the 21st Amendment was ratified, Prohibition still almost succeeded in ruining American beer.
The only breweries that survived Prohibition were the big, multi-national companies that were able to use their equipment to make malted candies. Upon the overturning of Prohibition, they resumed brewing beer. Except, being careful not to upset the delicately balanced 21st Amendment, breweries began brewing beer with less alcohol and, hence, less flavor. Less than a decade later, another major world event happened that affected America’s beer brewing and consumption.
With many of this country’s young men off fighting World War II, breweries had to shift their focus to a different market: women.
Taking the cautiously brewed post-Prohibition beer, breweries again lowered the alcohol content and, hence, the flavor in order to appeal to women who, prior to WWII, were not big beer drinkers. Shamefully, the history of American beer gets worse.
During the post-war economy, breweries, dazzled by their growing profits, began to look for ways to make those profits even larger. One of their solutions was substituting corn or rice for the grain in beer. Now called adjunct lagers, beers like Budweiser, Miller, and Coors are barely “beers,” shaped to appeal to the post-Prohibition tastes of non-beer drinking women and then further desecrated by the addition of non-beer ingredients.
So, tell me, who drinks real beer?