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Beer With Me

In defense of cheap domestic brews.

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I don't really care what Emily Post or your happy meteorologist says. In Memphis, the summer begins at the barbecue fest. So, the other week, I was down by the river, sponging off the hospitality of the good people of the Sicilian Smokers Barbecue Team. I was pointed to the beer tap.

"Bud Light?" I asked.

"Well ..." said the Smoker, "it's a Anheuser-Busch product. ..."

My finely tuned taste buds detected ... well, they detected a cheap domestic beer. Since they were giving it away, it was almost certainly Natty Light. But it was sort of raining and sort of hot, and all was right down by the river again.

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Never lose your taste for Cheap Domestic Beer (CDB) — not just the much-maligned Budweiser or Natty Light, but the Milwaukee's Beasts, Olympias, and, if you can find it, Hamm's. It's the beer for those of us who waited until Sunday night to do our weekend homework. What else would you take to the lake? Or for that matter, drink at a Tom Petty show? I can assure you that Petty's "American Girl" was not drinking a Rye IPA.

And it's not just because CDB is cheap, either; sometimes it's not. I bought a couple of Bud Lights for the enchanting Mrs. M and myself, and FedExForum dinged me $22. Granted, they were huge. And the gigantic lukewarm beers that were not getting any colder in my hand perfectly fit the thumping rhythm of "Mary Jane's Last Dance." It was a great show that took me back to the Mid-South Coliseum days. The people behind us were roaring drunk.

"Don't get me wrong. I love the good stuff," said the Smoker who'd pointed me to the tap. "But really? Here?"

Craft brews may incite much conversation and beery navel-gazing, but CDB is for people of action. Short bursts of it, at any rate. The Sicilian Smokers had just made a new guy enter the barbecue sauce wrestling contest. Heaving and groping while covered in molasses and who-knows-what-else is not the time a sane person thinks, "Wow, I need a creamy milk stout." Then again, does it really matter if your drink makes you want to throw up after your food has already thrown up on you?

A good friend of mine on the Smoker team placed third in the hog race, which required chugging a beer. This was surprising news, as his widely acknowledged area of expertise is wicked-good hot wings (which also placed) and not an enthusiasm for forward motion. True, the contestants were handicapped by age and BMI, which explained his impressive showing, but your more artisanal craft brews are just a bit too precious for that sort of work.

So, get off your high horse and crack open a Miller High Life. And even the most terminal hipster will concede that there is a time and place for Pabst Blue Ribbon. (They only say that they drink it "ironically.")

My personal favorite CDB, though, has always been Dixie Beer — forever tied in my mind to college road trips to New Orleans. The last gallant delivery from the historic Dixie Brewing Company was made at close of business on the Friday before Katrina ate the brewery on Monday. Now, the old building is part of the University Medical Center, and the beer is made on contract in Wisconsin. I met the owners once and asked why I couldn't find it in Memphis. They responded by offering me a job as the regional distributor.

The new Dixie brewers swear they haven't touched the recipe. They shouldn't. You know what you are getting with CDB. "I know what Budweiser does to me," said a Smoker. What Budweiser does to him, or me or anyone else, is ... not much. That is kind of the point. Still, with determination, anything is possible. The last thing I heard, as I climbed those impossibly steep steps up the bluff, was someone shouting, "Hell, I'm too drunk to Über."

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