It's getting to be about that time of year when we head, bumper to bumper, down to Florida's 30A, to what used to be known as the Redneck Riviera before we all got uptight and precious about everything. Sugar-white beaches, oil-free blue water — and much of Memphis standing around in fewer clothes than back home.
There is, of course, a smallish cooler of perfectly iced beer under the umbrella; you need to hydrate, as well as brace yourself for the sight of your shirtless neighbor intruding on your sub-tropical paradise.
Only one question remains: Exactly what beer should go in that cooler?
If advertisers are to be believed, and they are no less reliable than cable news or social media, then you should be filling it with Corona. If you consider yourself more of a connoisseur of beach beer, you might fill the cooler with Jimmy Buffet's Landshark "Island Lager." It really doesn't matter because they taste exactly the same. In blind taste tests, almost no one could tell the difference. I'm qualifying with that "almost" because someone is going to want to argue the point, and I'm not in the mood. I stand by my testing methods. In fact, the packaging is so similar and the marketing so incestuous that you don't even need the blindfold to get confused.
And, so what? It's not as if Corona or Landshark are bad beers. As beach brews go, they are hard to beat — light, crisp, and with a clean finish. Not terribly interesting, but whether you are deep-sea fishing like Papa Hemingway or laying bone idle in the sand, no one goes down to the Gulf to think. Occasionally, the more philosophical of us will ponder something deep and existential like the wisdom of having yet another dozen warm-water oysters, but that's about it.
Still, there is nothing wrong with upping your game when it comes to your beach cooler, and since all of Memphis is going to be down there, why should your knockoff Yeti be any different?
Available around town in cans is Wiseacre's Memphis Sands lager, a great non-clever brew that is named after our famous aquifer and not the grit in your swim trunks. Another good hometown option you can haul down to 30A is High Cotton's Mexican Lager. Both go great with fish guts and lapping waves.
Normally, this is where I attempt to describe these fine beers, but what's the point? Memphis Sands and Mexican Lager occupy the same neighborhood as Budweiser and Corona respectively — they're just at the better end of the street. It's sort of like when the BBC takes a crack at something as common as the American soap opera and winds up producing Downton Abbey. Deep down you know it's a soap opera, but damn, the production value is through the roof.
You'd think that IPA, literally invented for the sweltering heat of India, would be a beach go-to. Practically, you have to be careful with those hop-forward beers that are delightfully bitter at one temperature and less so when they warm up. Not less bitter, less delightful. Crosstown's Traffic IPA is a West Coast style, which means it still tastes like a great IPA, but they've laid off the hops.
If you forget to pack the car with Memphis beer, Motorworks Brewing out of Bradenton, Florida, is available through most of the state. Do yourself a beach favor and pick up their Pulp Friction grapefruit IPA — it is brewed for the Sunshine State, and it is fantastic. The upside of either IPA is that you won't be sucking your tongue when napping under that book you're pretending to read.
If you need a final reason to "go craft" on vacation, remember that they tend to have a higher ABV. True, this dramatically increases the likelihood of your drowning, but it does help dull the senses when that neighbor on the next beach chair exposes his gleaming white belly to the sun.