SPECIAL WEEKEND REPORT :: Retro Beer Day

by David Daugherty on June 30, 2011

Call it what you will: watered down, skunky, awful, your grandfathers beer, or just plain yuck! I call it beer and yes, THAT kind of beer has been around here in America since before your great-great-great-grandfather.

Now whenever I go visit my brother, a beer run is usually involved. We have the usual conversation, him asking me what’s new and what are we getting? He lives in Canton, Ohio. I’d tried everything on the shelves down there so far, and as we intrepidly traveled from store to store trying to find something new, it became increasingly obvious to me that little was happening, and what WAS happening didn’t look so great. We just wanted something different. By the time we got to the last store I wanted to just grab something and go. It was then that I had my epiphany!

I looked at Bill and said “Let’s go retro!”
He responded, in a low and utterly disgusted voice, as if I had asked him to drink vinegar, “What?”
“Retro! Let’s drink some old time beer! There’s plenty of it on the shelf! Let’s go for it!”

Do not ask me what I was thinking. Maybe all the great craft beer I’d had had spoiled my tongue, and it needed to be punished with an afternoon of weak, yellow session beer from America’s deep dark past. In the end, Bill was OK with it (same bloodlines, right?) so we started down the section of the beer coolers I haven’t dealt with in years. Oddly, we were like two kids in a candy store!  There was a lot of “WOW, they have Schlitz!” And then, “Look, Mickey’s!” I told him Mickey’s wasn’t retro enough—the Schlitz, yes—but I didn’t go for that. I wanted to dig deeper, and so…we…did.

I went straight for the Carling’s Black Label, Bill pulled out some Stroh’s, and I directed him to grab some Little Kings as well. Never having enough on hand—you never know who might drop by the house—we grabbed a 15 of Blatz and, for whatever reason, Bill grabbed a 12 of Red Dog.  (I didn’t think Red Dog was old enough to be considered retro, but if you know my brother, you kind of just let him go and do his thing.)

Loading the beer in the truck, I realized this was a bad idea. I wasn’t getting a good feeling, but we had committed. We got back to his place, unloaded the beer, transferred it all into a cooler with ice and sat it down on the deck. We grabbed some tortilla chips, figuring something salty had to be in order, and we sat down to crack open our first decision.

We started off with the Black Label. It was my beer of choice as a youngster because you could buy a case of it for a mere $4.99 (frighteningly enough, a carton of Marlboros were $3.33 back then as well). We poured the beers into our glasses and I waved it under my nose. Habit maybe, because once you opened the can there was no need to check the bouquet. I have to tell you though, the taste could have been worse. Hell, I was just glad that there WAS some taste.

On to Stroh’s. One word, “nondescript.” But we had a 12 of it so we needed to press on.

Blatz was next.  Let’s just say I will never buy Blatz again, ever! It was awful! (The first of those descriptive words I used above). I just can’t understand how anyone could drink something that bad on a regular basis. The aftertaste was skunky (there we go) and stale. Not only that, the drinkability of this stuff was like taking medicine! My gullet did this tightening thing that restricts anything from going down that, in turn, kept the liquid in my mouth, which then made me taste it longer. I shivered, polished off the can, then went on to the next beer.

Ed: This Blatz was bad enough to trigger something of a gag reflex in Dave, yet he “polished off the can.” We see no choice but to ascribe this to some twisted Depression Era, clean-your-plate mentality…regardless of the fact that neither Dave, nor his parents experienced The Great Depression.

I was actually looking forward to this one: touted as the “Original Cream Ale” we opened a Schoenling Little King. Just as I expected, the best of the bunch. Full-on flavor for the first time that afternoon. It reminded me of an old time pilsner yet had a wonderful creamy taste. I was satisfied.

A noble experiment, we conquered “retro” day and I was ready to treat the massive headache I knew would be coming soon. Then Bill reminded me we had one more—the Red Dog. Ugh! It was bad!

So, there was a lesson here as I thought about our grandfather and great-great-grandfather. This was the beer they had to put up with, which explains why whiskey was their drink of choice.

As I see it, once you have had Great, you can never go back to Average. You cannot compare Stroh’s to Stone, Red Dog to Red Hook or, for that matter, pretty much anything that costs half the amount we’ve become accustomed to. It’s much better to get one excellent beer than two (or more) really bad beers just for the sake of price. Oh, and the other thing I learned was that the headache just wasn’t worth it. At the end of the day, bad beer just makes you do dumb things… just ask my brother.

Ed: And if you’re drinking beer just to get drunk, you probably aren’t here anyway.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Carol July 1, 2011 at 6:07 pm

But it’s not even easy to get drunk on this stuff! The alcohol content is so low, usually 4% or less. You’d need to drink 4 to equal the alcohol of 2 really good IPAs. That’s twice the headache-causing additives! I fail to see why these beers are so popular, but they are. Price? Convenience? Habit? Perhaps this quote sums it up: “24 hours in a day, 24 beers in a case. Coincidence? I think not.” – H. L. Mencken

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Bill Daugherty July 13, 2011 at 11:17 am

Well put David, we did have fun going to the stores and trying to find the different beers of our grandfathers! I really enjoyed the retro-weekend, but now I think we need to do a great beer tasting weekend!

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Steve July 13, 2011 at 2:51 pm

I have a great love for retro beers. (I love the term “lawnmower beers.”) Many of them I don’t love the taste of, but I have a fondness for their place in my life. Cities used to have their big regional brews. When I was growing up near Portland, Maine, the most common beers were Narragansett and Schaefer. (Foxboro, MA even had Schaefer Stadium, home of the New England Patriots.) Bud, Miller and Schlitz were around, but Schaefer was the beer likely to be in my house. Black Label was around some, too.

In my years going out to see bands along the east coast, I usually drank whatever domestic yellow beer that was cheap. TT the Bear’s in Cambridge was the first place that seemed to stock these beers for the retro/alternative (hipster?) crowd. Always wanting to be different, I would order Carling Black Label. It wasn’t all I drank, but long neck bottles were great when I was bopping my head around to the music. And it was cheap.

Though fond of Black Label in the music clubs, it was not what I was likely to have around the house.

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