Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Origin of the Species: Beer Guy

July 30, 2009

When starting any narrative, it seems important to go back at some point and do some discovery to find the point of derivation, the origin of the subject, or species. I am a beer guy, so the point is to understand what made me a beer guy (as opposed to a car guy, or sports guy, or anything else). So, a good place to start is the beginning, unless you are obtuse like George Lucas and wait 20 years to produce a prequel. I hope my Episode I is at least less excruciating than Star Wars (by the way, I still want my $9 back from George Lucas for seeing Episode I at the theatre). Jar Jar Binks will not make an appearance in this one, but nor are there any wise old Jedi beer masters in this tale, which is too bad, really.

Most people seem to be able to recall their first beer. The cliche is that it is a rite of passage for the beer guy and a tender moment between father and son. I don't deny that such a moment may have happened in my life, be it with my father, an uncle, or somebody else, but I just don't remember it. Not at all. I do remember my exposure to Copenhagen tobacco from my paternal grandfather, but that is entirely a different subject, not a fond memory (albeit funny), and for another blog or the therapist's couch.

My dad wasn't and isn't a beer guy, so there was no direct link or nurture of the love for beer. It isn't that my father didn't drink beer, it just wasn't a staple in his diet. He may have kept a six pack of something cheap in the fridge for after mowing the lawn, or if company came over (I remember Red, White, and Blue was his cheap beer of choice, "A Honest Beer, at a Honest Price"), but it wasn't something he regularly drank.

Beer was more pervasive at extended family gatherings. I come from a hearty and mighty stock of Polish immigrants who came to Detroit specifically to work in the auto industry. Blue collar, hard working, independent, strong, but also intelligent, which lead to a strong mindedness and a basic mistrust of authority. Most men in my family, if I recall correctly, worked for the Big 3 (auto companies). Some as line workers, some as skilled tradesmen, and some as white collar folks. From my perspective, all of them to a man worked hard for a living, and I think middle class was the norm, at least between recessions. Two things affected beer choices: Price, and availability. Therefore, I remember lots of Miller, Stroh's (local to Detroit), Goebel (another Detroit Brewery until 1964 when purchased by Stroh's (Wikipedia)) (for some reason, warm Goeblel was the joke), PBR (and R,W & B mentioned earlier, a Pabst product), and Carling's Black Label (Canadian Beer). Budweiser wasn't common as I recall, and obviously, at the time Coor's wasn't available east of the Mississippi River (see the movie Smokey and the Bandit for reference).

I can remember back to about 1974 in general, but my memories of beer are a little later, perhaps 1978. By 1979, I was collecting beer cans and I loved beer (remember Billy Beer? It was promoted by Billy Carter, bumbling brother of then President Jimmy Carter). Ironically, according to Wikipedia, Jimmy Carter preferred PBR. So, by 1979, I was totally into beer. I remember my cousin (now, I understand that he is a new extract home brewer with my another cousin of mine) and I would run down the street from his father's barber shop in Detroit with my brother (and next door was the concrete Link' n Log barbecue sales place owned by other family members I think...selling barbecues and wood lawn furniture....loved that furniture....enjoyed many a beer on that swing by the lake and on our front porch, but I digress) to buy non-alcoholic beer, because we could buy it and it was supposedly like beer. I wish I could remember the brand name of that NA beer that probably came out in 1981 or was terrible, which is too bad, because I liked beer, and would have drank it more if it tasted anything like cheap beer. Michigan law now prohibits the sale of NA beer to persons less than 18 years old.....probably wise.

So, the question is, what happened before 1979 that made me a beer guy? Probably, these family gatherings provided an access to try beer, and wanting to emulate my older cousins and uncles....became a beer guy. I wish it was more dramatic, or exciting. There was never any philosophical discussions about beer or even any mention of imported beer (I am not sure Black Label was known to be an import) was an adult alcoholic drink and it was at every family gathering in an uncontrolled manner by today's standards. It was the late 70's, and I became a beer guy.

My experience at the time was limited to American Style light Lagers mostly packaged in cans. I don't think I had any inkling that there were such things as imported beers (not even like Heineken and Lowenbrau) and didn't even know that Black Label was Canadian. Since all beers were similar, I didn't know that beer was any different. My mind would have been blown to know what the discovery of the rest of the world's beer would be like.

As mentioned before, I collected beer cans. I loved my beer can collection, and would spend time reading and studying the labels. My beer knowledge at the time was limited to the fine print on a Budweiser and other cans as well as the advertising campaigns of the day.....Brewed using the choicest hops, rice and best barley malt and something about beechwood aging; tastes great, less filling; Stroh's, Fire Brewed. My can collection went into the trash can in 1988 when I left for college; too bad e-Bay didn't exist then. My can collection consisted of perhaps 100 cans, and were a pain to keep clean.

Next time....the 80's, and discovering that Canada is right next door. Real crimes were committed. I hope that there is a statute of limitations.

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