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Lifestyle

December 30, 2012

Slate: The best cheap beer

(Continued)

NEW YORK — Milwaukee's Best is The Beast, according to one term of anti-endearment and Milwaukee's Worst, according to another. Here we see the folly of attempting to rate beers of its caliber in any conventional sense. Hyperbole abounds and paradox reigns. In truth, it is not Milwaukee's superlative anything — not its worst beer, not even its best emetic. It is true that, if you taste one carefully, then you will discover a pleasurable faintly graininess behind the rude musk of its aroma.

Busch was introduced by Anheuser-Busch in 1955 to undercut Budweiser's low-end competitors, making it the first cheap beer designed as such. The facts of its commercial life highlight the perversity of the category. According to "The U.S. Brewing Industry: Data and Economic Analysis," by Victor J. Tremblay and Carol Horton Tremblay, in the early '70s, it cost A-B half a cent more to produce a 12-ounce can of Budweiser than a 12-ounce can of Busch — "yet the price of the container of Budweiser was 15 cents higher." On the one hand, Busch's skunky corn quality is oppressive. The most refreshing things about the beer remains its label (a profile of snowy mountain peaks, clearly a suggestion about the proper serving temperature) and its name (onomatopoeic of thirst-quenching fizz).

Miller High Life is of course "the Champagne of Beers" — a slogan that these days seems to nod strictly to its high carbonation, which yields a tummy full of foam, crowding the drinker's stomach without delivering the satisfying bloat of heftier brews. It offers a case study in the strange vagaries of consumption. High Life was once high class, but when sales slipped in the late-'80s, Miller responded by discounting its price, which downgraded its image. The brand drifted down the ladder and became associated, in stereotypes, with various undesirable demographic groups, most recently fashionable young white people: Every hip person knows that High Life is the cool kids' cheap beer of the moment, replacing ...

Pabst Blue Ribbon. While sales of nine of the other top 10 subpremiums are down this year, Pabst Blue Ribbon is thriving; we must suppose that "hipsters" abandoned the brand because it went mainstream. The accepted marketing explanation for PBR's 21st-century ascendance involves the delicate corporate exploitation of an organic phenomenon native to "Portlandia," and the cultural critique of it detects an ironic tribal embrace of a working-class totem. I'd like to complicate the matter by simplifying things and posit that those who prefer clean, dry PBR to bland Bud or fetid Coors Light are acting as rational consumers and that PBR-deniers are the true poseurs.

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