Sometimes I try and see if I can come up with a better term than “cheap” to describe the 36 beers that Will Gordon wrote up in his Deadspin piece, “36 Cheap American Beers, Ranked,” but I can’t. Even though a few of the beers on the list were at one time or another the biggest beers in America, long before the craft beer revolution and expensive growler-filling stations at Whole Foods became trendy, Schlitz, Pabst, and Budweiser have been relegated to a lower-class status, what people toast ironically at parties in Brooklyn, the drink of choice for college kids on a budget, the type of beverages that get marked up ridiculously high at sporting events, but, no matter what, the type of beer that most Americans still drink.
Beer is pretty much one of the things that America has consistently done well for a long time. We didn’t invent it, and across the entire globe, beer is the third most popular thing to drink behind water and tea. Yet for a country the is constantly forcing people and the culture they bring with them to assimilate and Americanize, American beer is a bridge to the old countries many of our ancestors and family members came from, and the America they dreamed of.
That’s why there’s something really elitist and weird about the way we look at the beers that Gordon classified as cheap. I mean, they are inexpensive compared to some of the bottles you can buy at a place like Bierkraft in Park Slope (Note: I have bought my fair share of expensive bottles of beer from there), and even if there is a difference in taste between something brewed up by Two Brothers and, say, a can of Genesee Cream Ale (and there is a big difference…), it’s difficult for me to label one “cheap” since beer is the libation of the masses, and the masses don’t all have nine bucks to spend on a bottle of some really stellar I.P.A.
I’m also a nostalgic bastard: the beers on Gordon’s list bring me back to my youth; camping trips, hockey tournaments, my 18th birthday spent around a bonfire while drinking Miller Lite that a friend’s father allotted to us because he said, “In the old days, 18 was old enough to drink.” The popping open of beers and the scents they give off brings me back in time, not necessarily to one specific time and place, but American beer is for better or worse my madeline. A High Life can cue up any number of memories for me, a High Life can make me recall lazy summer days watching the Chicago Cubs lose at Wrigley Field with my grandfather, a Lone Star can remind me of sitting alone at a bar in Austin, Texas, and a PBR makes me think of my early days living in Brooklyn. Any of these memories can start me down a wormhole I’ll gladly fall further into.
Milwaukee’s Best will always be “The Beast,” Rolling Rock will forever be the first beer I ever drank, and Budweiser is my go to beer that I’ll always say, “Bob Pollard from Guided by Voices likes it,” as its defense. I’ve had every beer on Gordon’s list at some point in my life, and to be honest, the only ones I regret are the ones I can’t recall.