Monday, July 6, 2009

Recession Specials

There was a time in this country before the micro-brew movement when Heineken--the Budweiser of Holland--was considered a "premium" beer. (And, not to sound like a beer snob here, but for those who think Heineken is a premium isn't. Sorry.)

Until Boston Beer Co. really broke through with Sam Adams in the '90s and the craft-brewing phenomenon exploded after that, mediocre-at-best (mostly lousy) domestic beers ruled the market even more so than they do today. (Oh, sure, there was probably decent stuff around before Sam Adams came on the scene, but to my memory that was the first beer that got large numbers of Americans thinking that they could do better than to swill a macro-brew in a can.)

Prior to the beer-snob movement, if I may call it that with the utmost respect, the notion of going to the liquor store or grocery store and picking up an imported Belgian ale or grabbing an American craft-brewed stout was, well, foreign. But with flush economic times and budding American interest in well-made brews, the beer-snob movement took off and quickly gained momentum.

Until now. Maybe. I haven't tracked sales figures, but I can tell you that those of us who have recently experienced salary-related setbacks (a pay cut in my case, but job losses altogether in many, many other cases) are no longer swinging into the packie to grab a four-pack of Smuttynose or spend double-digit dollars on something created by the excellent Stone Brewery out of San Diego. And Chimay Rouge? Forget gets the same special-occasion status as champagne.

No, these days, we're swilling recession specials--mostly domestic (or maybe Canadian or Mexican) beers not "created in the craft-brew tradition." (What's funny, of course, is that the macro-brewers are trying to make their beers seem like micro-brews now--Miller Lite is actually advertising about triple-hops brewing or some such, and Budweiser recently launched American Ale--just in time for a lot of folks to shamelessly turn back to the old-school Bud-Miller-Coors triumvirate because of the recession.)

Now, I haven't quite stooped as low as to purchase the beers in the photo above--Schaefer and Archie Bunker's old favorite, Schlitz--but I have stepped down from the mountaintop of Ommegang beers to the valley of cheaper suds. Two of the beers I've found to be decent replacements for the really good stuff are:

Narragansett, a lager that used to be brewed in Rhode Island but now comes out of Rochester, NY. Apparently the brewer is trying to build a brewery in New England, and it's certainly marketing itself as a New England beer. It's great on summer days especially, and if you're going to buy it, you might as well buy it in 16-ounce cans.

Simpler Times, a great lager from Wisconsin available at Trader Joe's. (I'm not sure I've seen it anywhere else.) Really cheap and legitimately good, Simpler Times is once again a great option in cans. It's a little cheaper that way, and cheaper is what recession specials are all about.

Maybe one of these days, if I get my full salary restored and the economy picks up as some think it will (although I'm not holding my breath), I'll be able to reel in some Dogfish Head 90 Minute or some other Beer Advocate-approved suds again. Or maybe things will get so bad that I'll be thankful just to have the cash to bring home a sixer of Schlitz in aluminum. For now, though, I'm learning to live a more austere beer existence, and it really isn't too bad at all.

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