I have a confession to make: on my "top five" list of best beers ever consumed, at or near the top is a Coors Golden. I'm not ashamed to say it, but there's no doubt that there are those in the craft beer world who will read this and recoil from the screen. But why?
One of the central disputes I have with some of our aforementioned Aleholes is their immediate dismissal of (and revulsion towards) a particular kind of beer: the macro-produced light lager. I've already covered some of this ground in discussing Aleholes as a species, but I wanted to explore this particular facet of it just a little bit more, because we almost all have that one beer that, despite its macro origins and questionable recipe and soulless mass production, we still enjoy as a guilty pleasure. When we are then subjected to ridicule for it, it goes beyond basic Alehole behavior: it becomes hypocrisy. Because on some level, in some circumstances, and in some small and maybe neglected part of his/her beer brain (or soul?), the Alehole still harbors a love for a beer just like the one you're drinking.
The Power of Nostalgia
As Sonny James sang:
Young love, first love,
Filled with true devotion.
Young love, our love,
We share with deep emotion.
We all have beers that we associate with good times, and often they are not what we might call "good" beers. Very often these are beers that we drank when we were young, and the nostalgic power of those memories can profoundly impact our perceptions of that beer for the rest of our lives.
Someone close to me loves Corona Light. As a bit of a beer elitist/Alehole myself, I'd have a slightly easier time writing, "someone close to me has syphilis." This is also someone who appreciates craft beer. So, since we're talking about a beer that (to my palate) reeks of formaldehyde and skunk, becomes palatable only when one rams a lime into the bottleneck, and was once rumored to contain "unacceptable" levels of urine (question: there are acceptable levels of urine in beer?), I felt the need to ask: WHY???? The answer, unsurprisingly, was that this person had a strong association with drinking Corona while at the beach while young, and as a result still associated the flavor - grotesque though it might be - with "good."
If that's the case, then I think we're wrong to judge this someone too harshly, or at all. Not everything is based purely on its merit. Parents hang children's artwork up for days, months, or years despite said artwork looking like it was drawn by an epileptic meth addict wearing someone else's glasses. I once had a friend who was a die-hard vegetarian, but get her drunk and she started demanding we go to Whataburger (for those who haven't had the pleasure, Whataburger is a southern fast-food joint that makes McDonalds look like Morimoto - their lettuce bears a strong resemblance, in color and texture, to hay). And even beer geeks and craft beer lovers and homebrewers sometimes just enjoy the memories brought out by a simple and maybe not "good" beer.
Good Macro Lager
Let's also not forget that (believe it or not, Alehole) macro breweries often create perfectly palatable products. Obviously, I don't think Corona Light falls into that category, but I sincerely believe that Coors Golden does. Remember earlier, when I said that my best beer top-five includes a Coors Golden? I was at the Coors brewery on a road trip, shortly before I became the paragon of good craft beer drinking that you see before you today, and during the tour we were offered a sample, straight out of the bright tank, of some Coors Golden that was just about to go to packaging. It was remarkable. It was fantastic. It was - even to this day - one of the best and purest lagers I've ever had, and since this experience came just before I jumped into craft beer and homebrewing with both feet, it stuck with me.
Obviously, I think it's pretty good. I feel the same about Tecate. I feel quite the opposite about Budweiser. My point is that we all have some of these beers that, if given them in a blind taste test, we would rate quite highly. But for many, we see that label, and something like the opposite of the nostalgia-driven evaluations noted above takes place: we assign a negative evaluation not on the merits of the beer, but on its reputation, corporate ownership, and/or a prior bad experience with it.
I would argue that this is wrong. If we're committed to good beer, then we shouldn't let outside considerations overwhelm our objective evaluations. I'm not talking about refusing to buy an ABI product because you disagree with their business practices or because you have a philosophical commitment to buying local - that's your right as a consumer in a marketplace. I'm just talking about how we talk about beer. Just like I have a local brewery (for those who know me or where I live, PLEASE don't guess!) that produces beer I consider horrifyingly bad, and as a result I describe it as such, there is inevitably going to be beer produced by a purely profit-driven brewery that is worthy of being described as excellent beer (even if only accidentally).
The Anti-Light-Lager Crowd
I have also often been the target of light lager shaming. We're at a beer bar with two dozen taps that include big barleywines, intense IPAs, biscuity Belgians, and earthy ESBs - and I order a German Pils. [Cue the "needle scratch" sound effect]
There are far too many in our beer world that equate "light" and "lager" with "bad" or "weak." On some level I'm sure that this is a guilt-by-association thing, since many of the detested macro producers produce an overwhelming amount of light lager. But I don't think that's the whole story.
There's an "extreme" strain in the Alehole gene. When they see me going against type and ordering something they consider boring or prosaic, it seems to them like I'm wasting the opportunity to enjoy something unique or special or just, you know, more. Well, sometimes I don't much want "more." Sometimes I want a beer that highlights light grain flavors or the austere and simple bittering of that German Pils I ordered.
No need to look down your foam-covered-because-you-shoved-your-face-right-into-your-glass nose at me: I'm fine. And you might even consider that sometimes you yourself would benefit from getting back to basics in terms of your beer selection. In the meantime, you can keep your superior looks and snide asides to yourself and let me enjoy my beer.
Love and Beer
We do ourselves a great disservice when we focus too much on any single aspect of our beer brewing, drinking, and evaluating experience. As the characters in the novel referenced in my ever-so-pretentious title demonstrate and experience, the emotional and the physical are inextricable. Heartbreak is very nearly a real disease, just like cholera. Nostalgia can very nearly change the flavor of beer, just like hops can. And sometimes you really can go home to that beer you loved when you were young, even if it seems crazy to the rest of the beer-drinking world.
The challenge is that, as beer lovers, we're too often encouraged to choose beer based on considerations (recipe, IBUs, ABV, scarcity, GABF medals) that ignore other facets of the psycho-gustatory experience. I rarely drink IPAs, but every Christmas I buy a case of Sierra Nevada Celebration and enjoy it immensely. Why? Because of that picture of the snow-covered cabin on the label and the fact that I drink it at my homebrew club's annual Winter Social, which is a great time. Visual cue, plus environmental cue, plus positive memories equals me buying the only case of IPA I buy all year. Is it really so crazy to think that the same math wouldn't lead people to buy and enjoy Coors? Or Tecate? Or (gag) Corona Light?
And if it does, then we're simply wrong to judge.
Keep it simple.